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How Eddie Jones’ new ‘attacking’ plan aims to solve England’s problem position

Jones, who urged his charges “to be ruthless in taking every opportunity that comes to us” at Stadio Olimpico, pinpointed inside centre as vital to England’s progression – especially as fly-half Marcus Smith matures. Tuilagi has returned to fitness, but Jones knows he must make alternative arrangements in midfield in the absence of another “real gainline runner”.

“There is no doubt that 12 is crucial to us,” Jones said. “In a good attacking team, the ability of your 10 and 12 to be able to get the ball into the required areas of their defence is crucial.

“You want a 12 who can carry, who can kick and who can run. Particularly as Marcus keeps his development at 10, [we need] a 12 who takes some of the organisational responsibility away from Marcus.”

“[Inside centre] is a significant player, not significant by size – we don’t have any of those players in England, I think we all know that,” he added.

“The only real gainline runner we have got in the backs in England is Manu and we don’t know about his availability given his track record with injury. But, definitely, they are an influential player for us.”

Dan Kelly, outstanding for Leicester Tigers against Northampton Saints on Friday evening, Ollie Lawrence, Owen Farrell and Tuilagi have also worn the No 12 jersey for England since the last Six Nations. Mark Atkinson of Gloucester appeared as a replacement against Tonga three months ago, but has not been named in a matchday squad since.

Given Farrell will miss the entire Six Nations, it would seem that Slade, alongside Joe Marchant against Italy, has a chance to underline his ability to lead England’s attack over the next two years.

Jones also paid tribute to the mental and physical “resilience” of scrum-half Ben Youngs, who will draw level with Jason Leonard’s record tally of 114 England caps if he replaces Harry Randall. Youngs’ brother, Tom, has been indefinitely stood down by his club, Leicester, while his wife, Tiffany, battles illness.

“It has been unbelievable as a half-back to play that many Test matches,” Jones said of Ben Youngs. “Firstly, it’s a testament to his durability and his resilience, because like any player he’s had his injuries and he’s had to keep fighting. You put that alongside some of the family difficulties he’s had and his ability to compartmentalise and focus on his rugby and keep improving his game.

“He’s got two young guys snapping at his heels at the moment in Raffi Quirke and Harry Randall and what has really delighted me, particularly in the autumn and now, is the way he has embraced the challenge of being a senior player.

“On Thursday he was out early in the morning doing box-kicking with Harry Randall and that is the sign of a really good senior player. At that stage they didn’t know who was starting and who was finishing. That shows how much England means to him.”

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