Whether he follows through on a typically outlandish claim remains to be seen but Eddie Jones has suggested England's forwards and backs could soon be interchangeable.

Jones today revealed his 35-man squad for England's opening Six Nations match against Ireland in Dublin on February 2 – the main news the omission of co-captain Dylan Hartley due to an on-going, troublesome knee and the inclusion of four new caps; Jack Singleton, Ollie Thorley, Dan Robson and Ben Earl.

With his injury list diminishing, Jones gleefully welcomes back the Vunipola brothers, Mako and Billy, Bristol bound No 8 Nathan Hughes and Wasps lock Joe Launchbury.

Throw in Manu Tuilagi's increasing fitness and the ball carrying power of England's squad – their ability to bend and break the line – could go to a new level.


Much more curious, though, is Jones' claim that a number of his players could seamlessly switch between backs and forwards.

He first singled out Exeter fullback/wing Jack Nowell – listed at 98kg – to provide openside flanker cover for England.

"He is going to be the new breed of player," Jones said. "The game has changed. The game used to be 80 minutes, now it is 100 minutes. The next change is you will have players who can play backs and forwards.

"Do you remember [former Wallabies coach] Rod Macqueen? He used to talk about it. It is going to happen. If you could get him off the beach now he would tell you some great stories. The game is going towards it.

"Jack is definitely an option at seven. We haven't tried him out but he is definitely an option.

"He has great ball carrying, great tackling skill; he puts his head over the ball, he's a tough little bloke. He's a great option. He can play wing, 13, 15, seven for us."

Jones later referenced his time at the Brumbies when he converted Fijian-born former Wallaby Radike Samo from wing to ball-playing forward.

While the Nowell switch at any stage seems implausible, other examples are frequent in rugby league converts such as Sonny Bill Williams, Sam Burgess and Ben Te'o, all of whom switched from second-row to the midfield.

Dane Coles often pops up in the All Blacks backline. Photo / Photosport
Dane Coles often pops up in the All Blacks backline. Photo / Photosport

From a New Zealand perspective Dane Coles, with his passing skills and footwork, would not look out of place in the All Blacks backline and does, in fact, feature there often from broken play. So, too, are many All Blacks loose forwards regularly stationed on the edge.

From set piece, though, specialists are preferred.

Perhaps more relevant – yet still unlikely – for England's tight, conservative, muscular approach is Jones saying he may increase the number of forwards on the park by positioning a lock or loose forward on the blindside wing from a scrum.

"When Japan played Georgia in the final warm-up game before 2015 World Cup, we played nine forwards. No-one knew. There is no reason in rugby why there might not be changes in formations. Exciting, isn't it?"

Asked whether he would use the ploy for the World Cup, Jones said: "Why not?"

And against Ireland? "Possibly."

What makes Jones' claims about Nowell, in particular, more bizarre is he has not broached the potential switch with the player in question. He also suggested flanker Tom Curry and injured Bath openside Sam Underhill could play "a number of positions on the field".

"Jack is probably down at Exeter now training as a wing. I'm serious that there are opportunities to change the game because it has become so orthodox so we have to look at opportunities to change. Be really good at the core things of the game but look at opportunities where you can change it."

Jones also concedes playmaker Owen Farrell, who will captain England against Ireland, needs to refine his tackling technique after escaping punishment for two blatant shoulder charges against the Springboks and Wallabies last November.

"We all want the game to be safe and tackling to be in the right area, and everyone agrees on that. I think Owen wants the same thing. He wants to hit people. Sometimes he has got it maybe a little bit wrong but it is not the intent and I am sure during the Six Nations he will endeavour to tackle in a legal way."

England Six Nations squad:


Jack Clifford (Harlequins), Dan Cole (Leicester), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter), Tom Curry (Sale Sharks), Ben Earl (Saracens), Ellis Genge (Leicester), Jamie George (Saracens), Nathan Hughes (Wasps), Maro Itoje (Saracens), George Kruis (Saracens), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Courtney Lawes (Northampton), Ben Moon (Exeter), Brad Shields (Wasps), Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins), Jack Singleton (Worcester), Billy Vunipola (Saracens), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Harry Williams (Exeter), Mark Wilson (Newcastle)

Backs: Chris Ashton (Sale), Mike Brown (Harlequins), Joe Cokanasiga (Bath), Elliot Daly (Wasps), Ollie Devoto (Exeter), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Leicester), Jonny May (Leicester), Jack Nowell (Exeter), Dan Robson (Wasps), Henry Slade (Exeter), Ben Te'o (Worcester), Ollie Thorley (Gloucester), Manu Tuilagi (Leicester), Ben Youngs (Leicester)