The time of dress rehearsals is almost up.

After England’s fringe players were ushered into the spotlight in two World Cup warm-up matches against Wales, something closer to a first-choice XV tuned up against Ireland.

The improvement was stark. England ran in eight tries in a resounding 57-15 victory to give coach head coach plenty of positives to review his squad.

However, with just a warm-up against Italy to come before they fly out to Japan – with their opening World Cup match against Tonga on 22 September – there are still a few areas to give Jones pause for thought.

First, three positives…

1. Back-row balance

Tom Curry and Sam Underhill

Jones spoke about the need for “Samurai spirit” when he named his squad. On Thursday, he ticked off another Japanese analogy when he referred to flankers Tom Curry and as the “kamikaze kids” in honour of their full-blooded commitment.

With Billy Vunipola a certainty to fill the number eight shirt, Jones has long tinkered with the rest of his back row to bring the right mix of ball-carrying physicality and turnover-pinching street smarts.

Jones hoped that by naming Curry and Underhill – both all-action specialist open-sides – in his XV he would win a decisive advantage in the breakdown ground war.

Not only did they help secure England fast, clean ball, but they combined beautifully with ball in hand as Curry scored England’s sixth try.

Chris Robshaw and James Haskell

Ironically, when Jones took charge of England, the n bemoaned the lack of genuine number seven, with the industrious, but less mobile Chris Robshaw and James Haskell jokingly posing with six and a half shirts after winning the 2016 Grand Slam.

Now, having finally found them, it seems two genuine number sevens may well be his go-to option in Japan.

2. The boy band back together

George Ford and Owen Farrell

For the romantic it feels right to pair George Ford and Owen Farrell – childhood friends, both displaced sons of rugby league royalty – at the fulcrum of England’s backline.

Ever the realist though, Jones appeared to abandon the idea more than a year ago.

After a series defeat in South Africa last summer, he brought in a more direct style, ditching the double-playmaker pivot and installing a juggernaut – either Ben Te’o or Manu Tuilagi – on the outside of Farrell at fly-half.

However, the return of the Ford-Farrell partnership at 10 and 12 against Ireland showed it is a useful option at the very least.

The telepathy between the two was intact, the distribution to the outside channels was slick and the kicking game was canny.

Henry Slade, who has missed all three of England’s warm-up matches with a knee injury, might well find it hard to get back into the team.

Maro Itoje

Both Manu Tuilagi and have had their England careers interrupted by injury.

When Leicester centre Tuilagi was named in Jones’ XV to play Ireland in Dublin in February, it was his first Test start in four and a half years following chest, knee and hip problems.

That game was lock Itoje’s last England appearance for six months as he sustained knee ligament damage.

On Saturday at Twickenham, both looked fit, fast and confident, hitting their world-class peaks in time for the sport’s showpiece.

And now the negatives…

1. Return of the Mak cut short

Mako Vunipola

Like brother Billy, Mako Vunipola is one of the first names on Jones’ teamsheet.

But the loose-head prop was grim-faced as he limped back to the touchline shortly after coming on as a replacement.

Jones’ 31-man squad is light on props with and Joe Marler the other remaining specialists on that side of the front row and just Dan Cole and Kyle Sinckler to share the tight-head duties.

The loss of Vunipola would leave them short of quality and experience in an area with a high attrition rate.

2. Forever Youngs?

Ben Youngs

Scrum-half Ben Youngs had a miserable afternoon in his first World Cup warm-up, with both his passing and kicking uncharacteristically wayward.

Just as at prop, Jones’ squad selection does not allow for the loss of too much form or fitness.

Willi Heinz, Youngs’ only understudy, came on at Twickenham to win just his third cap.

The 32-year-old Gloucester player has made an assured start to his international career, but it would be a big call to promote such a late arrival to the set-up.

Meanwhile, the experienced Richard Wigglesworth and Danny Care have been left out.

With only two scrum-halves in a World Cup squad designed to endure seven matches in less than six weeks, it has surprised some that Jones has not yet tried out an emergency number nine option.

Perhaps he is waiting until the meeting with Italy – who infamously deployed flanker Mauro Bergamasco at scrum-half for a disastrous first half of a Six Nations match in 2009 – before testing out Ford’s ability from the base.

3. Daly’s defence

Bundee Aki scores for Ireland against England at Twickenham

Elliot Daly played at outside centre for Wasps last season. He started all three British and Irish Lions Tests against New Zealand on the wing, the same position in which he made 12 of his first 13 England starts.

But since last summer, he has emerged as England’s first-choice full-back.

While he is a potent attacking threat and possesses a siege gun boot, he does not have the rabid defence of predecessor Mike Brown.

He was shrugged off with ease by Bundee Aki for Ireland’s second try.

With wing Anthony Watson making an impressive return from injury, dealing adeptly with a high-ball barrage from last weekend and turning out at full-back for Bath at the end of last season, could he yet leapfrog Daly to snatch the 15 shirt?


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