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Eddie Jones ponders 'dual role' for Jack Nowell in radical nine forward system

Rugby is changing at such a pace that England head coach Eddie Jones is weighing up a new nine-forward system with Jack Nowell earmarked as one player capable of holding a dual playing role split between the forwards and backs.

As Jones analysed his 35-man squad for their Six Nations opener against Ireland, he was asked about Nowell's best position. The Exeter back has been used in the centres and on the wing by Jones, while he played at fullback in the Chiefs' win over Castres last weekend.

But Jones is keen to push the boundaries of the game and will test Nowell out at openside in their pre-Six Nations training camp in Portugal.

"He is a great player," Jones said of Nowell. "He is going to be the new breed of player. 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."

The England coach added Nowell has all the attributes suited for a dual role, saying: "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 has toyed with this idea before, operating with nine forwards in Japan's pre-2015 World Cup warm up match against Georgia where he named usual flanker Hendrik Tui on the wing but effectively used him as a forward during the game. Jones feels flankers Sam Underhill and Tom Curry have the skillsets for backs, but Nowell is their standout hybrid option. "There is no reason why you can't play nine forwards," Jones said. "He [Nowell] could stand blindside wing."

He points to football as one sport which broke away from traditions when teams turned their backs on the typical 4-4-2 formation -- he mentioned Mike Bassett, the fictional England manager, and his preference for this footballing staple -- and adopting other systems with one striker, or wing-backs. Now, he feels, it is rugby's turn. "There are great opportunities in the game to change it and we are looking at opportunities to change it," Jones said.

Players capable of playing a dual role are nothing new in rugby. Sam Burgess, the rugby league player, turned out in both the forwards and backs during his time in union while Tom Youngs -- the ex-England hooker -- started his career in the centres but ended up at hooker. Kris Chesney -- the 1.98 metre, 120 kilogramme ex-Saracens second-row -- also did a turn on the wing and was temporarily crowned England's Jonah Lomu. Then there was Italy's back-row Mauro Bergamasco who had a torrid time starting at scrum-half against England in a Six Nations match back in 2009.

To propose such a switch in a World Cup year is either Jones being mischievous, or an attempt to genuinely conjure a new dimension to England's game. He pointed to World Cup-winning Australia coach Rod MacQueen as one innovator who has previously suggested bringing in hybrid players and also called for an overhaul of rugby's laws in a 2016 interview with ESPN.

The news of Nowell's potential new role will come as a surprise to the Exeter player, but the excitement running through Jones' voice when he mentioned the plan suggests it will be tried out before their championship match against Ireland on Feb. 2.

One back who will not be tried in the forwards, however, is Manu Tuilagi. When asked whether the Leicester centre could turn out in the back-row, Jones answered: "Definitely not. There is a thing called work-rate there. He [Tuilagi] is a power player."