Sunday, October 17, 2021

A wildcard in 8th place and a new half of Scrum? How England could compete this fall

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Eddie Jones has hinted at changes to testing against Tonga, Australia and South Africa when the countdown to the 2023 World Cup begins

Eddie Jones is preparing to name his English squad for the Autumn Nations Series games with Tonga, South Africa and Australia.

The head coach’s latest comment left the way open for the three games at Twickenham in November and beyond.

“We always want to play on the strength of the players,” said Jones. “I have a special way of playing the game, but I never force it on a team.”

With that in mind, here are the players in the competition:

Few regulars are unavailable to Jones this fall, including Elliot Daly after a recent operation on a fatigue fracture of his leg.

Anthony Watson hasn’t played a full-back since a World Cup warm-up in September 2019 – instead he and Jonny May have been Jones’ wings lately, while Ollie Sleightholme of Northampton, Adam Radwan of Newcastle and Louis of Harlequins Lynagh are the new kids to this one Block.

Leicester’s Freddie Steward is the next man to play full-back, but don’t forget Saracens’ Max Malins, who was England’s number 15 against France last March and started on the left against the US in July.

Mark Atkinson, Gloucester’s 6’4 ” center center, joined the England start-of-the-season training squad last month at the age of 31 and could be the bulky second playmaker many viewers have longed for.

Then there’s Manu Tuilagi, Henry Slade, and Ollie Lawrence, who can wear 12 or 13 depending on the cast, and Joe Marchant, who divides his Harlequins time between the outside center and the wing.

And then there’s the high profile pick of a # 10, from Marcus Smith, Owen Farrell, and September omission George Ford. Perhaps Jones intends to rotate his resources and will let us know when the roster is announced. More likely, he’ll say, “I’ll pick the best 23 for the next game”.

The cackle was loud from the chickens coming home to sleep as Jones’ belief in Ben Youngs hasn’t left another regular number 9 since Danny Care’s dropping in 2018.

Fortunately, the current stable is very well stocked: Harry Randall from Bristol is a pocket rocket, Raffi Quirke from Sale is mentioned again and again in dispatches, Jack van Poortvliet from Leicester has strength and speed and Dan Robson from Wasps now has his former club coach Martin Gleeson der Order to attack England.

Meanwhile, Bath’s Ben Spencer is injured, while Northampton’s Alex Mitchell has played all of England’s training and none of the international matches.

Another juicy selection. Newcastle’s Callum Chick doesn’t get the column inches and social media shares of Harlequins’ Alex Dombrandt – make what you want of it – while Billy Vunipola has owned England’s man for eight years when he’s fit.

Jones has always admired Kieran Read, the ex-All Black who roamed the broad canals – and that’s Dombrandt’s game. Similar style points surround Exeter’s experimental scoring machine Sam Simmonds.

Tom Curry makes his Sale vs Harlequins season debut Friday after a mediocre Lions tour, and if anyone deserved a break, it was the die-hard sales dealer. Is it too much, too early for Harlequins Openside Jack Kenningham, or is Sam Underhill the more likely choice?

Gloucester’s Lewis Ludlow – the English summer team captain – and Northampton’s Lewis Ludlam have each worn their club’s # 7 jersey for the past few weeks, and Ludlow is rated a top jumper by Jones. At Blindside, Courtney Lawes is the big name, and Leicester’s George Martin and Worcester’s Ted Hill are from a similar “hybrid” second / back row.

This seems like the easiest area as the specialists on the September roster were Maro Itoje (who returns for Saracens vs Bath on Sunday), Exeters Lions captain Jonny Hill, Baths captain Charlie Ewels and, uh, that was it.

Joe Launchbury (as well as wasp colleague, flanker Jack Willis) is out injured for a few more weeks, while Harry Wells from Leicester and Josh McNally from Bath were banned in the summer.

Gabriel Oghre von Wespen hit a street last week with a three game ban due to a dangerous tackle I March), the same weekend that Jamie George, who had sidelined from England in September, was in martial form for the Saracens.

Then there’s the up-and-coming Sam Riley of Harlequins and Jamie Blamire of Newcastle, with Exeter’s Luke Cowan-Dickie being a possible first choice.

While Joe Marler and Kyle Sinckler continue to do what they do, Joe Heyes continues to impress on the bottleneck for Leicester (if Dan Cole gives him play time), Trevor Davison rarely goes back for Newcastle, and Bath’s Will Stuart has a dozen caps under his belt .

On the Loosehead, Sale’s Bevan Rodd and Bath’s Beno Obano may be wondering if Mako Vunipola’s International Day is over. This selection and more should tell us who Jones is getting into for the 2023 World Cup – or “the final chapter for me,” as he recently described it.

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