England Elite Player Squad Must Be Built Around Saracens

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Ever wondered why international sports teams never seem to play to the sum of their individual parts? Take the England football team, for example. They are all brilliant players for their clubs – Daniel Sturridge, Jordan Henderson, Ross Barkley, Raheem Sterling, etc, but their form never seems to truly hold up in an England jersey. This is not because they cannot cope with the pressure: it is because the systems and the coaches they play under for their clubs are wholly different to those of their country. This dilemma can be avoided in England’s new look rugby side.

So, whilst the news is not yet official, it appears as if Saracens defence coach, Paul Gustard, and their former skipper, Steve Borthwick, will be entering the fray of Eddie Jones’ coaching setup. Jones, then, must be aware of the weighting of his backroom staff. That is that, everyone except Alex King (who is likely to team up, but again, nothing has been officially confirmed), including Jones himself, has a strong affiliation with the Barnet-based club.

Meanwhile, across England and the rest of Europe, many sides are suffering at the hands of Saracens. Toulouse, Ulster, and now Oyonnax, have all been shredded in the European Champions Cup. The defending champions are also coasting clear at the top of the Premiership with 27 points from six matches, meaning they are undefeated in all competitions. A combination of attacking prowess through the likes of Alex Goode, Chris Wyles, and Chris Ashton, and their ‘wolf-pack’ mentality in the forwards makes them difficult to beat. The latter is the unhidden secret to their success, and at the heart of its conception were England’s new men, Gustard and Borthwick.

Now this is the important part: should they select their Elite Player Squad (EPS) with this in mind, England will have a winning formula from the off. Combining ex-Saracens coaches with players they have already coached; players who already know their roles in the wolf-pack, seems obvious, right?

Now you may argue that this selection policy would be too much of a safe move, and you’d be right. However it would be the correct decision, and could bring instant, yes instant, success and silverware for England in the Six Nations. This is what the RFU and the English rugby community craves after such a disappointing World Cup.

Many pundits and journalists are calling for a squad overhaul, but cite players such as Elliot Daly, Joe Simpson and Henry Thomas, etc as the players to call upon. Obviously these players have a justified claim. However, if England were to base their squad on the existing connection between the England coaches and the Saracens players, then the winning mentality that is rife in the Sarries squad will translate to the England squad, too. That means selecting most, if not all of the following for the EPS: Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Will Fraser, Billy Vunipola, Richard Wigglesworth, Owen Farrell, Brad Barritt, Chris Ashton, and Alex Goode.

In fact, going one step further, these players, aside from Wigglesworth and Barritt, should all start for England against Scotland in the Six Nations opener. There is a simple reason why: Gustard will most likely carry his wolf-pack philosophy into the England camp, so instead of trying to blend new players into the system, pick those who already know it inside and out. These players just so happen to be at the heart of the best side in Europe, and their form will remain, regardless of whether they are wearing a Saracens jersey, or an England one.

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