From Last Word on Rugby, Sam Pardey
England’s Wing Crisis
Following injuries and suspensions, England’s wing crisis is the pressing issue for Eddie Jones to solve this Autumn. Injuries to Jack Nowell and Anthony Watson last week have left England without their first choice wingers. The Old Mutual Wealth Series will now provide Jones with the chance to test out his strength in depth.
The squad met up last week for a much-maligned 3-day training camp, during which Jones employed a slightly different method – Judo. This didn’t go down well with many Aviva Premiership Directors of Rugby. Saracens boss Mark McCall and Exeter Chiefs’ Rob Baxter, amongst others, complained about the intensity and timing of the sessions.
The sessions also left Jones with a growing injury list, including an interesting dilemma on the wing. The first choice pair, Watson and Nowell, suffered a fractured chin and torn thigh muscle respectively during the camp. From a pessimistic point of view, this presents an issue for Jones as he looks to continue his nine-match winning start to his reign as Head Coach.
On the bright side, it offers the Australian a chance to test out other potential options.
Chris Ashton is currently serving a 13-week ban for biting Alex Waller’s arm. So the next couple of months provide English wingers a prime opportunity to stake their claim for a place in the Red Rose squad.
Despite Bath’s disappointing 2015/6 season, Semesa Rokoduguni still had a lively season finishing. He finished the season joint-top in most defenders beaten, scoring 12 tries in all. He has also had a mightily impressive start to the Aviva Premiership campaign, playing a key role in Bath’s revival under Todd Blackadder.
So far this season, Rokoduguni tops the player stats in Metres Made (440m), Clean Breaks (9) and Defenders Beaten (21). A strong runner with quick feet to boot, Rokoduguni already has four tries to his name and is in an extremely purple patch of form. The Bath flyer will surely add to his solitary England cap against the Springboks on November 12.
Eddie Jones was at The Stoop on Saturday afternoon to watch Marland Yarde turn in a promising performance during Harlequins 20-12 win against Northampton. Although he didn’t cross the whitewash, Yarde provided a lot of energy for the Quins both in defence and attack. His performance was picked out for special praise by Director of Rugby John Kingston, who described him as “outstanding”.
Combining a lethal mix of raw pace and power, Yarde is known to be admired by Jones. In June, the Australian stated that he thinks the winger could be a “really special player”. He added that Yarde was “very coachable” when selecting him for the first test down under. Saturday’s performance will surely put Yarde at the top of Jones’ thoughts when selecting his squad this Autumn.
Since his England debut in 2013, Gloucester wing Jonny May has made 19 appearances in the Red Rose, scoring 6 tries. Although he has not played under Jones, he was named in the 45-man EPS squad for the November internationals. However, after eight months’ out with a knee ligament injury, May has yet to make an appearance for the Cherry and Whites this season. He is surely in a race against time to make the starting 15.
That said, were May to return and put in a couple of good performances in, he could easily force his way into the squad. Blessed with lightning quick feet and an eye for the try line, May will be eager to show what he can do on his return.
The Christian Wade question continues to rumble on. With ball in hand, Wade has undoubted quality. A lethal combination of dazzling feet and searing speed, Wade has the ability to make defenders quake in their boots. While this is plain to see, there have been many, many questions asked about the Wasp man’s defence throughout his career. In the modern landscape of big, strong, sculpted professional rugby players, Wade provides a throwback to the wingers of days gone.
Wade did put in a decent – although not spectacular – performance in the top of the table clash against Saracens on Sunday. However, he surely needs a strong run of form to play his way into the England squad, having been left out of the EPS squad. The question will continue to be asked though, is Wade physical enough for international rugby?
An interesting addition to this list of English wingers, Olly Woodburn has enjoyed a scintillating start to the season at Sandy Park. Since moving down the M5 from Bath in 2015, Woodburn seems to have found himself on the south coast. Under Rob Baxter, he is playing with freedom and a smile on his face. With three tries in five games this season, the uncapped winger is enjoying feeding off the produce from the likes of Henry Slade and Ollie Devoto. His time at Exeter is developing him into a top class finisher.
Whether Woodburn offers enough in other areas of the pitch will surely worry Eddie Jones. However, if he continues to score tries, this left-field choice will surely be hard to resist in time.
Another left-field choice, albeit surely one that Jones must have considered. Jones could move Joseph out to the wing and bring in either Devoto, Slade or Daly at 13. Joseph has performed on the wing before – both for club and country – and can undoubtedly do a good job there. Given the strong start to the season that the other three contenders at 13 have enjoyed, there is case for making this switch.
The drawback of playing Joseph out wider, though would be the unsettling of England’s midfield. With Owen Farrell in a doubt for the series, Jones won’t want to field a completely new centre partnership.
So who will play?
The most likely combination to start against South Africa in November must surely be Rokoduguni and Yarde. Rokoduguni is the form English winger at the moment and would surely have been in contention even if Watson and Nowell had been fit. Don’t be surprised to see Jones move Joseph out wide later on in games though. If he does, Daly is the leading contender to slot in to the centres. Woodburn is slightly too far on the periphery to get a chance this Autumn. A strong comeback from May and some good form from Wade, though, could push them into contention.
All stats courtesy of Premiership Rugby