England completed a positive autumn series with a resounding 37-18 win over their arch enemies Australia at Twickenham. Consider where England were in June after a desperately disappointing second test defeat to the Springboks in Bloemfontein? November was a crucial four weeks for Eddie Jones and England and they have responded with victories against South Africa, Japan and Australia. Arguably their best performance was their only loss and that was versus the All Blacks. So, lots of positives take forward for what will be a highly entertaining 2019 Six Nations.
If everyone was fit and on form, then what would England’s starting XV look like?
Full back: Elliot Daly
Daly responded with his best display of a tough autumn campaign on Saturday. His twinkling feet scored a devastating try which left centurion Will Genia clutching at thin air. There are still some question marks around his aerial abilities but Daly should be persisted with. Anthony Watson’s return is coming so England have depth here.
TRY TIME ?@elliotdaly with a brilliant try to make it 20-13 to the hosts at Twickenham ?
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) November 24, 2018
Wing: Chris Ashton
Chris Ashton is still one of the best finishers on the planet and the warm running tracks of Japan will suit him perfectly. With Jack Nowell, the impressive Joe Cokanasiga among others in contention, England are very well stocked in the wing department.
Outside Centre: Henry Slade
Slade has improved as the autumn series has gone on and one of these days he is going to tear a team apart with his talent. Defensively he is now strong and with a decent boot on him but we want to see Slade making the line breaks. It will be intriguing to see how Jonathan Joseph goes when he is back for Bath.
Inside Centre: Manu Tuilagi
If fit, Tuilagi should start. He brings a more mature person about him now and has been in World Cup campaigns before so his experience will be important. At his best, he is so destructive and having missed so much rugby in recent years, Tuilagi should be fresh. Te’o has been solid but has not kicked on. More rugby for the Worcester Warriors may see Te’o retain his place in February.
Wing: Jonny May
No argument here. May has transitioned from a good international player to a world class one in the last 12 months. Scores ordinary and extraordinary tries. One of the first names on the team sheet currently.
Jonny May gets England off to the perfect start ?
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) November 24, 2018
Fly Half: Owen Farrell
Along with May, a guaranteed starter. Plays so close to the edge as befitting his family’s Rugby League background and always delivers on the big occasion. Ford will be his back-up although Danny Cipriani should be. Vital for England chances at the World Cup.
Scrum Half: Ben Youngs
Youngs has had a strong November and is back to something like his best. Excellent in the first forty minutes against the All Blacks and also very good versus the Wallabies. Richard Wigglesworth is now his deputy so England will not lack for experience and box kicking expertise.
Number Eight: Billy Vunipola
If Billy can get over his arm worries, he is a sure starter because England still lack the hard yards at number eight. Mark Wilson did an admirable job filling in but England need size and power. Nathan Hughes has still not been convincing and England are short on options so Vunipola starts.
Openside: Sam Underhill
Underhill was outstanding against the All Blacks showcasing his running skills alongside his brick-like defence. Tom Curry and him can now fight this battle for the openside position and they are two fine players. England have finally solved the problematic number seven jumper.
Blindside: Mark Wilson
Alongside Kyle Sinckler, England’s best player in November. Just like his club coach Dean Richards, Wilson is granite hard and only knows one way forward. He could not have had a harder education to international rugby and stepped up with aplomb. Wilson has also shown his running ability and should keep his place instead of Chris Robshaw and Brad Shields.
Lock: Courtney Lawes
Courtney Lawes made an immediate impact against the All Blacks and was England’s best forward against Japan. Lawes did the hard yards over Australia and has also shown a deft offload or two. With George Kruis and Joe Launchbury waiting to come back, Lawes should start alongside Maro Itoje.
Lock: Maro Itoje
Itoje like a lot of his team mates got better as the autumn series progressed. He has such an engine and presence about him, illustrated by his immense performance against Japan. Itoje’s discipline still let’s him down on occasion but now growing into a leader.
Tighthead: Kyle Sinckler
A coming of age autumn for Sinckler and one of England’s best. Thunderously destructive in the loose and in the tackle, Sinckler stepped up at scrum-time as well. After a shaky start over the Springboks, he never looked back and destroyed the Wallabies on Saturday.
Hooker: Dylan Hartley (Captain)
If England were to play a World Cup quarter final tomorrow, Hartley would likely start. It is great to see him back in form and Hartley remains a key figure for England. With Jamie George pushing Hartley hard, England are blessed to have two quality hookers fighting it out.
Loosehead: Mako Vunipola
The ankle injury will have given Mako a deserved rest and at his best, he is a certain starter. Ben Moon did a fine job in his absence but the Saracen should slot back in for the Six Nations.
It now looks like the old guard of Chris Robshaw, Mike Brown, Dan Cole and Danny Care are on the outer. That is credit to the likes of Ben Moon and Mark Wilson who have come through and performed. Danny Cipriani still remains as the best fly half deputy for Farrell but his selection looks unlikely. The players returning from injury now have to put their case forward all over again. This scenario provides Eddie Jones with the ideal selection problem to have as a coach.
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