England continued their World Cup warm-up games with Friday night’s fixture against Italy. Their 37-0 victory sets them in good stead being their last game before flying to Japan.
Eddie Jones continued to prove he’s a coach of bold and experimental choices.
This week saw Anthony Watson fielded at full-back, only his fourth appearance in the number 15 shirt. The biggest surprise came as Joe Marchant made the starting line-up despite not being selected for England’s 31-man World Cup squad.
Also, Ruaridh McConnochie finally made his long-awaited international debut.
Debutant Ruaridh McConnochie
Four uncapped players were named in England’s World Cup training squad, one of which was Ruaridh McConnochie. Fellow newbies Lewis Ludlam, Jack Singleton and Willi Heinz have all since made an appearance but injury prevented the winger from gracing the field.
The latter three had one cap when the final 31-man squad was announced but Jones still showed faith in the uncapped McConnochie to keep him included in proceedings.
Jones had originally named the Bath winger in both starting line-ups to face Wales in the Quilter Internationals but he had to withdraw late both times due to two separate injuries.
Third time lucky and all eyes were on McConnochie as England fans were eager to see what the winger had to offer in an England shirt with the tournament just two weeks away.
The game was a slow burner with not a lot of chance for McConnochie to shine. Saying that, he didn’t do anything notacibly wrong either.
General relief from himself and the coaching staff can be felt now he has managed to get some international minutes under his belt, albeit 51.
But where did England’s new winger come from?
Ruaridh McConnochie was born on 23 October 1991 in Kent.
As a boy, McConnochie attended Cranbrook school, a selective secondary school. It was during his four years studying at the University of Gloucestershire that his rugby spark was ignited.
The coaching set-up at the university noted how he wasn’t always set on rugby stardom but always saw his prowess:
“I don’t think he ever came to university to become a professional rugby player, he was probably one of those late developers, but he came to university, embraced university life and his rugby just got better and better and his game is still improving now at the age that he is.” – Chris Downes
Fellow coach and former Great Britain Sevens player Phil Llewellyn persuaded McConnochie to pursue the seven-a-side game.
He made his name in this form of the game after breaking into the national team in 2015. Along with Great British teammates, a silver medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics added to his success.
However, the temptation of the Gallagher Premiership proved too great as McConnochie gave up his sevens career to join Bath last November.
Despite only making 17 appearances in his first season he caught the attention of the right people, including Eddie Jones.
What is next for Ruaridh McConnchie and England?
England’s warm-up games are over, the next stop is the real thing. The team prepare to make the almost 6,000 mile trip to Japan for the start of the World Cup in two weeks.
Along with preparing for the physical task ahead and the biggest rugby event on the calendar, the men will have to adjust to different times, temperatures and the possibility of an extreme weather event.
McConnochie may feel the added pressure of performing well to avoid the waiting critics. Jones has pessimistic observers who are quick to jump on his particularly risky selection decisions.
The 27-year-old is likely to get the chance to further show his ability in England’s first pool games. The “easier” matches expected against Tonga and USA come up first before the more challenging fixtures against Argentina and France.
The winger is not the first player to switch codes and make it to the top. In 2014 Sam Burgess switched from rugby league to join Bath.
Burgess made five international appearances and was a part of England’s unsuccessful 2015 World Cup campaign.
It wasn’t long before Burgess returned to his roots. Just over a year into his three-year contract Burgess announced he was leaving Bath. Burgess, one of four successful rugby brothers, opted to return to South Sydney Rabbitohs.
Let’s hope McConnochie’s union stay is longer lived and that his World Cup effort is more promising.
“Main photo credit”