Over the last four years, we have got used to Eddie Jones’ often controversial selection calls, yet who will he select for the 2020 Six Nations championship?
Let’s be honest, more often than not he has got it right. A Rugby World Cup Final, two Six Nations’ trophies including a Grand Slam is testimony to that.
However, Monday’s squad announcement for the forthcoming 2020 Six Nations was perhaps the most controversial of all. The glaring non-selection of Sam Simmonds and Alex Dombrandt, the two in-form number eights in the country stands out.
Remember, there is no Billy Vunipola, once again the unfortunate victim to a broken arm. It has already been a tumultuous week in English rugby with Saracens’ relegation happening at the end of the season. Charlie Inglefield mulls this all over.
Why no Simmonds or Dombrant for 2020 Six Nations squad?
Given that Eddie Jones has always liked having a yard-eating number eight it is non-sensical to see no Alex Dombrandt or Sam Simmonds. There is no Billy Vunipola for the Six Nations so England surely had to find a similar-style replacement?
Both Simmonds and Dombrandt have been outstanding this season with each one both deserving to be in the squad. Respectively, they could not have done more in their last auditions. They both put in man-of-the-match performances against tough French opposition over the weekend.
Surely the only excuse that Jones might have is the x-factor that these two men bring. Jones has always preferred outright solidity and structure rather than flair to his pack. Even so, it really does not make sense. Dombrandt was the outstanding player on the pitch during a frantic and high-class encounter between Harlequins and Clermont.
Simmonds was superb against La Rochelle with his power close to the opposition line a standout. Dombrandt like Simmonds brings the handling skills of a back together with unique running angles. Yes, they may not be quite there in terms of the dark arts of forward play but they are both improving in this area. One would have a semblance of understanding if Vunipola was fit but now that he isn’t, the thinking is muddled.
Same again with the scrum-halves
Another contentious selection is the continued inclusion of both Ben Youngs and Willi Heinz. I can understand Ben Youngs’ selection given the experience that he has, but England now have two thirty-somethings charged with igniting England’s attack. Surely Wasps’ Dan Robson deserved a slot in the squad?
Heinz undoubtedly offers solidity but he is not an attacking instigator. In a tournament like the World Cup where structure and box kicking play such a big role in the knockout stages, Heinz’s inclusion ended up being justified. Eddie Jones deserves credit for that selection call. But, in a new four-year cycle with Heinz highly unlikely to be there in 2023, what’s the thinking? England is blessed with an abundance of firepower, surely Jones had to have an attacking scrum-half to come off the bench?
Exeter not on Jones’ Christmas list
There will be some disappointed men at Exeter this week. The club has been vocal against Saracens’ downfall in recent weeks. They won’t receive any of the title trophies that Saracens have amassed in recent years despite Sarries being well above the salary cap.
Exeter is once again riding high at the top of the league and in Europe and yet there are very few England call-ups. Messrs Jack Nowell, Don Armand, Matt Kvesic, the Simmonds boys, Ben Moon and Dave Ewers are deemed surplus to requirements. Likewise with Alec Hepburn, Jonny Hill as well as the injured Henry Slade.
The Chiefs’ forward play has been so dominant over the last few seasons and this year they have done it in Europe. It is bizarre that there are only three representatives from the club in the England squad.
Thorley set to fly in for England in 2020 Six Nations
There are some positive selections for the 2020 Six Nations that we should not discount. Gloucester’s Ollie Thorley looked excellent against Toulouse on Sunday and deserves his place in the squad. He could be a very exciting inclusion into England’s crowded stock of back three possibilities.
Clearly Thorley has relished feeding off the class service of Gloucester’s Danny Cipriani and Jason Woodward. It would be interesting to see a back three of Anthony Watson (full back), Ollie Thorley and Jonny May lining up against France.
Jones should be applauded for bringing in some good, young talent. Ben Earl justifies his inclusion as an all-action backrower with blossoming leadership skills. Northampton have been rewarded for their strong start to the season with the inclusion of Alex Moon, Fraser Dingwall and George Furbank. They are all terrific prospects and hopefully, over the course of the 2020 Six Nations, we will get to see them strut their stuff.
How will England respond against France
With Saracens ending an era of domestic and European dominance with such a spectacular fall from grace, how will this impact England? There will be positive talk coming out from the leading players and Eddie Jones but this is a big blow for England rugby. Jones has got under two weeks to get his big-name players on the same page for a tough trip to Paris.
It’s a huge challenge because the likes of Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and Jamie George have much to ponder on their futures. England will be up against a vastly changed France team who have rightly jettisoned a lot of players who were past it. There is a flood of youthful talent, untouched (as yet) by the even more complicated world of French rugby politics. Add in the fact that nothing stirs the French rugby team and nation than the sight of an England team marching into Paris.
Jones faces some big selection calls for the French contest. Are the Sarries players truly focused to give their best because they will need to be at that level to beat France? The more pleasant selection conundrums involve in-form players like Exeter’s Luke Cowan-Dickie, who are knocking on the door to start.
Life is certainly never dull around Eddie Jones and England rugby ahead of the 2020 Six Nations.
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