The Gallagher Premiership’s brutal schedule has inadvertently pushed a number of players into Eddie Jones’ eye line for England Rugby recognition. The England coach will be delighted that familiar and less familiar names have put themselves into consideration for the Autumn internationals. The intensity of two games a week has pushed certain players into form.
On the flip side to this is the very real problem around player welfare. Players are getting injured regularly with the stress of games being packed into a tight schedule. On the field, Wasps and Bath have joined the perennially excellent Exeter Chiefs in impressing since the COVID-enforced break. Every rugby coach wants a pleasant selection conundrum and Eddie Jones definitely has his.
Simmonds boys cannot be ignored
Sam Simmonds is well known to the England set-up and his persistently excellent form should see him return. Simmonds was outstanding against Toulouse’s feared and formidable pack last weekend. Somewhat abruptly jettisoned by Jones after a couple of games in the 2018 Six Nations, Simmonds then suffered a serious ACL injury. Told to sharpen up on the dark arts of forward play to complement his brilliant running skills, Simmonds has taken his game to another level. The might of Toulouse’s forwards was perhaps the audition both Jones and Simmonds wanted. England are blessed with so many backrow options and Billy Vunipola will be under pressure to keep his place.
Sam’s brother Joe is quite quietly pushing himself into England’s fly-half options. Currently, George Ford and Owen Farrell dominate the number ten jersey. Simmonds is not only tactically very astute as shown in his performance against Toulouse but he is also a leader. Rob Baxter, the Exeter coach has entrusted Joe with the captaincy reigns and for good reason. At the age of 24, Simmonds has so much more to come.
There are a number of areas in which Simmonds showed that he could nudge George Ford in the future. Defensively Simmonds makes his tackles and is a terrific last-in-the-line defender. His sleight of hand and feel for a gap is getting better on every outing. Like his brother Sam, Simmonds has an uncanny knack of finding the tryline to go with his improved place-kicking. Watching an exhausted and shellshocked Toulouse outfit that included some of the world’s best was a sight to behold. Simmonds ‘J’ was a key cog in that performance.
George Ford and Owen Farrell rightly remain as the incumbents for England but Simmonds’ time is coming.
Ben Spencer to challenge Ben Youngs
Ben Spencer’s move to Bath has arguably been the transfer of this bizarre season. It has long been one of England’s selection debates. Who can take over and challenge Ben Youngs at scrum-half? Youngs still has some petrol in the tank as shown in his display against Wales back in March. But, England really does need a deputy who can make an impact. Danny Care has fulfilled that role admirably over the years. Dan Robson and Ben Spencer have been the form scrum-halves since the season’s resumption. Which should bode very well for Jones.
Spencer has always had the talent. Physically he is impressive and his years in a well-oiled Saracens set-up means he has the pedigree. But with England, something hasn’t quite clicked for him. Jones wants players who can improve and Spencer has done exactly that in the last couple of months.
It is of no surprise how well Bath has been running with a dominant front five and an influential voice bossing them. The drive and influence of Spencer will please England’s management. Bath look like they have asked Spencer to take on a leadership role and the former Saracen has revelled in the responsibility. He has retained his excellent try-scoring ability and Jones could try him in November.
Willis and Bath front row also in the mix for England Rugby recognition
There are plenty of other players who are putting their hands up for England selection. It is great to see Wasps’ Jack Willis have an injury-free campaign. Long-touted as a future England backrower, Willis has been superb for a resurgent Wasps outfit. On the Wasps theme, Dan Robson and Jacob Umaga are also pushing their respective cases for an international call-up.
The biggest surprise of the season so far has been the excellent form of Bath particularly their front five. Will Stuart, Tom Dunn and Beno Obano have destroyed some illustrious names and packs. Bath’s pack in the ’80s and ’90s were renowned for their snarl and aggression led by the likes of Graham Dawe and Gareth Chilcott. Perhaps those days are coming back to the Rec? For Jones, he will need front row options with Joe Marler and Mako Vunipola entering their twilight years. Obano, Dunn and Stuart together with Kyle Sinckler and Ellis Genge is the future for England’s front row stocks.
Eddie Jones has plenty of positive selection decisions to make and he will need them with Manu Tuilagi and Courtney Lawes facing long injury lay-offs.