Will Saracens players make the England Six Nations squad?
The rugby season is well and truly underway domestically and in Europe. The rust that the players may have been feeling will have truly been shrugged off. There is also no evidence to suggest any impact on the performance with the short pre-season either. England were able to put together an unremarkable but solid performance within the Autumn Nations Cup as well as clinching the 2020 Six Nations. In both of those competitions, the player pool was based on what we knew last season and is the culmination of the 2020 calendar. Saracens were part of that equation, it was no surprise there were eight representatives from the club within the squad. There is one question remaining, will Saracens players make the England Six Nations Squad?
The Championship is not due to commence until 6th March 2021. Largely the Saracens contingent will not have played any competitive rugby for many months and arguably should not be considered for the Six Nations tournament. The tournament commences a month before any of the Sarries players have played a match outside of friendlies. A single defeat in a friendly against Ealing Trailfinders is all the rugby under Billy Vunipola with the other England players not even playing in that fixture.
Who is in the current England squad from Saracens?
Currently, the official England squad consists of eight players contracted to Saracens, most notably including the England captain, Owen Farrell. Aside from the captain, Saracens feature many key players of the squad. Maro Itoje, Mako Vunipola, Billy Vunipola and Jamie George are normally considered amongst the first names in the starting fifteen. There is also the likes of Elliott Daly & Ben Earl who are featuring in matchday squads regularly. On top of that, there is the young Max Malins who has begun impressing in his role as a finisher. There is also a ninth Saracen who has featured in training camps in October, Ali Crossdale.
Do loans offer a better chance for inclusion?
Currently, two of the names above are out on loan, both to Bristol Bears, with Max Malins and Ben Earl getting a lot of competitive rugby and by all means impressing in their spells. It would not be a surprise for their positions in the England squad to continue off of the back of their current form. There are others from within the squad who are within touching distance of the England set up who may look back at that decision gladly if it proves a clearer pathway to the England team than if they plied their trade in the Championship. Nick Isiekwe at Northampton, Alex Lozowski at Montpellier and until recently Jack Singleton at Gloucester, who has decided to stay at Kingsholm permanently.
So, who are the alternatives?
In a strictly hypothetical scenario where Eddie Jones decides to not go for the big names the Saracens squad provides the England setup, are there players who should be considered ahead of them just by virtue of their performances in the new season?
Owen Farrell in reality is very unlikely to be dropped. However, there are players biting at his heels for inclusion. Recently recognised on the honours list, Joe Simmonds MBE of Exeter steered the Chiefs to a double last season and deserves to be recognised on the international stage as well. Jacob Umaga and George Ford already feature in the squad which would be likely to continue.
Itoje is becoming the poster boy for England rugby and is an essential part of the effective England pack. However, without game time will he be as effective? Second row is an area of strength for England. There are numerous other options both within the current squad and amongst the current players. Jonny Hill has begun to get international recognition and Courtney Lawes has returned from injury to stake a claim for his regular place. There is also a potential opportunity for Nick Isiekwe who has been one of the positives in an underwhelming Saints performance this year. Alongside Joe Launchbury and Charlie Ewels, the engine room is well stocked.
The giant number 8 is a world-class player, which makes the fact that a replacement would have been an uncapped 20 year old more of a testament to the incumbent rather than Vunipola himself. Alfie Barbeary has taken the league by storm and as we profiled earlier in the season appears to be the real deal. He has impressed so far in the back row but sadly will be ruled out of this selection as a result of the injury he received against Sale, requiring surgery. In terms of the 8 shirt this February, there are two obvious names. Sam Simmonds, with eight tries in four games so far this season and Nathan Hughes. The Bristol Bear is having an excellent start to the season and is the most like for like replacement for Billy Vunipola out there.
Unlike his brother there isn’t a like for like replacement for Mako, arguably there isn’t another loosehead prop in the world who plays the same way Mako does. However, due to injuries, England have tried and tested loosehead props in the waiting already. Ellis Genge is the easy choice at starting loosehead in Vunipolas absence with Joe Marler providing excellent backup. The squad spot would go to Beno Obano as has done in the past.
Jamie George has made the hooker spot well and truly his own. However, if Eddie decides to leave the Saracens players out of the six nations campaign it will be a chance for Luke Cowan-Dickie to show what he can do with an extended period of games in the two shirt. The Alfie Barbeary option would remain here if he weren’t injured, but arguably as the specialities of the role haven’t been seen in the premiership yet it would’ve been less likely. The more likely option is that Tom Dunn would continue being in the squad. The third choice is likely to go be Jack Singleton, the ex Saracen, or an outside chance to the in-form Tom Cruse.
Daly has often been labelled as the utility back of the squad, if not starting he would almost be guaranteed the 23 shirt for his versatility. Able to be deployed in the centres, either wing or at full-back there are few players who are able to fill all those roles in one. A return to form for George Furbank could see his recall to the team, another young option could be Freddie Steward, the young Leicester Tiger, who is putting his hand up for being a breakthrough success this season.
Opening fixture squad
With all of the above in mind, what would the squad look like on the opening fixture of the Six Nations. If Saracens players are overlooked for this tournament we list below what we think it will look like, it shows that even without the Saracens players, there is high competition for places and high level of quality. In this team sheet, there are big names that still miss out. But, will Saracens players make the England Six Nations squad?
- Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers)
- Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs)
- Kyle Sinkler (Bristol Bears)
- Joe Launchbury (Wasps)
- Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints)
- Tom Curry (Sale Sharks)
- Sam Underhill (Bath)
- Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs)
- Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)
- George Ford (Leicester Tigers)
- Jonny May (Gloucester)
- Ollie Lawrence (Worcester Warriors)
- Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs)
- Anthony Watson (Bath)
- George Furbank (Northampton Saints)
- Tom Dunn (Bath)
- Beno Obano (Bath)
- Harry Williams (Exeter Chiefs)
- Charlie Ewels (Bath)
- Jack Willis (Wasps)
- Dan Robson (Wasps)
- Joe Simmonds MBE (Exeter Chiefs)
- Max Malins (Bristol Bears)
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