With ‘Le Crunch’ fast approaching, all eyes will be on Eddie Jones squad selection on Thursday. After a deflating, penalty-strewn defeat to Wales, many are asking for Jones to swallow his pride and start picking from the Gallagher Premiership. Chief among the names is Sam Simmonds. The Exeter backrower has once again put in world-class performances for Exeter this season. Such noted back-row royalty in the form of Jerome Kaino and Lawrence Dallaglio have said as much. It’s not just Simmonds, Alex Dombrandt has been outstanding for Harlequins. As has Marcus Smith, who is fast maturing as a complete fly-half. Jones looks likely to continue with his current squad and resist calls to pick form players from the Gallagher Premiership.
The nagging question that won’t go away
It is admirable that the likes of Jamie George and the England squad have clearly made themselves accountable for the discipline problems against Wales. However, the nagging question around whether too many players in Jones’s set-up are off form will not go away. There has to be a degree of sympathy around England, Jones has delivered some mighty successes and yet the pressure mounts after a couple of losses. The fact is England will rarely get any sympathy due to the resources they have over other playing nations.
Eddie Jones squad selection questioned
What Eddie Jones has done and continues to do should be rightly noted. However, if there is one point to his management skills that have come under the microscope is selection. We armchair critics have it easy, we see a player have a blinder and go he should be in the England squad. Of course, the reality is very different, we have no idea how a player blends in with the structure, on and off the pitch and to the style Jones wants to play. Jones’s steadfast stance on his struggling squad is admirable for its loyalty, after all this is on paper a world-class set of players. However, Jones’s remit will include picking form players from the Premiership to blend in with his current squad. At the moment the Gallagher Premiership is churning out some special talent that shouldn’t be ignored.
Sam Simmonds cannot be ignored
Sam Simmonds has to be one of the more unlucky players going around in world rugby. Week in, week out he produces for Exeter. Not just in the Gallagher Premiership but against Europe’s best. It’s not just his running skills and try-scoring ability. Simmonds is a key fulcrum to Exeter’s legendary set-piece and he is not afraid to do the donkey work. Defensively he has improved, a prerequisite to Jones’s player requirements. Surely Jones should consider him on the bench if not starting?
Jones had his bomb squad of five forwards on the bench against Wales and yet their impact was negligible in the last twenty minutes. England has needed something extra to bring on in the last quarter of games, particularly evident against Scotland. Simmonds is an ideal impact player in that respect. Let him earn some trust from Jones by seeing what he can do in the final twenty minutes. With France and Ireland looming, quite conceivably they are games which will be decided in the last quarter.
Marcus Smith a serious challenger to Ford and Farrell
Marcus Smith has been a talent ever since he burst onto the scene at Harlequins aged 18. This season he is ripping it up outside the excellent Danny Care. It’s not just his running game and vision, his place-kicking has improved immeasurably as has his support play. With George Ford and Owen Farrell dominating the England fly-half jumper, they are now being seriously challenged. Smith seems to play with a smile on his face and he is not afraid to have his say with his backs and forwards. Eddie Jones will most likely persist with both Ford and Farrell – and desperately hope that they get this England team moving. Therefore Smith like Simmonds and a few others will more than likely be ignored.
Put Dombrant in as a second-row option
Sir Clive Woodward put this idea out before the Italian game and it could launch England. Alex Dombrandt is a seriously fast learner. A pie and pint’s player just a few years ago, he like Simmonds has been nothing short of outstanding for his club. Dombrandt is closer to England selection than Sam Simmonds given that he has a dialogue with the England management. Told to defensively improve, Dombrandt has done that without compromising his game-breaking ability. Now a leader at Harlequins, he has been one of the key players behind Harlequins’s surge up the table.
If you are an England fan, just imagine having Dombrandt alongside Maro Itoje in the second row? It is not an entirely stupid idea. Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes are aging, Charlie Ewels hasn’t nailed his opportunities and George Kruis is in Japan. Jonny Hill is a work in progress but does not have Dombrandt’s explosive skills. The Harlequins number 8 is good in the lineout and would learn quickly beside Itoje.
Back to selection reality
The above suggestions are highly unlikely to happen, especially with the bubble requirements. These players deserve a chance on the summer tour to North America. Therefore with the tournament gone and two games left, will Jones persist with his current line-up? Or, will he go with his current squad players who have not had a look-in during this Six Nations campaign? Namely – Paolo Odogwu, Ben Earl, Max Malins and Dan Robson?
The arguments here are the following: Jones will stick with the same side as he had against Wales or he will bring in fresh blood to shake up the collective. Jones loves to go against public opinion and therefore it is probable that he will keep faith with his team, who are under even more pressure to perform. Notably Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell, George Ford and Billy Vunipola. All of them, particularly Billy Vunipola were better against Wales. But can they back it up because since the World Cup that has been the problem? They simply have to perform against France to assuage the growing army of critics. There is a lot for Jones to consider before naming his squad for the French game.
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