The non-selection of the Vunipola brothers, George Ford and Jamie George for England’s training squad have caused headlines this week. Dubbed the ‘England rugby overhaul’, this is a genuine shake-up in selection by England coach, Eddie Jones after an underwhelming 2021 Six Nations.
Significantly the inclusion of youngsters like Harlequins’ Louis Lynagh to go with the talents of Marcus Smith, Sam Simmonds, and Alex Dombrandt are a sign that Jones wants to re-energise this England team. England was in a need of a reboot and the Gallagher Premiership has provided strength in depth for Eddie Jones to choose from.
Farrell in a fight for a starting position
Eddie Jones made it clear in his press conference that Owen Farrell has to deliver in the autumn internationals. He has struggled for form since the 2019 World Cup and is not a definite starter. Farrell failed to really challenge Dan Biggar and Finn Russell in South Africa with the British and Irish Lions.
With Saracens now back to some normality off the pitch and back in the Premiership, Farrell has to hit the ground running. Marcus Smith must be a shoo-in to start with possibly Farrell joining him at inside centre. A role that did not pay off in tandem with George Ford.
This feels like the changing of the guard and Farrell could be a big omission for the 2022 Six Nations.
Itoje primed to take over from Farrell
If indeed Farrell does struggle to reclaim his form in the coming months, then who will take up the England captaincy? Gloucester’s Lewis Ludlow is liked by Eddie Jones but only has a handful of caps. Ellis Genge is developing his leadership skills and could be an option going forward. However, Maro Itoje is guaranteed a place in the side and surely this is the time to make him captain?
It was noticeable during the British Lions tour how much Itoje has improved his discipline – the one weakness to his game.
Itoje has also been ‘schooled’ in the Saracens way and has been part of teams that have won everything domestically and in Europe. He is well respected, articulate and importantly is a certain starter.
Harlequins blueprint for the team
Eddie Jones wont want to move too far away from England’s strength in the set-piece. However, the retention of Marcus Smith and Alex Dombrandt together with the emergence of Louis Lynagh, Jack Kenningham and Sam Riley suggests that Jones is looking for a more expansive game ‘a la’ Harlequins.
They are England’s champions afterall. There are two influentials decisions that Jones has to make. First, who leads the team from fly-half and at number eight.
On form it would be Marcus Smith and Sam Simmonds it would seem. Alex Dombrandt is a very similar player to Simmonds and his connection with Smith could be telling.
Jack Nowell and Elliot Daly are other notable absentees, although Daly is injured. Louis Lynagh could be employed sooner than first thought given that Jonny May will fight it out Adam Radwan for one wing spot.
Anthony Watson is guaranteed to play in the back three with Max Malins competing with Lynagh to be in the matchday squad. Harlequins’s incredible exploits from last year have been rewarded including the enigmatic Joe Marler who has committed himself to the England set-up.
A continuing concern for Eddie Jones is the strength in depth at scrum-half. Harry Randall was good over the summer but is still a work in progress and Dan Robson is still not being trusted to start by England’s management.
The off-season break will refresh Youngs but the hope for Jones is that one of the deputies really steps up in the autumn.
Turning over the old guard; England rugby overhaul
It is not the end for the Saracens quartet of the Vunipola brothers, Jamie George and Elliot Daly. But, Eddie Jones did have to refresh after a disappointing 2021 Six Nations campaign. The pace of the modern-day game suits the running talents of Alex Dombrant and Sam Simmonds meaning that Billy Vunipola finds himself on the outer.
It is tough on Big Billy but his consistency has not been there over the last couple of years, not helped by a long list of injuries.
Luke Cowan-Dickie was arguably the form player of the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa, and deserves his starting spot. The emergence of Newcastle’s Jamie Blamire has not helped Jamie George’s cause either. Such is the dynamism and experience of George though, it would be of no surprise if he barges his way back into England’s plans.
George Ford is a significant exclusion by Jones breaking the long-running partnership that Ford had with Owen Farrell. One of the most talked-about selection conundrums in Eddie Jones’ reign thus far has been how to include both of them.
Such has been the emergence of Marcus Smith there was only going to be space for one of Ford or Farrell. Smith is the future and the next few months will tell ‘whether Farrell can keep pace with him’.
Prospect: Launch Smith and Simmonds in November
Recent history would suggest that Eddie Jones will do precisely the opposite to what the English rugby public wants him to do. His perceived England rugby overhaul is both ‘risk and reward’ if stakeholders are to be respected.
On the one hand; it is likely that Owen Farrell will hold onto the captaincy and fly-half jumper for the November arrival of Tonga, Australia, and South Africa. That is the best bet. For many though, the prospect that Marcus Smith and Sam Simmonds should be starters in this England team is more than obvious.
The starch and set-piece will still be provided by the likes of Courtney Lawes, Maro Itoje, and Tom Curry. The stardust-set believe that Smith and Simmonds (Dombrandt deserves an honourable mention here as well) can inject into the current England team is an exciting prospect.
Hopefully, they won’t be ignored.
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