Marcus Smith and Raffi Quirke edging closer to England selection

Marcus Smith
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Despite their recent excellent form, the likes of George Ford and the Vunipola brothers are still deemed as surplus to requirements with the approaching Autumn internationals just a few weeks away. Eddie Jones, the England rugby coach has made his intentions clear that a new generation of players needs to be blooded. Chief among them is the possible inclusions of Marcus Smith, Sam Simmonds and Raffi Quirke. The likes of Alex Dombrandt, Adam Radwan and Nick Dolly bolster an exciting-looking England squad.

Time to blood Quirke

The scrum-half position has been a contentious position for Eddie Jones to sort out. Ben Youngs continues to be an outstanding servant for club and country but is he the man to take England through to the 2023 World Cup? Raffi Quirke has exploded onto the scene with consistently excellent performances for Sale. Quirke alongside Harry Randall are pushing Ben Youngs hard. Somewhat surprisingly Dan Robson has been left out despite excelling at Wasps. Robson can consider himself so unlucky as Eddie Jones has never given him a proper chance to establish himself.

Quirke is seemingly the real deal. He can pass, snipe, box kick and he is courageous. It has been no bad thing that Faf de Klerk has mentored him in the arts of scrum-half play. Quirke needs to step up into an international environment but Jones must be tempted to put him in against Tonga on 6 November.

Marcus Smith or Owen Farrell?

With the way Marcus Smith is playing it is not surprising that every England fan wants him to start. Owen Farrell however was excellent against Bath on Sunday at the Rec. Farrell’s basics were immaculate but it was his running game and offloading out of the tackle that really caught the eye. Jones has to decide whether it is now time to let Smith loose and the potential long-term expense of Owen Farrell. The two likely outcomes are that Farrell will start at ten with Smith on the bench. Or, Farrell will shift to the inside centre to cater for Marcus Smith at fly-half.

The answer comes down to the make-up of 8, 9 and 1o for Jones. Having Alex Dombrandt pack down at eight would give Smith familiarity and a platform to play a fast and loose style. The same could be said with Sam Simmonds in the number eight jersey. If Jones decides to move Tom Curry to the back of the scrum, then Ben Youngs and Owen Farrell firm up as the half-backs. Working out the balance and style of the team will be Jones’s priority.

Radwan set to link up with May

There will be a number of interesting selection calls among the newbies in the squad. Jonny May deserves another shot this year but he is under pressure from Adam Radwan. That is until the unlucky Anthony Watson went down with a serious knee injury last weekend. The Newcastle speedster has lit up the Falcons over the last 12 months and he has serious gas. Radwan is as close as England has to a Cheslin Kolbe. He is also different to most wings in what he gives up in size and height he makes up with dazzling footwork.

The serious injury to Anthony Watson is a huge blow to Eddie Jones and of course Watson himself. Having battled back from tearing his Achilles tendon, poor Watson has another lengthy rehab stint in front of him. All England fans will hope to see him back sometime in 2022. Max Malins is likely to fill in at full-back or wing meaning that Radwan could well partner May to complete the back three.

The injury to Luke Cowan-Dickie has meant a recall for Jamie George. Will Eddie Jones install the recently discarded George instead of Leicester’s Nick Dolly and Newcastle’s Jamie Blamire? Dolly and Blamire are young bucks with a bit of attitude which is exactly what Jones wants to see. With Cowan-Dickie injured George has a wonderful opportunity to remind Jones that he is back to something like his best.

Backrow is as competitive as ever

Sam Simmonds is poised to take Billy Vunipola’s number eight jumper. Alex Dombrandt, Tom Curry and Callum Chick are the other possibilities. Surely this is Simmonds’ time to show his world-class talent on the international stage? Dombrandt is waiting in line if Jones decides to go for the more adventurous approach but Tom Curry remains the most likely to take the number 8 spot.

It depends on how radical Jones wants to change this ‘new’ England team. If England’s front five provide the platform in the set-piece then a trio of Sam Simmonds, Tom Curry and Sam Underhill would be highly effective. Jones still loves the size element which is missing with Billy Vunipola surplus to requirements. George Martin and Callum Chick then come into the equation as sizeable ball carriers alongside Courtney Lawes.

Team to take on Tonga

Farrell will probably shift to the centres to allow Marcus Smith a shot in the number ten jumper. It comes with a risk in that Farrell is not a comfortable distributor at 12 meaning that Manu Tuilagi could come in to lend a physical hand trucking the ball up. The Farrell and George Ford partnership only worked when England’s pack were on the front foot. Does Jones make the same call with Marcus Smith? Henry Slade’s playmaking duties would probably be jettisoned if Marcus Smith starts. Slade has not hit the heights of his 2019 form so his position is in jeopardy anyway.

Tonga is meant to be the easiest of the three November internationals. Therefore Jones may be tempted to bring in a few inexperienced faces to see how they fare. For South Africa and the Wallabies, he will want to go to his best possible XV. The team below has a blend of experience, pace and power that can get England back towards the summit of world rugby.

15. Max Malins
14. Adam Radwan
13. Manu Tuilagi
12. Owen Farrell (c)
11. Jonny May
10. Marcus Smith
9. Raffie Quirke
8. Sam Simmonds
7. Sam Underhill
6. Tom Curry
5. Maro Itoje
4. Courtney Lawes
3. Kyle Sinckler
2. Jamie George
1. Joe Marler

Reserves: Ellis Genge, Nick Dolly, Ben Youngs, Jonny Hill, Alex Dombrandt, Henry Slade, Will Stuart, George Martin

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