A fresh, new, exciting young squad. A phrase 12 months ago English pundits and fans never would have dreamed of saying. However, two years out from a Rugby World Cup and Jones has pulled the trigger on some of his old faithful’s, choosing to invest in young English prospects. Will this new look England be the best yet for Eddie Jones?
The Vunipola brothers have been mainstays in the England squad since Mako’s debut in 2012. Yet, all good things must come to an end. Some quicker than others. In Mako’s instance Ellis Genge. Since becoming Leicester Tigers captain, he has stolen Mako’s thunder, with Genge arguable now the best loosehead in the Premiership. Moreover, Jones has always fancied Joe Marler, with Harlequins continuing to fly high his inclusion is justified. This leaves Mako as third choice, and if he isn’t in the match day 23, is there any point in him being in the squad?
The same has happened to his brother Billy. Both Alex Dombrandt and Sam Simmonds have surpassed him as the best Premiership number eights. The battle for that starting jersey is one where you grab some popcorn and just sit back and enjoy it. Vunipola himself can have no arguments. Once again, if he isn’t in the match day squad then someone new will gain more from being in the England environment.
George Ford. Mr un-droppable has been dropped. Leicester and Ford are on fire at the minute. However, there is another fly half who is on a different planet right now. He goes by the name of Marcus Smith. Ford can have no complaints as Farrell’s versatility will always leave him a place in the squad. Jones loves picking two tens and he has stuck with that philosophy.
Jamie George… nearly! George has now been called up after Luke Cowan-Dickie’s injury. This is a huge series for George who, unlike the Vunipola’s and Ford, has been granted a second chance.
Out with the old and in with the new. Nic Dolly, Mark Atkinson, Tommy Freeman and Raffi Quirke are the four uncapped players, as well as a further nine players who have two caps or less. Most of them were gained in the summer series.
Raffi Quirke has been outstanding for Sale and is a real live wire at the base of the scrum. This type of exciting player is what the squad has needed. Harry Randall will have something to say about Quirke being the man going forward but either will provide the desired impact off the bench.
Marcus Smith and Freddie Stewart will be two players itching for more caps. Both are classy players, who on paper are in most England starting teams and should add some youth and dynamism to the English attack. Stewart in recent weeks has proven his attacking game is evolving making him a very well-rounded player. Potentially the star in this new look England?
Eddie Jones dropping Ford has proven he wants to give Smith the responsibility of being the bus driver. If he goal kicks is another huge question. Is he currently better than Farrell off the tee? Yes! Will the captain let him kick? No!
Eddie Jones has given the boot to many of his 2019 cohort, but some key individuals remain. Owen Farrell remains captain and Ben Youngs will look to offer all his international experience to help Marcus Smith out.
In the pack, the pair of Lions in Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes will ensure the young forwards know exactly the standards required at lineout and maul time. Nic Dolly will soon find out that not just a straight throw is required. It must be on the money! Little things like this in terms of culture and standard-setting are what new players require coming into a new environment.
This new look England has still a long way to go. The real judgment day comes in February and March. Last year proved autumn form is useless when it comes to the Six Nations. In that famous Autumn Nations Cup final, the cracks were beginning to show against a much-rotated French team.
If Eddie’s men put down a marker with a big result against South Africa, then this new team will march on and only get better. If they struggle against South Africa and Australia, Jones might need to dial some old phone numbers.
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