There is never a dull moment under Eddie Jones whether you are an England rugby fan, a player or a coach. The usual stoushes and flirting with the media, lost in translation barbs over Great Britain’s most promising sports stars (think tennis) and selections that no one saw coming. But, Eddie Jones has got England’s rugby team purring nicely as we head into what will be a fascinating 2022 Six Nations.
Half of 2021 saw England go backwards at an alarming rate after a disappointing Six Nations campaign. A raft of player and coach changes followed with England then defeating Australia and the World Champions, the Springboks to finish the year on a high.
Youngsters breathe life into England Rugby
The rise of youngsters such as Marcus Smith, Freddie Steward and Adam Radwan. England and Eddie have blooded some cracking youngsters over the last 12 months. Previously Eddie Jones did precisely the opposite to what 99% of England thought he would do when it came to selections. Maybe it was a firm nudge by the England HQ hierarchy that persuaded the England coach to change his ways. But credit to Jones, he jettisoned previous favourites and blooded talents like Marcus Smith. What we finally saw, as a result, was an invigorated attack that culminated in the cutting open of South Africa, the team with the world’s best defensive system.
England’s rugby team looked free, young and powerful. There is also clearly so much more to come from this squad. Alex Dombrandt, Jamie Blamire and Raffi Quirke have taken to test match rugby well and can help the likes of Marcus Smith in moulding England into a rugby superpower again. An exciting challenge for Eddie Jones is to get the youngsters in the pack up to speed on the technical abilities required to live with the best at this level. England will be a seriously good team and a nightmare to play against as and when that happens.
Quirke and Smith to start in the Six Nations
Despite an encouraging winter campaign, England’s rugby team goes into the 2022 Six Nations with much to prove. In short, they were awful in this year’s Six Nations. Too many household names consistently underperformed and there is a danger that Jones will not entirely let go of the ‘old’ style. One of the toughest decisions that Jones cannot ignore for too long is whether to stick or jettison Owen Farrell. The rise of Marcus Smith is gaining pace and if Jones does revert to the tried and tested, George Ford is the more likely replacement.
There is no question that Farrell still adds so much to this England rugby squad. But along with England’s game style, Farrell needs to get back from injury and add more attacking prowess to his game. Marcus Smith must have time in the England number 10 jersey and Henry Slade is nailed on to partner him. Ideally, Jones can get two more years out of the injury-prone Manu Tuilagi and that should complete the 10/12/13 trio to take on the world in 2023. Bringing Farrell back at 10 or 12 would muddy the waters of what was a hugely promising attacking style from the autumn internationals. England are moving in a different direction and it will be difficult to see where Farrell fits in.
If Farrell does go, Jones may be tempted to swap Ben Youngs with Raffi Quirke. We have only seen a couple of sightings of Quirke but he has a sumptuous scrum-half skillset. He is powerful, similar to Dewi Morris in that he loves the rough and tumble. He has good hands, is quick and is never far from threatening the opponent’s try line. Youngs was very good against Tonga and solid for the outings against Australia and South Africa. However, Quirke’s time is coming and he made a big impact when coming on against South Africa.
It will be the biggest decision of Eddie Jones’s tenure as an England coach but surely the right one to make [two years out from the Rugby World Cup in France]. France has shown the way in attacking the world’s best defences through the outstanding Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack. England’s rugby team can do likewise with Raffi Quirke and Marcus Smith pulling the strings. They need time to bed in and there will be the odd hiccup when it does not go their way but they are potentially England’s half-back pairing for the next ten years.
Gallagher Premiership going from strength to strength
Despite tight money belts and reduced salary caps, the quality of players coming through the Gallagher Premiership is at an all-time high. We have already talked about Freddie Steward, Jamie Blamire, and Adam Radwan but there are a few more who will break through soon. Watch out for Louis Lynagh, son of the great Michael Lynagh. In a rejuvenated Tigers outfit scrum-half Jack van Poortvliet, backrower George Martin and centre Guy Porter are making headlines.
Harlequins completely shook up the Premiership last year and it has done the league no end of good as a result. Exeter and Saracens, before the latter fell from grace, had a monopoly on the title but not anymore. Saracens are back and looking good, Sale and Gloucester are finding their mojo but it is Leicester Tigers who have risen from the depths of being distinctly ordinary in the last few years. Unbeaten this season, there is a snarl and snap to their play which promise of bringing the good times back to Welford Road. Don’t rule out Harlequins either, they still have the razzle, dazzle and are still capable of running in tries from anywhere. And then there is a resurgent London Irish? Who would have thought that in September?
England Rugby 2021: Predictions
Player to make a bang in 2022: Watch out for Raffi Quirke (see main image). His time is coming in an England jumper
Premiership winners: Leicester Tigers to bring back the glory days
If you wanted a potentially lucrative bet: London Irish
Buy of 2022: Agustín Creevy has been and will continue to be magnificent for London Irish
Hope for 2022: Marcus Smith is given the number 10 jumper for the 2022 Six Nations
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