After a highly successful Autumn international campaign, England rugby fans will be full of expectations as we head into the 2022 Six Nations Championship. One of the big questions they will ask is who will win come out on top in the England number eight debate. England will start with a massive clash against Scotland in the Calcutta Cup at Murrayfield on the 5th of February.
Eddie Jones has had his critics when it comes to blooding new players. The Saracens players in the squad have played a dominant role in the side but many were dropped for the Autumn international series. There appears to be a shift in thinking about how England will play going forward.
A significant area of contention is who wears the number eight jersey. Tom Curry, Sam Simmonds, Alex Dombrandt and Billy Vunipola appear to be fighting for the starting spot. During the Autumn, it was Curry who played a prominent part at the back of the scrum.
There’s a school of thought now that the roles of 6, 7 and 8 are interchangeable. Jones believes that Curry can fulfil the role of an 8 and has given him several starting opportunities. Tom Curry certainly hasn’t done much wrong at the base of the scrum. But as an openside, he is one of the best in the world, so shouldn’t he remain in that position?
England Number Eight debate
Vunipola appears to be yesterday’s man. Of the four contenders, he is the most experienced international eight. At the start of Jones’s tenure as head coach, the Saracen was hungry and gave some fine performances. But he has dropped off considerably and hasn’t produced a world-class display in several seasons. It remains to be seen on the 18th of January if the head coach picks Vunipola for his Six Nations squad. Was dropping him an exercise in motivation or a genuine intention to look at the next generation?
The Try Scorer
In recent years, Sam Simmonds of Exeter Chiefs has been in and out of the England squad. It seems that Eddie Jones doesn’t yet fully trust him in the number eight role. He may not offer the ball-carrying threat that Vunipola used to, but he is more dynamic in the loose and was last season’s top try-scorer in the Gallagher Premiership.
The player that England fans are most excited about and looks to be the future is Alex Dombrandt of Harlequins. He had a very successful 2020-21 season with Quins and helped them finish as league champions. Again, he is no battering ram, but he runs excellent support lines, can pass well and links very nicely with Quins fly-half Marcus Smith, who has also recently broken into the England squad.
The England team needs stability and a chance to build experience in the run-up to the Rugby World Cup in 2023. Whoever starts at number 8 must get a good run in the position. It remains to be seen if Eddie Jones pursues the experiment of playing Curry there or if he goes with Dombrandt or Simmonds. Jones likes to surprise people, but it’s unlikely that Vunipola will reappear. This season, his form for Saracens hasn’t propelled him to the front of the queue. All will become clearer on the 18th and the England Number Eight debate should be settled.
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