With the Six Nations over and England’s performances failing to leave a positive impression on anyone despite a third-place finish, attention, and hope now turn to their summer tour of Australia. Whilst the coaches have to take some of the blame, ultimately it is the players that take to the field.
So, they will know as well as anyone that their performances need to improve or they risk not making it down under. One man who has been pushing his way towards a seat on the plane is Saracens back-row forward Ben Earl.
We're heading Down Under 🇦🇺
Our Australia Tour dates & times have been confirmed 👉 https://t.co/2T74BnDemm
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) April 5, 2022
The 24-year-old has been a member of previous squads picked by Eddie Jones. First, he was selected to go on tour to South Africa in 2018. He had to wait patiently until after the World Cup to receive the first of his 13 England caps though. It felt like he never fully convinced Jones though, despite no other regular number 8s in the squad when Billy Vunipola was injured in 2019, the Australian chose to shoehorn Tom Curry in at the back of the scrum and leave Earl on the bench.
The Saracens have not featured in recent England squads with the likes of Alex Dombrandt, Sam Simmonds and Lewis Ludlam preferred. Others including Callum Chick, Jack Willis and Alfie Barbeary have also had their moments in camp. Judging by performances though Earl does not look like he will be taking no for an answer when the summer tour squad gets announced. Here we look at what the flanker/number 8 has been doing to make him a potentially irresistible pick.
Ben Earl deserves an England recall
Example #1 – Work rate in defence
Perhaps the standout statistic when looking at Earl’s form domestically is his tackle numbers. No player has made more tackles in the Gallagher Premiership than the Saracens Academy graduate. He has made an astronomical 283 tackles this season which is 28 more than second-placed Gloucester captain Lewis Ludlow.
Add in the fact that many of these hits are dominant collisions – he is one of only 10 players to register 10 or more dominant hits this season – and you get a true picture of the defensive nightmare Earl can be for opposition. While many of the headlines were about England’s problems in attack, they missed the third-highest number of tackles in the tournament. His country could do worse than looking to Earl to tighten up their performance without the ball.
When Jones has gone with the famously named kamikaze kids as his flankers for large parts of his tenure, a big concern has been the lineout due to a lack of height and jumping experience. The need for a third jumper has been alleviated somewhat with the relocation of Lawes to the flank. Earl though is a solid option in his own right and can add his skills to his country’s defence around the set-piece. Despite his lack of height, Ben Earl has stolen six lineouts this season, showcasing his athleticism and anticipation at the set-piece.
The final part of Earl’s defensive game that proves he deserves another shot at international rugby is his turnover ability. He is one of the best in the business at getting his head into those dark places and either coming back with the ball or winning his team a penalty. Be it on his try line or in the opposition half, Earl has become a master of pilfering opposition ball.
#2 – Ben Earl’s impact on the attack
The part of his game that makes him stand out most in England’s litany of back row options is his attacking impact. Apart from Sam Simmonds, no other player in the premiership can match Ben Earl’s dynamism and explosiveness in the attack. He has scored six tries in the premiership this season and made eight clean breaks.
These numbers are impressive in their own right but fail to tell the full story. His acceleration is the envy of many wingers let alone forwards and with England’s recent attacking output showing very little in the past few months, they could do with the unique skillset that Earl can bring to the table.
𝗦𝗲𝗿𝗶𝗼𝘂𝘀 power from @BenEarlba to finish the job on Friday night 👏
Here's all of the action from the AJ Bell 👇#StrongerTogether ⚫️🔴
— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) April 4, 2022
His attacking numbers are not something that can be considered a period of good form either. In the 2019/20 season, Earl was the Premiership’s joint top try-scorer alongside Olly Thorley. In that season he also set the record for the best strike rate in a season with his tries coming at an average of one every 93 minutes.
#3 – other impacts on the field typify Earls’ energy and passion
Much of rugby can be measured in statistics but our game is so much more than numbers on a screen. Ben Earl is a player that typifies just that. He brings such energy and passion to any team he plays in that raises the energy levels of his teammates.
He can be seen celebrating every win across the 80 minutes no matter how small. Jones often accuses his England teams of lacking in leadership and Earl has captained both Saracens and England age-grade sides. So while he will not be going into camp looking for the captaincy, he is a player that can be looked to in those tough moments to provide that leadership.
Furthermore, with the return of Saracens’ sizeable international contingent from Six Nations duty expectations would be high on these players. However, in both of Saracens’ fixtures since the end of the tournament, Earl has been the man wearing the player of the match medal after the final whistle is blown.
— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) April 2, 2022
Ben Earl’s versatility
Jones has spoken recently about the desire for his players to be versatile. He wants them to be able to play across the field and not worry about the number on their back. Earl is a player that can fit this system perfectly.
His combination of speed, power and handling ability could see him make a home in the centres if he so wished or even make a good go of playing on the wing where Jones has tried him out during training camps. This is something that will play in Earl’s favour. During the selection process for the next World Cup especially, with a limited number of spots allowed, versatility becomes king.
Finally, in terms of playing style, Earl has been a part of two very successful teams Saracens and Bristol Bears. Even though both were successful, they could not be more different in their styles of play. Bristol is happy to go from anywhere no matter the situation. This is while the Saracens are often far more conservative and like to use their excellent kicking game to make their way upfield.
The only similarity between these two styles of play? Ben Earl thrived in both environments. This is a credit not only to the player but to the man. It shows that he can adjust his style of play to what is best for the team. Then at the same time, he can shine in any team environment.
Yes, competition for England’s back row yet ‘something needs to change’
England has several world-class options to pick from in the back row. The incumbent Lawes and Curry lead the charge, especially after both being promoted to captain. However, it is clear that the gulf between France and Ireland, and England is substantial and ‘something needs to change’.
With that in mind, England’s coaching staff could do far worse than bringing Ben Earl back into the international arena.
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