Who should Eddie Jones be looking at ahead of the Rugby World Cup
The Gallagher Premiership is back and now in full swing. Most of the internationals have made a return to their clubs after a busy summer period at Test level too. Eyes are coming around to the national team once more. The Autumn Internationals and the Six Nations are the last opportunities for Eddie Jones to whittle down the huge English player pool. Below, we analyse the players that Eddie Jones should take a look at.
Firstly, this analysis is based on an analysis of the first three weeks of the premiership. It is fully acknowledged that a player should be judged on more than three weeks of work. However, there has been a strong feeling that Eddie Jones can occasionally ignore form players. We will take a look at who the form players are. Why should they be getting considered above and beyond some squad regulars.
The front row is hard to statistically analyse, simply because a lot of the work is unseen and more regarded as the grunt work. However, we know Eddie Jones is trying to create an exciting brand of rugby. Where the number on your back means much less, mobility is key as well as the ability to be impactful. Ellis Genge has had a barnstorming start to the season, capping his debut with two tries racking up 77 metres carrying the ball and knocking defenders over for fun. Other props to have made an impactful start are Patrick Schickerling and Alec Hepburn. Surprisingly, or perhaps not to some, the props showing up in their physicality are Kyle Sinckler and Dan Cole. These pair have the most tackles of any prop in the league with 33 and 31 tackles respectively. This shows their ability to ‘reload’ and make effective tackles. It would appear, Eddie is picking the right players in the front row.
In the hooker department, there are a few clear standouts so far. Tom Dunn has a massive 6 turnovers won already this season, on top of 3 tries. George McGuigan is topping the try-scoring charts with 4 tries already. The potential new name that should be looked at is Will Capon, he has scored himself 2 tries and in only 137 minutes of rugby, has made 37 tackles along with 3 turnovers. At just under 23 years old, he is coming into important years in his rugby career and so far his performances justify a chance in the England Squad.
In the engine room, a position of strength in the past, there have been 20 English-qualified locks that have graced the Gallagher Premiership pitches. There is one name in that list that is statistically standing out, warranting a chance in that squad. Joe Batley of the beleaguered Worcester Warriors, has carried the rugby ball 25 times in matches, covering 101 metres. Averaging over four metres per carry, this sort of ability to break the gain line is impressive. On top of that, he is near the top of the lineout wins charts with nine and is one of the only locks to have provided a try assist as well as scoring a try himself. Alex Coles is the other lock to have done that as well and fully warrants his recent call up to a training squad based on this season. Maro Itoje continues to dominate the lineout charts despite only playing one match. You can’t go far wrong with Ollie Chessum either, he also averages over four metres per carry and has been effective at both tackling and turnovers so far.
The back row for Eddie Jones, as we all know, is about being interchangeable and not worrying about the number on your back. You need to hit rucks, make your tackles and try to disrupt the other side’s ball as much as possible. Along with being a solid carrying option too. If you are looking for solid tacklers, George Martin and Tom Pearson are the standouts. They have both made over 40 tackles with tackle success rates over 95%, on top of this, they have both shown carrying ability as well as their turnover skills. If their on-ball skills is what you’d prefer, then look no further than Tom Willis and Billy Vunipola who have both carried for over 140 metres in the league already. Richard Capstick has also been having an excellent season with Exeter and across the board has impressive stats so deserves a mention. If turnovers are your thing, Will Evans at Harlequins is smashing the turnover charts. In just 3 matches he already has 8 turnovers to his name.
Eddie Jones Rugby World Cup squad alternatives
If you are after all-out attack, there is one scrum-half who is leading nearly all of the attacking statistics. Alex Mitchell has the most metres carried (203), most defenders beaten (10), most offloads (4) and most carries (31). If you are after a scrum half to attack, he is the clear standout. However, other options are available. Harry Randall has carried on where he left off and has the most try assists and has made the most tackles of any English scrum half in the league, a defensive plus for sure besides his diminutive stature. Stuart Townsend has been quietly effective and has warranted keeping his starting spot at Exeter and could deserve a look at soon. However, Jack van Poortvleit is quietly waiting in the wings, with much fewer minutes on the pitch than the others he still is showing why he is likely to be picked as he has 100% tackle success rate and is carrying over five metres per carry.
It is without doubt that going into the Rugby World Cup, Eddie will be bringing Owen Farrell and Marcus Smith. However, if we were to look at who deserves a look at right now. We get completely different names. Harvey Skinner has been a surprise starter for Exeter and has fully justified his selection. He has carried the most in every sense of the word, covering the most metres (162) and running with the ball (31) the most times out of any fly-half. The unknown quantity is that he isn’t Exeter’s placekicker so will need to be backed up by a solid kicker too. If we were looking at kicking accuracy, Marcus Smith and Orlando Bailey are the only 100% kickers left but have had considerably fewer attempts than the others. Piers Francis on the other hand is kicking at 93% accuracy and has already racked up 36 points this season. Alternatively, if accurate kicking isn’t that important, Charlie Atkinson has been a constant attacking threat for Wasps and will be called up for England one day. this World Cup may be too soon for the 20-year-old, but his time will come.
In the centres, statistically, you do not need to look much further than Harlequins at the moment. Luke Northmore has carried nearly 200 metres in just 20 runs. This means he is averaging just under ten metres per carry. He also has two tries, four clean breaks and seven defenders beaten. Joe Marchant is topping the try-scoring charts for the centres, with three to his name already, but also has the joint most tackles of any centre in the league with 26. Ollie Lawrence continues to be the outstanding player at Worcester and has already beaten 11 defenders in the leagues in just three matches as well as having a 95% tackle success rate. Guy Porter is also raising his hand by having an effective start to the season with Leicester. With four clean breaks and seven defenders beaten he is showing that he isn’t just a defensive leader but is decent with ball in hand too.
Henry Arundell… What is being shown is that the hype is real. He has covered over 100m more than any other player in the league already. Notching up 403 metres carried, three tries, 13 defenders beaten and three try assists in just three matches. It is outstanding, the fact he is still 19 years old makes it more astounding. In second on the metres carried list is Olly Woodburn, he has carried for 275 metres which in any other season would probably have him top of the list. He offers consistency but has never been given the chance for England despite his obvious ability. Perhaps Eddie should give some of the older horses in the stable a look out at too. Cadan Murley also needs to be here, he jointly sits top of the try-scoring charts with four to his name. He has also made the most clean breaks and has covered an impressive 228 metres with the ball himself, beating nine defenders along the way.
Ali Crossdale has shown his potential and statistically is the most likely player to beat their opponent. He has got past eight of them in just ten carries already this season. We also can’t ignore Freddie Steward, in just 80 minutes of rugby he already has over 100 metres covered and three tries to his name. Joe Simmonds is the surprise here being played out of position at full-back. Offering a real playmaking option and has had some excellent performances for Exeter. He has covered 163 metres and beaten seven defenders along the way. He also offers a kicking option sitting at a respectable 13 out of 15 kicks hitting the target.
Do we believe the stats?
Ultimately, rugby is more than a spreadsheet of statistics and numbers. However, what has shown that the cream does seem to rise to the top. When analysing the performances of the players in just three weeks of rugby a lot of familiar names are already topping the charts. However, there are potentially names amongst them that also deserve chances, their performances are on the same level. Joe Batley in the engine room, Harvey Skinner in the 10 shirt with Joe Simmonds at full-back. In many ways, these options would be dismissed immediately. However, the numbers can sometimes tell a story, as the season progresses we will see if these names continue to rise to the top along with the regulars. Will there be other new names who put their hands up for contention along the way.
Please let us know who you think could be a surprise call-up. Who should Eddie Jones Rugby World Cup squad include?