This June, Eddie Jones takes a depleted, youthful and inexperienced squad on the England Rugby Argentina tour.
EDDIE’S ENGLAND: Preview of the England Rugby Argentina Tour
WHO? WHEN? WHERE?
With 30 players currently unavailable through injury or call-ups to British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand, Eddie Jones has taken this opportunity to blood some younger players, four of whom are currently still young enough to be playing for the England U20 side in Georgia at the annual U20’s Rugby World Cup (of which England are the reigning champions).
Joe Cokanasiga, Nick Isiekwe and the Curry twins, Tom and Ben, are the impressive quartet plucked from the age grade set up to show their talents against a senior Argentinian side.
These four young guns make up 17 of the uncapped players in Eddie’s squad. Before we discuss any further, let us review the squad heading to South America.
Armand, Dom (Exeter Chiefs, uncapped)
Collier, Will (Harlequins, uncapped)
Curry, Ben (Sale Sharks, uncapped)
Curry, Tom (Sale Sharks, uncapped)
Ewels, Charlie (Bath Rugby, 3 caps)
Genge, Ellis (Leicester Tigers, 1 cap)
Hartley, Dylan (Northampton Saints, 84 caps) *Captain
Hughes, Nathan (Wasps, 8 caps)
Isiekwe, Nick (Saracens, uncapped)
Launchbury, Joe (Wasps, 42 caps)
Mullan, Matt (Wasps, 15 caps)
Robshaw, Chris (Harlequins, 55 caps) *Vice captain
Schonert, Nick (Worcester Warriors, uncapped)
Taylor, Tommy (Wasps, 1 cap)
Underhill, Sam (Bath Rugby, uncapped)
Williams, Harry (Exeter Chiefs, uncapped)
Wilson, Mark (Newcastle Falcons, uncapped)
Brown, Mike (Harlequins, 60 caps) *Vice captain
Care, Danny (Harlequins, 71 caps) *Vice captain
Cokanasiga, Joe (London Irish, uncapped)
Devoto, Ollie (Exeter Chiefs, 1 cap)
Earle, Nathan (Saracens, uncapped)
Ford, George (Bath rugby, 36 caps) *Vice captain
Francis, Piers (Northampton Saints, uncapped)
James, Sam (Sale Sharks, uncapped)
Lozowski, Alex (Saracens, uncapped)
Mallinder, Harry (Northampton Saints, uncapped)
Maunder, Jack (Exeter Chiefs, uncapped)
May, Jonny (Gloucester Rugby, 25 caps)
Slade, Henry (Exeter Chiefs, 5 caps)
Solomona, Denny (Sale Sharks, uncapped)
Yarde, Marland (Harlequins, 11 caps)
There is a strong mixture of experience and youth in this squad, with 4 players well above the 50-cap mark. Dylan Hartley (captain) has 84 caps, with his vice captains’ ranging from 36 to 71 caps respectively.
Many are curiously excited to see how this new squad will fair in Argentina, but we have already had the chance to see them in action. A 28-14 win against the Barbarians at Twickenham on May 28th showed a level of maturity above their years to win a tough match against a team full of experience. With a combined age of 725 years in the Barbarians 23 compared to England’s 563, that’s a 162 year difference.
Despite this, England showed a performance absent of nerves or errors that you would associate with a lack of experience. The youngest of the 23, Ben Curry (18), picking up a man of the match performance despite coming off the bench. An accolade that adequately summed up the younger players addition to the win. The reward for this outstanding performance from the Sale Sharks up and comer has been a start in the 7 jersey in the first test.
Four Years Ago
Four years ago Argentina were a considerably weaker force, not only in the international rankings but also with a second string team. England comfortably won that series 2-0, at 32-3 and 52-26 in the respective tests. England face a tougher challenge this time around, Argentina are a much-improved side and a force to be reckoned with having reached the 2015 Rugby World Cup semi-finals.
Jones maintains this is the strongest side he could have selected for the series despite the exclusion of more proven players at premiership, european and international level. Players such as Danny Cipriani, Dan Robson, Dave Attwood, Semesa Rokodguni, Alex Goode and Richard Wigglesworth were left behind. Many have questioned whether this actually is the strongest side or just the side for the future with much improvement in it.
Eddie has stated from the start of his tenure as England head coach that his job is to win the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Selecting such a young player group is a statement of intent to both these youngsters and the senior players on the Lions tour or left at home, showing no one’s place is written in stone. There is a wide and talented player pool that Eddie is keeping a keen eye on, taking in consideration all potential players for his RWC 2019 squad.
Who Will Step Up
The question begs, who of these young bucks will stand out as top international performers? With the likes of Cokanasiga, Earle and Genge, Jones has supreme athletes with size, power and speed on their side. In addition to this athletic ability the likes of Slade, Lozowski and Ewels bring excellent rugby vision, intelligence and handling skills. With Jones noting Ewels work at the lineout and Lozowski’s impressive defensive abilities for a flyhalf. As for Slade, you only have to see the last minute corner kick in this year’s Aviva Premiership semi-final against Saracens, which set up a dramatic late win against an all dominating Saracens side.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Two uncapped players currently in the spotlight are Sam Underhill and Piers Francis, both of whom have made their names outside of England and have now signed for English clubs this coming season. Underhill from Ospreys to Bath and Francis from the Auckland Blues to Northampton Saints.
Piers Francis is not as young as some of the other uncapped newbies to the England squad, he is a 26 year old flyhalf who has made his name at the Auckland Blues in Super Rugby, playing at a mixture of 10 and 12. Francis is a product of the Saracens academy such as his teammates Earle and Isiekwe, as well as current Lions and England players Jamie George, Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and George Kruis, quite the production line there. Francis has impressed Eddie Jones and is set to make his break into the England side through this series, whether he makes his way into the autumn international friendlies squad is in his hands from here on in.
Underhill is a promising openside flanker who recently finished his time at the Ospreys alongside studying at Swansea University. Prior to Eddie Jones taking over as England head coach he criticised Chris Robshaw (former England captain) and others in England for being six- and- a -halves and not true openside flankers. It seems now that openside flankers for Jones are like buses, can’t seem to catch one and then three young sevens come through in the shape of Underhill and the Curry twins. Underhill in particular has interested Jones, starting in last month’s Barbarians game he seemed most likely to start the Argentina series with former captain and England openside alongside him at six and either or both of the Curry twins coming from the bench hot on Underhill’s tail. However injury to both Robshaw and Underhill has opened the door for uncapped backrow duo Ben Curry and Mark Wilson.
Ben Curry we are already familiar with given his stellar MOTM winning performance at Twickenham. Mark Wilson however is an older head at the age of 27, with 112 premiership appearances over seven years for Newcastle Falcons. Wilson has been a consistently top class performer for a fair few years now, many considering this cap well overdue.
Behind the starting pair of Curry and Wilson is Dom Armand. Who has also shown what he has offer at Twickenham with a MOTM award in recent weeks, starring at 7 for the Exeter Chiefs in the Aviva Premiership final (of which Exeter were winners after a mere 7 years after promotion from the championship).
Versatility is one of Armand’s most commendable attributes, with the ability to play all across the back and second row in the pack. A hard hitter who is equally as likely to break the line and put an end to some of his opponent’s most destructive ball caries, Armand fits perfectly into the type of hardnosed backrowers Eddie Jones loves. Either way, whichever flanker pairing Jones picks for this series you have to admire the current depth in the English backrow.
WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?
All in all, England fans should pay close attention to the Argentina series, despite the all-consuming distraction of the Lions tour. The future of English rugby and maybe even a few rugby superstars could be making their names in the next few weeks. Now can Jones get everyone where he wants them to be to win the 2019 Rugby World Cup? I guess we’ll all just have to wait and see.