England’s World Cup squad is taking shape after a positive November series. England coach Eddie Jones now finds himself in the pleasant position of having selection problems for the 2019 Six Nations. If one thinks back to the desperately disappointing second Test defeat in June to South Africa in Bloemfontein, these last four weeks have seen England progress. In the aftermath of that loss to Springboks, which gave South Africa a deserved series victory, England were at rock bottom. England’s pack was being marched backwards and the backline was sinking deeper into their own half. Eddie Jones was probably one more loss away from being sacked 15 months out from the World Cup.
The quagmire weather of Cape Town saved England and to the immense credit of Eddie Jones’ squad they have kicked on admirably in November.
Eddie Jones show’s his mettle
We should give Eddie Jones a huge pat on the back here. He was a man under serious pressure before the autumn series got underway. No matter how Jones infuriates both journalists and club owners alike he has given an injury-decimated team their mojo back.
His challenge now is trying to further mould his England team into something like the finished article so they are peaking at the right time for the World Cup. Every year the Six Nations never fails to disappoint but next year promises to be the best yet and stronger than ever before. England has therefore found their energy and form just in time. Their squad however, remains a work in progress so who are the certainties and the maybes?
Full Backs: Elliot Daly and Anthony Watson
England should persist with Daly after a much-improved display against the Wallabies and he should excel on the warm running tracks that Japan will provide. Anthony Watson will hopefully get back to his best and is sure to be included across the back three. Alex Goode like Danny Cipriani deserves a mention here but unless Jones has a total change of heart these two won’t be on the plane.
Wings: Chris Ashton, Joe Cokanasiga, Jonny May and Jack Nowell
England have strength in depth in the back three. Jack Nowell’s versatility may just get him a place in the squad and it could be well between Mike Brown and Nowell to who get’s that last spot.
Centres: Ben Te’o, Henry Slade, Manu Tuilagi, and Jonathan Joseph
Ben Te’o has done enough in November to keep his place in the squad; whether he is a starter remains to be seen. Hopefully he will have an injury clear season with Worcester to get some much needed match fitness. Likewise with Manu Tuilagi, who could be essential to England’s plans in Japan. Henry Slade is getting there and is worth persevering with such is his attacking talent. The fourth position is up to whether Jonathan Joseph can get back to his fleet-footed best after an injury ravaged 12 months. If not, Alex Lozowski’s ability to play in the centres or at fly half keeps him in contention despite fluffing his chance against the Japanese.
Fly Halves: George Ford and Owen Farrell
These two are cast iron certainties for Jones, subject to injury of course. Jones would prefer two fly halves, which ends Danny Cipriani’s chances. Cipriani could sneak in as the x factor versatility man at the 11th hour but pigs might fly as well. Ford needs to continue his better form for the Tigers this season to convince the doubters that he could step up if anything happens to Farrell.
Scrum Halves: Ben Youngs, Richard Wigglesworth and Danny Care
Ben Youngs is a sure starter and Richard Wigglesworth’s experience and box kicking expertise means that he will be the likely back up. Danny Care’s star has dipped in the autumn. However, his ability to make an impact in the last quarter of games means he is still in contention. Ben Spencer and Dan Robson are on Care’s coat tails, so the Harlequin needs to have a strong autumn.
Props: Kyle Sinckler, Mako Vunipola, Harry Williams, Ben Moon, and Alec Hepburn
Kyle Sinckler is now first choice and Mako Vunipola will come back into the starting XV once he confirms his fitness. Exeter’s Alex Hepburn, Ben Moon and Harry Williams are all in contention possibly for only two remaining spots. That said England might need five props in Japan.
Hookers: Dylan Hartley, Jamie George
One of the best stories of the autumn for England has been the return to form of Dylan Hartley. He was strong against the Springboks, outstanding against the All Blacks and made a significant contribution against the Japanese. And yet Jones dropped him for the Wallaby clash. Jamie George is an excellent alternative and England is well served in this area.
Locks: Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, George Kruis and Joe Launchbury
Any one of these four would do the job for England. Lawes and Itoje provide the power and dynamism; Kruis and Launchbury are the all-rounders. No weaknesses here for England.
Back rows: Billy Vunipola, Mark Wilson, Sam Underhill and Tom Curry
Mark Wilson’s outstanding autumn campaign means that he moves ahead of Chris Robshaw and Brad Shields. Nathan Hughes has not convinced in the absence of Billy Vunipola and if Vunipola does not make it then England should not rule out Ben Morgan. England needs a ball carrier in the number eight jumper. Underhill and Curry can fight it out for the openside jersey.
There are so many to mention given how many players are returning from injury, which is excellent news for Eddie Jones. Among the perennially unlucky are Alex Goode, Danny Cipriani and Dave Atwood. Such fine servants like James Haskell, Dan Cole, Chris Robsaw and Mike Brown are now on the outside. Their experience cannot be discounted however; as injury will inevitably strike so these guys will definitely be in the mix.
Zak Mercer, Alex Lozwoski, Charlie Ewels, Ellis Genge and Luke Cowan-Dickie are also among many who could miss the cut.
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