As the Rugby World Cup in Japan draws ever closer, excitement is building. Once the domestic competitions are decided, Eddie Jones will be selecting his 31-man England Rugby World Cup squad within the next few months. So naturally, attention turns to who will make the plane.
With Steve Hansen already bringing together a larger 41-man group together for what New Zealand Rugby calls ‘foundation days’ it brings to attention ongoing planning that nations like England require. While the majority of Jones’ squad looks set but, there are a few areas which are still undecided.
This is not an opinion piece about who we; at Last Word On Rugby, think ‘should’ make the squad. This is a look at who many think Jones ‘might’ consider on past and current form, and where areas of uncertainty lay.
Key decisions: Who will be Eddie Jones’ Fifth Prop?
Standard practice for a World Cup squad is to take five props. In a perfect scenario, England Rugby would have someone would could play on both sides of the scrum. However, they do not have anyone good enough at both positions so they are likely to take one more loose-head or tight-head.
It seems fairly clear that Mako Vunipola, Genge, Williams, and the popular Kyle Sinckler will all go to Japan. Who will make that fifth spot, is very much up in the air. The possible candidates are currently, Dan Cole, Ben Moon and there is still an outside chance for Alec Hepburn.
Alec Hepburn makes his first start for England this Saturday 👊
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) November 1, 2018
This decision is almost as close as a toss of a coin. However, if we have to make a decision, it is likely to be Moon that gets the nod in order to protect Vunipola. This is as he may play long stints in England’s key matches so more cover there is needed. Although, this could go either way.
Select three Scrum Halves or, Six Backrowers?
In 2015, England took three scrum halves and five backrowers to the World Cup. However, many of Jones’ training squads have only included two scrum halves which may suggest he will do the same come September.
If he does decide to do this, then the second scrum half place is really up for grabs. It is likely to be between Danny Care and Dan Robson. Robson never really got the chance to impress in the Six Nations, and his recent injury might be damaging for his chances.
Danny Care has been in good form of late and has proven his worth in an England shirt. He probably has the advantage now, to pair with Ben Youngs but, a lot could change between now and the squad announcement.
Note: Eddie Jones will name his squad to prepare for the Rugby World Cup (which begins in late September). The England XV v Barbarians June match-day squad is likely to feature many names who could still break into the final England Rugby World Cup squad.
RWC Squad Blindside Flankers
We still do not know whether England will take five or six back row to the World Cup. What we do know is that at least one big name will miss out. Jones will probably take two number eights, so in all likelihood, Billy Vunipola and Nathan Hughes are ‘all but’ locked in.
He will also probably take two open-side flankers due to Tom Curry and Underhill’s reputation for injury. Furthermore, Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes can cover blindside so, there could only be one place for a specialist six.
The candidates are Mark Wilson, Chris Robshaw, and Brad Shields. Despite the fans clear distaste for Shields, Jones clearly sees something in him. So I would not discount him at this rate. Robshaw missed the Six Nations but has been in sublime for Harlequins since.
Finally, Wilson has been a revelation for England but – like every man being considered for the England Rugby World Cuyp squad – faces stiff competition to keep his place.
Another really hard one to call here. This could definitely come down to form in the August warm-up games, as well as performances between now and the end of the Premiership Rugby season.
England Rugby World Cup squad ‘Back three’
England will likely take 5 back three players to the World Cup if other squads are anything to go by. Daly, May and Nowell are pretty much certainties to go but the last two places are hard to call.
Brown may get the nod in order to offer specialist full-back cover. He has also been excellent for Harlequins recently. One of Cockanasiga and Ashton may miss out which would be harsh on whoever that is. Both have been excellent and their form over the coming months could settle it.
The other outside bet to contend with is Anthony Watson. The British and Irish Lion is key to England ‘at his best’ but, he has been out for over a year. He is set to return soon so, can he force his way into the squad before they board the plane?
Eddie Jones’ RWC squad: Concluding thoughts
Overall Eddie Jones’ squad looks fairly settled and it is only final tweaks that are needed. England Rugby has serious depth in a number of positions which is really promising.
As a result, big decisions are needed between the wider-training group announcement [TBC], and the final England Rugby World Cup squad make-up. This means some big names and quality players are going to miss out on the World Cup.
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