Despite England’s best players apparently dropping like flies in intensive training sessions that have enraged club directors of rugby across the country, there is still enough competition across the field for many of the Red Rose’s players to be feeling the heat of selection.
We take a look at the five incumbent players who should really be looking over their shoulders as the November and December tests get nearer.
5) Ben Youngs
As well as spending most of his career fighting with Harlequins’ Danny Care for England’s scrum-half spot, Youngs is now under pressure from Wasps’ Dan Robson – a man who has already emerged from the shadow of Joe Simpson to become England’s third choice scrum-half.
Given the way he has been playing for his club and the way his team is performing, Robson could well usurp Leicester’s number 9 before the final whistle against Australia on December 3rd.
4) Jonathan Joseph
Injury curtailed the start of Jonathan Joseph’s season, but the Bath centre is now back to full fitness and was in impressive form for his club last weekend. Even so, his shortened season has allowed his nearest rivals to push for international recognition this autumn.
Wasps’ Elliot Daly has been an integral part of a slick back division that has seen the Coventry-based club notch up some stunning perfomances already this year.
His opportunities to play for England have been limited to bench appearances, but sooner or later he’ll be given the chance to start.
A fantastic tussle for one jersey looks to be on the cards for a number of seasons, injury-permitting.
3) Mike Brown
Harlequins’ fullback Brown has not hit the dizzying heights he did a few years back when the feisty 15 was voted the player of the Six Nations back in 2014.
However, his form has been improving for his club and he will be hoping to keep the shirt that has seen him become England’s most capped fullback.
However, Alex Goode’s club form has carried on where it left off last season and after the Saracens talisman won the Aviva Premiership player of the season last year, he will be hoping he has done enough to convince England head coach Eddie Jones that he should be first choice come the South Africa game in November.
2) Billy Vunipola
During Eddie Jones’ time in charge the Australian has invested a lot of faith and time in Saracens’ powerful number eight, with Vunipola starting every game where he has been available for selection.
With Gloucester’s Ben Morgan losing form and fitness it seemed like the New Zealand-born man mountain was leagues ahead of his rivals for the shirt.
However, now both Wasps’ Nathan Hughes and Sale’s Josh Beaumont are both pushing the player for the right to start in the November and December tests. Vunipola will have to be at his very best to ensure he retains England’s precious number eight jersey.
1) Mako Vunipola
Although Vunipola was given the chance to shine in England’s recent 3 – 0 triumph over Australia with competitor Joe Marler taking a break from England duty to recover physically and mentally, the Harlequins loosehead is now back and ready to wrestle his shirt back from the clutches of his Saracens rival (quite literally if England’s training sessions are anything to go by).
Whoever starts will need to be at his very best in the set piece, with four mighty packs for the Red Rose to deal with before Christmas arrives.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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