Following a strong start to the Eddie Jones era with eight wins out of eight, times could just be about to get tougher for this England squad, with a number of injuries threatening their 100 per cent record.
It was already known that James Haskell would not be available for the autumn tests, but following more and more injuries to key players and others, the team will require big surgery in order to conquer the Springboks for the first time since 2006.
With the England squad for the autumn internationals named on Wednesday, here is the team I would select for the first game against South Africa on November 12.
1. Mako Vunipola
Vunipola at present is the form loosehead prop in world rugby and is one of the most dangerous attacking forward threats around. He will be essential in continuing England’s unbeaten run.
2. Dylan Hartley
With so many injuries in the squad, the team needs their leader, despite the form of the other contenders. Hartley made a successful return after missing six weeks of rugby and should slot straight back in.
3. Dan Cole
Cole is one of the many players who have enjoyed a resurgence under Jones, and he has continued his form in club rugby domestically and in Europe, continuing to deserve his starting position.
4. Joe Launchbury
Launchbury may well have started anyway against South Africa, with Haskell’s injury moving Maro Itoje to the back row.
However, with both George Kruis and Itoje seemingly doomed to spend the autumn internationals on the sidelines, his experience and undoubted quality will be vital.
5. Dave Attwood
Attwood benefits from an injury to Courtney Lawes at the weekend. He put in another impressive and hardworking display against Exeter, and will need to show that aggression against South Africa.
6 Chris Robshaw
The 30-year-old was at his hard hitting best in Australia, forming a huge back row combination with Haskell and Vunipola. He has become an undroppable player, never having a bad game, and hopefully this will continue.
7. Teimana Harrison
Despite his disastrous last test, Harrison remains a big talent, and is a disruptive ball carrier. He played well in Europe for Northampton, getting him back in form at a crucial time.
Jones has said that Harrison is the favourite to start at open side, and if he impresses in the camp he will start.
8. Billy Vunipola
There’s not much that can be said about this man that hasn’t been said already. He can now be considered world class, and is closely approaching Kieran Read for the title of best number 8 in world rugby.
9. Ben Youngs
My first proper choice would be Richard Wigglesworth, due to his form at Saracens, but since that is a very unlikely option, I have gone with Ben Youngs. His form has not been as good as he would have liked so far this season, but he is England’s best option at 9.
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10. George Ford
Ford enjoyed a great start to the season by orchestrating an impressive win over Northampton. The partnership with his old friend, Owen Farrell, worked magnificently in Australia and he should continue to be the go-to midfield option.
11. Marland Yarde
It is a right shame for Chris Ashton with all these injuries, as he would have definitely been in the mix to start. The next best option is an unpolished gem in Marland Yarde. He has done some things brilliantly so far this season, and some things appallingly. In my opinion he is a better option than Jonny May at this point in time and should start.
12. Owen Farrell
A back injury followed by a hip injury kept him out until mid October, but three brilliant comeback performances in Europe and the Premiership have dismissed all doubts about his fitness. He is now a nailed on starter at either fly half or inside centre.
13. Jonathan Joseph
This is a tough choice. Elliott Daly has been good in a strong Wasps side, but Joseph has come back into the Bath team and played very well. Combining his solid club performances with his more impressive summer tour, Joseph deserves to keep the jersey for now.
14. Semesa Rokoduguni
Rokoduguni has been simply electric this season, and due to the injuries to Jack Nowell and Anthony Watson, it is only right that he takes his well earned place on the right wing and show the world his outrageous talent with the ball in hand.
15. Alex Goode
I have said it before and I will say it again, Alex Goode is the right man for the job at the back for his country.
Contrast Goode’s performance in Europe’s second round with Mike Brown’s and you will see a faultless display in defence and attack from Goode and a crucial high ball loss resulting in the winning try for Brown.
16. Jamie George
The top try scorer in English rugby will be disappointed with his spot on the bench, and in many eyes should be starting. However, he will play an important role later on in proceedings.
17. Joe Marler
Marler will have to do a lot of good things to overtake Vunipola in the pecking order, but still remains a solid scrummager at test level.
18. Kyle Sinckler
Sinckler has been terrific for Harlequins this year, and has moved further and further up Jones’ pecking order, displacing the much hyped Paul Hill in the squad.
19. Josh Beaumont
A late call up to the squad, Beaumont has been a brilliant leader for Sale and deserves his place. He is an athletic and powerful second row and back row option.
20. Nathan Hughes
Hughes has been scouted as international talent for years, and is finally eligible for his adoptive country. He is far behind Vunipola, but, as ever, with the injury list and need for ball carriers Hughes fits the bill perfectly to come on late in the game.
21. Danny Care
As proved many a time, Danny Care, either starting or off of the bench, can make a significant difference around the breakdown by sniping or providing quick ball.
22. Elliott Daly
Whilst losing out to Joseph in the starting XV, Daly, like so many on a dangerous bench, will be itching to get on and stretch his legs.
23. Mike Brown
Brown may not be the best full back in England anymore, but he has a huge wealth of experience as England’s most capped player in that position, and if the going gets tough, he is a good man to bring on.
Angus Cross, Pundit Arena
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