Eddie Jones on Thursday announced his England team to take on the Springboks at Twickenham this Saturday.
Few were surprised to see Tom Wood recalled to the back row to fill the void left by James Haskell’s foot injury given the clues Jones had given the media. Likewise Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes’ return to the second row was to be expected too considering their experience at international level and their familiarity with one another.
Many were intrigued though to see Elliot Daly replace Jonathan Joseph in the midfield. Despite it being something of a surprise though it is hard to argue with Daly’s club form over the last two seasons warranting a chance in the starting lineup. With Ford and Farrell inside of him becoming a well oiled axis at this point Jones has taken the chance to let Daly prove his international credentials against the fourth best team in the world.
This selection of the form man over the more experienced head is an interesting call by Jones and perhaps explains why he went with Marland Yarde as the more experienced wide man than the in-form Semesa Rokoduguni (something this writer argued was perhaps the wrong decision considering the latter’s form).
Arguably in one of the tougher tests of England’s autumn series the relative inexperience of Daly, someone Jones has been looking to further involve for a while, meant that his ability to trust Yarde as a known member of his England squads swayed his backline decisions.
This had us at Pundit Arena considering what sort of England XV Jones will put out against the Fijians, England’s second game of the autumn series and arguably their weakest opponent.
If Jones were to select a starting XV based upon form alone and not upon the player’s tactical nous, cohesiveness as a unit or their international experience, what would it look like?
Well here it is, a Premiership form XV to take on the Fijians based upon those fit and in Jones’ squad for this autumn.
15. Mike Haley
14. Semesa Rokoduguni
13. Elliot Daly
12. Henry Slade
11. Jonny May
10. George Ford
9. Danny Care
In the backline Rokoduguni is rewarded for his form along with Sale fullback Mike Haley. Two of the form backs in this year’s Premiership may not be experienced on the international stage but their X-factor talents would certainly make for an exciting back three with the equally maverick Jonny May.
In the midfield Ford would remain at fly-half due to his exceptional start to the season with Bath. Danny Cipriani’s absence from the England squad at this time would make him ineligible despite his superb form at Wasps whilst Owen Farrell has not long been back from injury and has not fully stamped his mark on the Premiership enough this season to get the nod at 10.
Henry Slade gets a chance at 12 having picked up his form superbly in the most recent rounds of Premiership fixtures. Although not necessarily benefiting much from the rotation Rob Baxter is employing in his Exeter midfield, Slade was superb in defeat against Bath recently and would provide the distributive game that Jones has been employing by playing Farrell at 12 in the England midfield. Daly would keep his place thanks to some scintillating performances for Wasps so far this term.
Danny Care gets the nod over Ben Youngs at scrum-half. Youngs has not quite been himself at Tigers this season and at times his distribution has been uncharacteristically sloppy. He does always, however, raise his game considerably for England and this is why Jones has no doubt trusted him for the Springbok test.
Care has, however, been his usual lively self at Quins this season and of the two scrum-halves in the England squad is the man in better domestic form. Wasps duo Dan Robson and Joe Simpson are yet to make it near to the England starting teams under Jones but if in the squad either would also potentially pip Youngs considering both of their form for Wasps.
1. Mako Vunipola
2. Jamie George
3. Dan Cole
4. Joe Launchbury
5. Dave Attwood
6. Nathan Hughes
7. Chris Robshaw
8. Billy Vunipola
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The only change this writer would make in the front row would perhaps be at the hooker slot. With Dylan Hartley not playing much rugby so far this season due to injury Jamie George would be given the starting berth. Having been in exceptional form for Saracens the England man seems to have finally wrestled the starting hooker position at club level off of Saracens stalwart Schalk Brits and should be rewarded for consistent form over the last season or two. Tommy Taylor of Wasps would push him close in this though after a great start to his Wasps career.
In the second row Launchbury would keep his place but Lawes is replaced by Bath’s Dave Attwood. Attwood has had an excellent start to the season and appears to be playing some of the best rugby of his career. Imperious in the lineout and dynamic in the loose Attwood has even managed to find his way across the try line twice this season.
The backrow is where selection becomes hard with injury robbing England of so many top options, particularly in the 7 shirt. Sam Jones, Wasps’ young tyro, would have been favourite to start at 7 in Haskell’s absence this autumn, however his injury at an England training camp robbed him of that opportunity.
As a result this writer has gone with Billy Vunipola, Chris Robshaw and Nathan Hughes. Vunipola’s form continues to dazzle whilst Robshaw, despite not being a 7, is one of the most consistent players in the Premiership and, indeed, this England team. His shuffle to 7 allows Nathan Hughes a chance to prove his international calibre at 6 to begin with his hard carrying and heavy tackling reminiscent of the type of game Jerome Kaino brings to the 6 shirt for the All Blacks.
Although this team has some top players in good form in, there are however others missing from the squad whose form in the Premiership could have warranted an England call-up. There are also those whose form was truly spectacular but have been ruled out due to injury.
It is unlikely Jones would go with this team when considering experience, particularly in the back line. However, there is no denying that given the form of many of these players, the test match against the unpredictable Fijians would be something of an entertaining spectacle at least.
Hamish Milner, Pundit Arena
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