In terms of player base there are few countries to rival England, but performances from the national side have often belied this claim to greater depth than the rest of the rugby world. Yet under Eddie Jones the Red Rose might finally be putting out a side strong enough to compete with the sport’s top table once more. Beyond that, just how good is England’s depth?
According to World Rugby statistics, England has 340,000 registered players and over 2,000,000 players in total, surpassing those of nearest rivals France. However, a country that apparently has a far greater player pool to choose from than the rest of the globe has struggled to compete consistently with their nearest rivals since World Cup glory in 2003.
Although Australian Eddie Jones is quickly turning England into a much stronger force at test level now, are the clubs and the academies producing a conveyor belt of talent to support England’s senior set up in the long run?
We have put together three teams of players that are either on the fringes of England selection or will likely be in contention for test caps in the near future.
Less Than 15 Caps XV
This is a side made up of those players that have already started to make international appearances but not enough to be recognised as established test names.
As England have come to rely on a core of second rows in Geoff Parling, Dave Attwood, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Maro Itoje and George Kruis, there are currently no up-and-coming players at second row to select. However, it’s likely England’s current crop of locks will see them safely to 2019 and beyond, so it’s not an area Eddie Jones and co will be worrying about too much in the next few years.
Beyond the second row there is already a fantastic team emerging with only a few caps between them. Most England fans would have at least one of the back row in their senior England 23 and the back division is seriously impressive.
1) Matt Mullan/Ellis Genge
2) Luke Cowan-Dickie/Tommy Taylor
3) Paul Hill/Henry Thomas
4) Charlie Ewels#
5) Mitch Lees#
6) Teimana Harrison
7) Matt Kvesic
8) Jack Clifford
9) Joe Simpson
10) Danny Cipriani
11) Christian Wade
12) Henry Slade/Ollie Devoto/Kyle Eastmond
13) Elliot Daly
14) Semesa Rokoduguni
15) Chris Pennell
# Due to there being no suitable candidates, uncapped EPS or Saxons players were included in the second row.
Uncapped Team #1 (England Saxons and England EPS Representatives)
This side is made up of the next players in line who have been taken from the England senior squad or the current EPS and are all uncapped.
Sale Sharks’ captain Josh Beaumont is pushing for an England cap and is competing with both Saracens’ Billy Vunipola and Wasps’ Nathan Hughes, although Jones has previously spoken of his admiration for Fijian Hughes and his long-term potential as a blindside flanker rather than a number eight.
Moving away from England’s current crop of props and hookers, there is still talent to be found in Northampton Saints’ Alex Waller, who can’t even get into the England Saxons let alone the EPS squad, and Leicester’s recently signed George McGuigan.
England are also beginning to show serious depth at fly-half with George Ford, Owen Farrell, Danny Cipriani, Freddie Burns, Henry Slade and Harry Mallinder all competing for one shirt. Has the Red Rose ever seen so many players fighting for the 10 jersey?
A little more depth is beginning to emerge at scrum-half as well, with Youngs, Care, Simpson, Robson and even the likes of Ben Spencer of Saracens all beginning to look like international players. When one considers England once relied on Shaun Perry and Peter Richards to back up Andy Gomarsall in the 9 department, things are certainly changing for the better.
1) Alex Waller
2) George McGuigan
3) Kyle Sinckler
4) James Craig
5) Ed Slater
6) Nathan Hughes
7) Will Evans
8) Josh Beaumont
9) Dan Robson
10) Harry Mallinder
11) Alex Lewington
12) Ben Te’o
13) Joe Marchant
14) Adam Thompstone
15) Mike Haley
Uncapped Team #2
Finally, we put together yet another team of uncapped players who could eventually go on to represent England.
Leicester Tigers’ Harry Thacker is a thrilling player in attack and could offer England something different to its current options at hooker, and Exeter Chiefs’ Don Armand and Dave Ewers are fantastic players for their clubs who could do a job at international level.
However, a lot of players here have some way to go before they will realistically be challenging the current senior 23 for their places, but certainly the talent is there to be developed for the long term.
1) Alec Hepburn
2) Harry Thacker
3) Jake Cooper-Woolley
4) Matt Symons
5) Mike Williams
6) Don Armand
7) Sam Underhill*
8) Dave Ewers
9) Ben Spencer
10) Billy Burns
11) Jamie Elliott
12) Sam Hill
13) Nick Tompkins
14) Will Addison
15) Rob Miller
* Currently unavailable for England selection due to the RFU edict on foreign-based EQPs.
These teams don’t even take into account many of the players who are out of the equation completely right now; individuals like Ben Morgan and Chris Ashton can still offer a lot to the national cause, but with the huge swathes of talent being developed at every club it is going to be a genuine struggle for them to return to the white shirt once more.
Overall verdict: England already have a great chunk of their World Cup squad sorted for 2019 as long as players can maintain their form and fitness, but in every position there are multiple individuals already capped and getting better or good enough to be internationals right now. Eddie Jones is spoilt for choice.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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