England start their Autumn International campaign next week on Saturday 12th November against South Africa. They then proceed to play Fiji, Argentina and Australia on consecutive weekends in what will be a test of the talent in English rugby for England’s injury-ravaged squad.
Eddie Jones has certainly impressed since taking charge of the England team with a 100% win rate thus far, albeit he has been able to call upon a nearly fully fit squad for the previous eight games. With games against three of the four teams in the southern hemispheres Rugby championship and what will no doubt be a game Fijian side, Jones’ men will be pushed greatly at Twickenham over the next month, with most of these international sides are coming off the back of playing together week in, week out for the last two months.
Questions will be asked by the spectators as to what can we expect from an England team missing key starting players like Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Anthony Watson and Jack Nowell? Most importantly of all though, what would a successful Autumn campaign look like for England?
We at Pundit Arena have pulled together three factors which we believe would make a successful Autumn International series for this England team…
- Four out of four wins
Although this England team have a lot of injuries heading into the Autumn internationals, and with the nature of the game could pick up more injuries, they also have very high standards. Jones has not allowed any members of his squad to become complacent since he has taken charge and this has raised the bar for anyone pulling on a matchday shirt for England.
Injuries to starters Itoje, Kruis, Haskell, Watson and Nowell will have simply, in Jones’ eyes, given opportunities to those not making the starting XV regularly a chance to impress and stake their claim.
With the opponents that England face this Autumn, Eddie Jones will expect nothing less than four out of four wins given the form of England in 2016 compared to the visiting sides.
South Africa, who are first up, have been a shadow of the side that we know they can be in 2016. Despite having big name players such as Eben Etzebeth and Duane Vermuelen to name but a couple they can call upon, this Springbok team has not gelled particularly well in 2016. Only this week former Springbok fly-half Joel Stransky called the current South African team “very average” and at home England would be disappointed to go down to them.
The Fijians, although always entertaining, are not expected to possess a great deal of a challenge for an England team which when firing can beat anyone in the world (bar perhaps the All Blacks). The Argentinians also, like the Springboks, have looked somewhat out of sorts since the World Cup last year and although a challenging opposition should go down to England at Twickenham.
The game which is perhaps most in doubt for this England team would have to be their final Autumn fixture against the Michael Cheika led Wallabies. Having been whitewashed by the English in the summer there can be no doubt that the Australians will be keen for some revenge on the team that humiliated them in their own backyard. If England are to lose at all this Autumn, this would be the game that it could happen.
However, the Wallabies are still not in mercurial form and with some injuries of their own, not to mention the fact England should have re-gelled as a squad by December the 3rd. As a result they too will be expected by Eddie Jones to lose at Twickenham this Autumn.
2. Test the reserve talent of the England squad
With around a third of England’s regular starting lineup from 2016 missing through injury Eddie Jones will be relishing a chance to truly see just how deep his squad’s quality goes.
In the second row, in particular, Jones is looking for there to be no drop in quality as Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes, both largely bench players under Jones so far, are expected to come in and fill the vacant shirts left by injuries to the Saracens duo of Kruis and Itoje.
They are going to be put under pressure though for those shirts by the Bath duo of Dave Attwood and Charlie Ewels, both of whom have been in fine form so far this season. This sort of competition for places is exactly what Jones craves from his squads and with both starters out in this position he will be licking his lips as the replacements fight it out amongst one another for places.
In the backs, Jones is able to call upon his first choice midfield of George Ford, Owen Farrell and Jonathan Joseph. However, the injuries to both Anthony Watson and Jack Nowell at an England training camp give opportunities to three wingers looking to make their mark.
Jonny May is largely expected to start on the left wing this Autumn for England and after not yet having the chance to turn out for Jones’ England will be hoping to lay down his marker for the Six Nations this November. Meanwhile, on the right wing the in-form Semesa Rokoduguni will battle it out with Harlequins flyer Marland Yarde.
Yarde may have the advantage in terms of already turning out for England under Eddie, but Rokoduguni arguably has the form over all of England’s wingers at the moment. Leading the Aviva Premiership in several categories such as metres made, clean breaks made and defenders beaten on top of being joint top try scorer, Rokoduguni will be disappointed if he does not add to his solitary England cap.
The biggest question remains at open-side flanker though as Jones looks for someone to step into the shoes of James Haskell who has been so good for England this year. The flexibility and international nous of certain players may lead his decision making for this position but there’s no doubting that it is anyone’s shirt for the taking if they impress the England boss.
- Blood some fresh faces
Perhaps most importantly of all England fans want to see a few fresh faces given their debuts this Autumn. Some of the form players in the Aviva Premiership, such as Sale’s electrifying fullback Mike Haley and Wasps backrow tyro Nathan Hughes have been called up to Jones’ squad and they will be hoping to pull on the iconic white shirt at some point during November.
As well as these two new caps, under which category Kyle Sinckler, Charlie Ewels, Alex Lozowski and Ben Te’o also fall, other young players with only one or a couple of caps will be hoping to get some game time for this England outfit. Wasps hooker Tommy Taylor and Leicester’s dynamic prop (yes that can now be a thing) Ellis Genge, for example, will be hoping to add to their international caps.
The Fiji and Argentina games perhaps offer the best opportunity for some of these young players to get game time but Eddie Jones is not known for easing people in and should they impress during training this week in Portugal don’t be surprised to see some surprise faces in the squad to face South Africa.
By the end of the Autumn though we can expect to have probably seen a number of new caps play for England and Eddie Jones will be keen to do this to further increase the competition for squad places, let alone starting spots, for this England team.
The heightening of squad competition will be hoped by England management to continue to raise the quality of those pulling on the shirt and this, they hope, will result in the continuation of England’s 100% record in 2016 and onwards into 2017.
Hamish Milner, Pundit Arena.