When Eddie Jones announced his England team to face Fiji on Friday, the return of Semesa Rokoduguni to international rugby on the right wing, widely tipped by the media, indeed came to fruition.
What was not anticipated however, was that Elliot Daly, only getting his first start last week for England in his preferred position of outside centre, would be announced on the left wing.
Jones, announcing his matchday squad a day late due to injury concerns, will be disappointed at having to move Daly onto the wing in what has proven to be a string of unfortunate circumstances for the England boss.
Having earlier in the week released Marland Yarde from the England training squad as he cut the squad to 25 men, Rokoduguni appeared to be in line for a start with May on the opposite wing. Saracens fullback and 2015 Aviva Premiership player of the season Alex Goode was earlier in the week tipped to get a rare start at fullback ahead of Mike Brown and so the England back three was presumed to be completed with his insertion into the starting lineup.
However, it appears Jonny May, one of those rumoured to be carrying a knock from the Springbok match, was unable to recover and so Daly has had to shuffle across one with Jonathan Joseph resuming his midfield partnership with Farrell.
If England were able to pick from all of their wing options though, with those ruled out with injury fit and healthy again, how would their back three look? Well, here are three options depending on how Eddie Jones may want to play the game…
1. A Kick Chasing Back Three
As Ireland proved against the All Blacks in Chicago a fortnight ago, the kick chase game, when done well can be extremely successful in throwing a team out of sync and forcing them to make mistakes. In Ben Youngs, George Ford and Owen Farrell England have three excellent out of hand kickers and so if this is a tactic they should need to pursue the back three for this would need to be strong in this area of the game.
As a result this writer would elect Jonny May, Mike Brown and Anthony Watson as the first choice back three to play to this game plan. Brown under Stuart Lancaster was simply exceptional under the high ball and although not being at his very best yet for England under Eddie Jones is still strong under the high ball. He’s also not bad at catching low balls either if this clip against Ireland is anything to go by…
Anthony Watson and Jonny May meanwhile are two excellent kick chasing wingers. Their raw speed enables them to often catch up with well placed kicks and put pressure on the oppositions catchers. Both, but Watson in particular with his capabilities as a fullback, are also excellent in the air and claims more than their fair share of high balls from out of the oppositions hands.
If England were to promote this game plan more for a particular occasion this back three would hope to enact it to a great effect.
2. A Counter Attacking Back Three
A large part of the game for back three players is the ability to field opposition kicks and either make tactical decisions kicking wise or if the situation allows, counter attack back up the pitch.
If England were to go for a back three that played a purely counter-attacking game then the back three of Alex Goode at fullback with Semesa Rokoduguni and Christian Wade would be lethal in this situation.
Goode, as mentioned earlier, the 2015 Aviva Premiership player of the season, was truly mesmeric with his counter attacking prowess for Saracens last season. Not the quickest fullback in the professional game (though by no means slow) Goode possesses a slight of food and eye for a gap that often punishes opposition teams for any kicks that are not well chased.
His two wingers for this back three, Wade and Rokoduguni, are two of the quickest and most elusive wingers in the Aviva Premiership and their fleet of foot and ability to turn a player inside out would combine nicely with Goode for a potent counter attacking back three partnership.
3. The All Round Game Back Three
Although these two back three combinations would be delightful to watch in two rather different manners, the game for wingers and fullbacks involves so much more than simply kick chasing and counter attacks.
As a result one would have to say that up until injuries ruled them both out, Watson and Jack Nowell do offer the finest all around options that England have on the wing. As boring a selection as it is, on the basis they are already Eddie Jones’ number one selections on the wing, they do justify this selection on the basis of what they can offer in all elements of the game.
Both strong in the air and deadly with ball in hand, the defensive contributions of the two make them excellent all around players.
Nowell, not previously mentioned yet, is arguably one of the best wingers in the northern hemisphere in terms of his all round contributions in a game. Strong when carrying, elusive when given space and with a surprising turn of speed, Nowell has been an excellent servant to England under Eddie Jones so far.
His reading of the game, both offensively and defensively, make him a valuable team member, whilst his performances are always epitomised by a willingness to be involved and an engine that doesn’t stop for 80 minutes.
Eddie will be hoping that despite missing this years Autumn Internationals, the two are fit again in time for the 6 Nations in order to alleviate the injury ridden back three options at his disposal. Although they will face stiff competition to get back into the England team if May, Yarde and Rokoduguni prove their worth this Autumn, should the duo be back in the starting lineup for England come the end of March they could just be on a certain plane to New Zealand.
At fullback Brown may just edge Goode in terms of all around game. A determined and strong tackler, Brown also has the tactical and running game to combine with his defensive efforts. Goode may feel hard done by here but the fact that he is not tested as much defensively at club level with Saracens and hasn’t had as many caps as Brown means that Brown, whether it be necessarily true or not, is perceived as the better defender.
At the weekend against Fiji though you can expect Goode’s defensive abilities to tested to the full though as the likes of Nemani Nadolo and Leone Nakarawa are likely to make defensive duties hard for the England team and so this selection could very well be in doubt come Sunday morning…
Hamish Milner, Pundit Arena
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