Eddie Jones since taking over the England head coach job has not been afraid to make interesting and tough calls.
He announced Dylan Hartley as his captain ahead of more seemingly calm and respectable leaders. He’s started Chris Robshaw for every game of his tenure despite slagging off the former England captain as recently as this time last year.
Even in his first match in charge he made some quizzical decisions – placing Ollie Devoto, an accomplished but not well known centre at Bath at the time, on the bench but then did not play him.
Suffice to say he certainly appears to know what he is doing but that doesn’t mean he won’t throw all of us in the rugby community, spectators and media alike, off the scent in terms of selections.
Here, therefore, are five surprise selections Jones could make when he announces his autumn internationals squad next week…
1. Tommy Taylor
With Dylan Hartley as captain and Jamie George and Luke Cowan-Dickie performing admirably as backup choices it would seem that England have the hooker berth well stocked currently. Despite this though, Jones must have been paying attention to the dazzling form of Tommy Taylor. Having just joined Wasps from Sale Sharks in the summer, Taylor has been impressing at the Ricoh Arena and has been a key member of a Wasps side that currently leads the Premiership.
His inclusion would most likely have to come at the expense of Cowan-Dickie or George though, and with both of them also performing well during the start of the Premiership season it would be quite a surprise to see the England Saxon’s hooker usurp one of the three hookers that have all performed so admirably for England over 2016.
2. Sam James
The Sale Sharks outside centre had an extremely impressive season last term and played admirably on the England Saxons tour to South Africa over the summer too. He has made the 13 position his at club level and if Jones has been monitoring his progress he could be rewarded with a call-up to the main England squad this autumn.
With August training camp call-up Joe Marchant still finding his feet in the Premiership at Harlequins and Jonathan Joseph struggling for fitness at the moment at Bath, Elliot Daly would certainly be the next in line to get a chance in the 13 berth for England. However, if Daly were promoted to the first XV this would leave a gap in the squad for the James and he has certainly shown the promise so far to suggest it would not be a step too far for the youngster.
3. Nick Auterac
The Bath loosehead prop faces stiff competition for an England call-up, yet it is not out of the question that Jones has been monitoring the man mountain since the start of the season. Having shaken off injuries that plagued him last term, Auterac is a vital part of what appears to be a resurgent Bath pack.
The team that conceded the most penalties in the Aviva Premiership last season at scrum time have looked considerably steadier this year and a lot of that comes from the strength of their front row pair of Henry Thomas and Auterac. With ball in hand Auterac has consistently shown his surprising speed and considerable power and he also has some very deft passing abilities for a front row forward.
As a result, Auterac is someone Jones may be keen to potentially involve in his England set-up. Jones’ scrum coach, Neal Hatley, would certainly recommend the player following his years as Bath’s forwards coach too, which plays into Auterac’s favour.
4. Danny Cipriani
He’s the name everyone (secretly or openly) wants to see called out next week but certainly not one that is guaranteed. Under Jones Cipriani has not been given an opportunity to feature yet with the pair of Ford and Farrell preferred in the playmaker position under the Australian. However, his early-season form since returning to Wasps has been so magical that it surely cannot be ignored.
With Jones only picking two fly-halves in all of his England squads to date so far it would be a surprise for Cipriani to be selected ahead of the more established two fly-halves for England. However, with Farrell still recovering from injury does the door now open for an international return for Cipriani?
5. Will Evans
The young Leicester openside has already been called up to an England camp, as he was selected to England’s August training camp following a successful England U-20 campaign this summer. With injuries to James Haskell and one of the men expected to replace him, Jack Clifford, does the door potentially open now for a bolder selection by Jones this autumn?
He certainly has the more traditional No. 7 style of play that England have been looking for in the backrow over recent years but with little Aviva Premiership experience the selection may prove to be an audacious one from Jones.
Hamish Milner, Pundit Arena