This segment will focus on players who are putting their hands up for selection in the run up to the Autumn internationals each week. Form plays such a huge factor in the run up to International selection and one bad game, one red card or one injury could send a familiar faces down the pecking order, such is the the strength in depth in England. These players in particular should be giving Eddie Jones and his backroom staff headaches when squad selection time arrives. It’s early days, but here’s who have made this weeks England radar.
Rokoduguni faces a similar predicament to Christian Wade in that his perceived weaknesses outweigh the undeniable danger he poses according to Eddie Jones. But how long can you ignore his running game? Three tries in two games and the first against Saracens reeked of class. Saracens have arguably the tightest defence in Europe and the way he managed to initiate a clean break from a set piece followed by two gorgeous steps is surely something that will interest the England head coach?
Apparently his all round game is not good enough, but I genuinely struggle to recall Rokoduguni missing many tackles. I believe that if ‘Roko’ can be part of a Bath team that looks seriously competitive in the league then he deserves to leapfrog players like Jonny May and Marland Yarde in the pecking order.
He’s a game changer and if you take one look at the All Blacks’ stable of wingers Nehe Milner-Skudder, Waisake Naholo and Rieko Ioane, it is clear that Steve Hansen has picked them for their attacking personality and the other attributes are secondary. Rokoduguni is worth the risk, I feel that Jones needs a bit more confidence in born finishers and take a gamble.
Obviously Lawes needs no introduction nor does he deserve to be on a list of potential England players. However, this is more a comment on the alarmingly rich vein of form that Lawes is enjoying at the moment. He was one of the most physical Lions forwards down in New Zealand and this has been carried forward into the Premiership. In the past he was stereotyped as brute who made massive tackles, but season by season we are seeing a much more defined and sharpened version of Lawes. He seems to have found a second wind after so much early hype and a mid-career dip.
The way he carried so willingly against Leicester on Saturday and more importantly, making yards with these carries shows that he is growing at the age of 28 rather than just remaining an imposing defensive tool. His lineout work and telepathic relationship with Dylan Hartley is another reason that Lawes should 100% start for England in November.
The commentators mentioned the possibility of either Lawes or Itoje playing at 6, and I would not be opposed to that. The added physicality, size and aggression gained could really benefit England, especially against the French and Irish packs. Much has been made of the vaunted English lock quartet of Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Joe Launchbury and George Kruis, but on form I am going to stick my neck out and welcome the barrage of criticism in saying that Lawes is England’s form second row.
Where has this man come from? There was such little buzz outside of Exeter surrounding Simmonds, and the way he has exploded has been simply sensational. All the hype around young back row forwards has been around Zach Mercer, Tom Curry and Sam Underhill, but Simmonds announced his arrival this season with a scintillating performance.
The way he ghosted past two Gloucester defenders in the first half was a demonstration of his explosive power and ability to accelerate in a tight space. Then against London Irish, he followed that performance up with a burst and try assist, as well as fifteen tackles.
If Eddie Jones feels he needs a more agile option at 8 to compliment the sheer mass and grunt of Billy Vunipola or Nathan Hughes we could see Simmonds build toward a spot in the England ranks. Simmonds is not the biggest and it could be preferable to see him as an extra dynamic ball carrier in a flanking role like Jack Clifford or Ardie Savea. There is still a lot we don’t know about him of course. We are still yet to see how much he can offer in the tighter games, against less porous defences and whether or not he is able to stamp his mark on a game if defences nullify his carrying. But at the moment he looks like one of the most dangerous forwards in the league.
The Zimbabwean born flanker easily made my team of the year last season. His rugged hard-nosed attitude has made him somewhat of a cult icon among the Exeter faithful and he deserves more recognition. Against London Irish his two tries were vastly different examples of how he offers himself as a runner. For the first, we saw him in the wide channels chewing through the lighter backs out wide and his second was vintage Chiefs play, ending in an archetypal, quick pick and go to score.
His spiky, tenacious style reminds me a lot of Liam Squire’s recent performances in an All Black shirt. Not particularly muscular, but both have long, rangy stride lengths that defenders find difficult to shackle. He has that farmer’s strength that people find hard to explain and his trundles often produce hard earned, painful yards. Armand is also a brilliant line out forward, which nowadays seems to be essential for a back rower.
The England back row is by no means settled or confirmed. I would really like to see Eddie Jones give either Armand or Mark Wilson a go alongside Chris Robshaw in the Autumn test series to add a bit of dogged enthusiasm to the mix.
Surely the form English scrum half at the moment? Some people are dismissing Robson’s 4 tries against Sale, putting them down to poor defence. But there’s just no denying the x-factor Robson brings to a side. Granted he still makes mistakes, with a couple of kicks charged down already, even giving a try away in the Sale game. Yet his sharpness of mind and speed off the mark make him such a hard player to deal with. He keeps the guards at ruck time honest and he always seems to be supporting when one of Wasps’ strike runners makes a clean break.
It’s no accident that when Wasps are playing well, it is because Robson is so adept at digging the ball out and feeding his playmakers rapidly at a relentless tempo. Danny Care is still the master sniper off the bench, but I would like to think Eddie Jones is looking at some younger 9’s who will be able to assume the mantle over the next year or two.
Dai Young was rightly baffled by the decision to leave Robson at home over the summer. It seems strange that Jones has put so much emphasis on his ‘finishers,’ to bring energy to the final quarter and yet is so uninterested in the best attacking 9 in the Premiership. If he continues as he has started and still misses selection, people should riot.
Joe Marler and Mako Vunipola (off the bench) both had great outings over the weekend, but will still be looking nervously over their shoulder at Genge – the young rhino who is throwing his weight around viciously at the moment. The prospect of having both he and Kyle Sinckler coming off the bench for England is probably unrealistic, but promises blood and mayhem.
Despite Leicester’s two losses from two, Genge has not been to blame. The set piece was good against Bath. No prop seems to be able to go a game without committing at least one penalty at scrum time, but the fact Genge’s body position and power is there to see is a great sign for the England forwards coaches. As an added bonus, the way he rag dolled Dylan Hartley, sending him off into the distance without blinking an eye was evidence of the fire and aggression he brings every time he gets his hands on the ball.
The way he acquitted himself against the Argentinians over the summer showed that at 22 he has the temperament for test match rugby. Sure to be in the conversation when selection comes up and I imagine a dead cert for the plane to Japan in 2019. Genge needs to keep presenting himself as a destructive ball carrier without losing his temper or falling to indiscipline. A great start to the season and I’m sure there is more to come.