England are arguably now the best they’ve been since the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
After their disappearance at the World Cup last year, the forwards are again terrorising their opposite numbers while Eddie Jones also has pace and creativity amongst his back line. Elsewhere, the Ford-Farrell axis creates the space for the lightning-quick Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph.
With the Lions tour coming up next year you’d be right in thinking the team will have a large English contingent, but Jones has set his sights on sending a huge fifteen players alongside a few of his coaching staff.
“I would be disappointed if we did not get at least 15 players on the Lions tour and hopefully get one or two of our coaches on the coaching staff,” Jones told Sky Sports.
This is a bold claim from the Australian. Having only had ten players originally selected for the 2013 Lions tour, 15 players this time around around would be an outstanding achievement.
Here are the XV England players most likely to get called up to the Lions squad:
It’s difficult to name anyone in his position who had as good a year. How many can claim to have won every tournament they played in last year? Vunipola can.
No other loose-head has better hands than the Saracens man and his attacking threat is greater than the rest.
With his experience and leadership, Hartley must be on that plane. A set-piece expert with the best throwing stats as well as being a top defender. This considered, Hartley is tipped by many for the Lions captaincy.
You know what you’ll get with Cole – solid on his side of the scrum and high work rate in defence.
Cole can play at his best for the full 80 minutes and makes his mark on the game every time.
England’s lineout guru, ball carrier and, importantly, Maro Itoje’s partner in crime.
Kruis isn’t given the credit he deserves for the hard work he’s put in. Without his tackling and lineout success England would be far worse off.
The European Player of the Year, who can play two positions to an international standard, last year didn’t lose a single game he started.
With his winning mentality coinciding with his physicality, Itoje is the first name on any team sheet.
Previously snubbed by the Lions, the flanker will be seeking to redeem himself.
His tackle count is always up there and he’s good with the ball in hand. A worthy choice particularly if he’s to play at blindside.
Despite only playing two games, Haskell was England’s best player against Australia. The man mountain is England’s best tackler and hitter.
If you factor this in with his new impressive work at the breakdown he’s become one of Europe’s best.
Bulldozer, powerhouse and machine, all words that perfectly suit Vunipola. The biggest and scariest man to ever emerge from the back of the scrum. Always tops ball carrying and tackle charts as well as posing as a try threat.
Threatening from whatever situation and has a great kicking game.
His sniping runs cause havoc to any defence he plays against. Also his box kick are great if the Lions want to play a territory-based game.
The man from Wigan was nothing short of exceptional last season. His goal kicking and distribution lead his side to success.
Not only a creator but also a rock solid defender.
Ford had a great summer tour and started the season better than any other English player. Under Todd Blackadder, Ford looks refreshed and rejuvenated.
His kicking from hand and timing of pass is just tremendous.
A wrecking ball with valuable Lions experience. In recent years injuries have plagued the centre, however having made the cut in 2013 Tuilagi has unfinished business with the Lions.
When fit he’s a world beater and simply cannot be stopped. His power and speed could be a deadly weapon.
Why wouldn’t the outside centre try machine with speed not be considered for the tour? For many reasons the Bath man is often compared to Jeremy Guscott, and rightly so.
His speed allows him to score try after try. He can also pass, tackle and kick, making him the perfect centre.
Not only can he finish superbly, but Watson can kick and run faster than anyone else in the squad. Wherever he is on the pitch Watson looks like he’s about to score.
The 22-year-old is simply impossible to stop when he sees the white lines.
England’s sharp winger knows where the try line is and is superb in defence considering his size. His stepping skills are incredible and, like Watson, he delivers under pressure.
More importantly, he can cover 13 and 15 as well as the wing.
Patrick Perry, Pundit Arena