As the second Six Nations in the latest World Cup cycle draws to a close this weekend, England’s plans for the next edition of the tournament in 2019 are moving up a gear – with almost as many as two thirds of the 31 man squad looking near certain to be selected for the competition in two years’ time.
Barring any sudden long term injuries or drastic drops in form, as many as 21 players could be said to be near certain selections for the event in Japan.
We take a look at the players who have become a part of Eddie Jones’ ‘core’ group and those getting closer to selection.
Near certainties (21):
Loosehead Props: Joe Marler, Mako Vunipola
Hookers: Jamie George, Dylan Hartley
Tighthead props: Dan Cole
Locks: Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Maro Itoje, George Kruis
Back row: Chris Robshaw, James Haskell, Billy Vunipola
Scrum halves: Ben Youngs, Danny Care
Fly-halves: George Ford, Owen Farrell
Wingers: Anthony Watson, Jack Nowell, Jonny May
Centres: Elliot Daly, Jonathan Joseph
Fullbacks: Mike Brown
Question marks still remain over whether captain Dylan Hartley will still be leading the team in two years’ time. He has had more than his fair share of head-related injuries in the past and younger players like Jamie George, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Tommy Taylor are starting to show that he has serious competition for his number two jersey, but Jones values Hartley’s leadership skills – so do not be surprised to see him go all the way to Japan.
As for the rest of the players here, it’s hard to argue with many of the inclusions. Perhaps George Kruis and Jonny May’s places are less certain than others, but Jones has previously namechecked both.
Getting closer (5): Kyle Sinckler, Tom Wood, Nathan Hughes, Ben Te’o, Henry Slade
Tom Wood’s England career seemed to be all but over in the first part of Jones’ reign, but the Northampton back rower was brought back into the reckoning during last year’s autumn internationals and did a sterling job in the absence of James Haskell.
Young Kyle Sinckler has been an ever-present on the bench for a while now, and has used his reduced time on the pitch to add genuine impact to the side. Jones clearly sees the Harlequins’ tighthead as a long-term project and he is quickly racking up the caps and the accompanying experiences, which will be necessary should Dan Cole suddenly become unavailable.
Wasps number eight Nathan Hughes has established himself as his adopted country’s second choice behind the world class Billy Vunipola, overtaking the likes of Ben Morgan and Josh Beaumont in the process.
Moreover, league convert Ben Te’o has done his chances no harm with some fine performances off the bench in his fledging union international career and impressed in his first start for England.
Finally, Henry Slade is still clearly in Jones’ thoughts and made a good impact coming off the bench against Italy in this year’s Six Nations. He still has a good chance of forcing his way into the reckoning.
In need of improvement (4): Jack Clifford, Teimana Harrison, Marland Yarde, Semesa Rokoduguni
For Clifford and Harrison, their international careers got off with a bang with both making an immediate impact in their first few caps. However, neither has developed quite as quickly as the England coaches would have hoped, and both have dropped down the pecking order accordingly.
Wingers Yarde and Rokoduguni will both also have to up their game significantly to get in ahead of the likes of May, Nowell, Watson and even fullback-cum-centre-cum-winger Elliot Daly.
Desperately seeking fitness (1): Manu Tuilagi
How all England fans would love to see this man mountain back to his best, but successive injuries have plagued Tuilagi in the last few seasons and he is yet to really contribute to the Jones era. But if the Leicester centre can find the fitness and form that first saw him power his way into test rugby then he is likely to make it into any potential World Cup squad.
Fringe players: Ellis Genge, Nathan Catt, Matt Mullan, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tommy Taylor, Paul Hill, Charlie Ewels, Mike Williams, Josh Beaumont, Dan Robson, Alex Lozowski, Mike Haley
A number of players have been included in training squads but found their opportunities to play for the senior team limited. Expect many of these players to be given their chance this summer when many of England’s stars will likely be on the Lions tour.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena