Competition for places in the England squad is intense.
Although England fans did not know it at the time, this time last year Stuart Lancaster’s team were about to embark on a disastrous World Cup campaign.
Fast forward twelve months, and England find themselves in a completely different place. Under the guidance of Eddie Jones, the Red Rose have claimed a Grand Slam title and a famous series whitewash over Australia.
As a result, commentators now look upon the future positively and are already looking ahead to the 2019 World Cup with glee. This optimism is not only based on Jones’ no nonsense approach, but a settled starting XV.
While consistent squad selection has aided England, it has limited the number of opportunities to players on the fringes of the squad. As a result, competition for places is now intense.
Such competition is healthy and makes players state a powerful case for inclusion in England’s match day squad.
Although it might seem a little odd to include a player of Manu Tuilagi’s calibre on a list such as this, the big Leicester Tigers centre must not only continue to do what he does best, but remain injury free.
Indeed, as England’s backline has had a balanced feel about it since Owen Farrell took ownership of the 12 jersey, Tuilagi faces the added challenge of convincing Jones to abandon his dual playmaker approach and opt for a more direct style.
However his injury record remains the most pertinent issue.
Although Ben Te’o was catapulted into the England reckoning after signing for the Worcester Warriors, it is not yet known whether or not he will make the step up to international level.
Few doubt his ability with ball in hand, but his defence was exposed on a number of occasions while playing with Leinster.
Like Tuilagi therefore, Te’o needs to hit the ground running if he is to ask Jones the right questions.
If competition for places in midfield is intense, hooker is on a whole other level.
As Captain, Dylan Hartley has his spot nailed down, with Jamie George, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Tom Youngs battling for a place on the bench.
However, Youngs must first see off the impressive Harry Thacker at Leicester, before even considering getting back into Jones’ match day squad.
Although George Ford suffered a tough campaign last season, he found form during England’s three match tour of Australia.
This may have had to do with the fact that he was playing in a Bath side short on confidence, and the Australian tour was a way for Ford to escape the turmoil at The Rec.
Indeed, despite being dropped for the opening test against the Wallabies, the Bath fly half immediately brought balance to England’s back line when he replaced Luther Burrell during the early stages.
Therefore Ford is likely to retain his place at fly half, alongside Owen Farrell at inside centre. Nevertheless, Ford will have to maintain his form if he is to keep a resurgent Manu Tuilagi out of the England team.
After being left out of Eddie Jones’ EPS squad for the Autumn internationals, Danny Cipriani would have beeen forgiven for thinking that his international prospects had slipped away.
However his move to Wasps could yet see Cipriani force Jones’ hand in the future. At 28 years of age, the playmaker still has a lot to offer, but Cipriani will first have to improve his accuracy from the kicking tee.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena