Wow. That is the best word to describe Eddie Jones’ unorthodox squad selected to tour Argentina this summer.
No one expected the Australian to select fifteen – yes, fifteen – uncapped players in his 31-man squad, but Jones really has torn up the England selection rulebook this time around.
16 of the country’s finest players are joining up with the Lions this summer, but Jones has opted for youthful exuberance rather than experience or ‘second stringers’. We pick out five things we can learn from the latest squad.
1) Jones is casting his net wide
Forget Premiership rugby, Jones has raided the U20s Grand Slam winners for a host of players, including twin brothers Ben and Tom Curry, Nick Isiekwe and Joe Cokanasiga, as well as a number of representatives from last year’s Junior World Championship winners. Moreover, Piers Francis, an Englishman who has spent the last eight years plying his trade in New Zealand for Auckland, Waikato and Counties Manukau, as well as Super Rugby side The Blues joins the squad. It doesn’t matter how old you are or where you play, Jones appears to have eyes and ears everywhere.
2) He can still pick an extremely experienced team
As shown by the side picked by this writer to face Argentina, half of Jones’ squad is his usual suspects. If he wanted to Jones could name an incredibly strong and experienced side to take on what will be a powerful and challenging Argentina team.
Of course, with 15 uncapped players in the squad it is inevitable that at least a handful of these individuals will earn their first caps, but being able to pick from a squad that features the like of Dylan Hartley, Joe Launchbury, Chris Robshaw, James Haskell, Danny Care, George Ford, Jonny May and Mike Brown means you’re going to be extremely competitive.
3) No one’s place is safe
Tommy Taylor, Semesa Rokoduguni and Marland Yarde have all dropped out of the reckoning with youngsters or nearest rivals filling their spots.
For many it seemed Jones saw something in Marland Yarde that others could not, but it appears the England coach has now lost faith in the Harlequins winger.
Bath fans will feel aggrieved that Rokoduguni has once more been ostracized and will not be able to add to his two caps despite his consistent form for his club. Apparently his international career might now be at an end.
It is as if Jones has taken a broom to his last squad and swept out all the players he feels will simply not make it in the future. It is very harsh on this trio, but it will hopefully push them to perform even better for their clubs.
4) Back row balance has to be addressed
As shown by England’s disappointing loss to Ireland, back row balance and being able to dominate at the breakdown is still a huge issue for the men in white.
The inclusion of Ospreys back rower Sam Underhill is of huge significance for this squad, with the highly-rated youngster having been linked to an England call up since emerging as a player of real talent and consistency in the Pro 12. At the first opportunity Jones has included the seven in his squad.
Underhill is probably the closest thing England have to a genuine openside flanker, and so do not be surprised to see Bath’s new signing earning his first cap this summer.
The Curry brothers are also players of real potential and their inclusion means Jones is looking to the next generation to unearth real gems rather than settling for more established players who might never make it as top internationals.
5) Jones is a risk taker
Like coaches Martin Johnson and Stuart Lancaster before, Jones could have easily gone with the mantras of ‘credit in the bank’ and ‘choosing the next in line’, but has instead taken a significant risk in naming a squad that is far less experienced even than the Saxons squad that headed to South Africa last year.
If England pick up a few injuries before or during the tour or if front line players are called up to the Lions tour during the summer as injury cover then there could be a situation where the national side are fielding half a team of uncapped or inexperienced players.
Jones could have gone for players like Christian Wade, James Short and Dan Robson, players who are consistent in the Premiership every week. But it seems that’s not everything the England coaches are looking for.
Jones has put a lot of faith into a whole host of young but exciting players and it is now up to those individuals to repay his faith.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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