While all the media focus is likely to be on England’s three-test tour to Australia this summer, the second-string Saxons’ squad is flying out to South Africa as part of its first tour since 2010. Here, we give you five reasons why you should keep a close eye on how England’s second wave of players fare this year.
1) The squad
The 27-man squad named by Eddie Jones includes seven current internationals, and a whole host of young and exciting players who could very easily usurp some of the more established names in the England set-up.
Luther Burrell is very likely to be joining the senior squad down under after Manu Tuilagi was ruled out of the summer series with a hamstring injury, but the likes of Kieran Brookes, Dave Attwood, Matt Kvesic, Danny Cipriani, Semesa Rokoduguni and Christian Wade will want to show the England head coach what he is missing out on.
Likewise, up-and-coming individuals like George McGuigan, Tommy Taylor, Ross Harrison, Alec Hepburn, Sam Jones, James Chisholm, Alex Lewington, Nick Tompkins and Mike Haley – not household names by any means – are given a chance to be part of an England set-up and experience life as an international player.
Finally, there are more experienced names who are handed the opportunity to step up from club rugby, such as Exeter’s Mitch Lees, Don Armand and Jake Cooper-Woolley.
It’s an exciting blend of fringe players, bolters and seasoned old heads who deserve their time in the limelight and they should be capable of producing some outstanding rugby.
2) The coaching team
In terms of an England coaching development pathway, this Saxons tour has presented a glorious chance for a trio of club backroom staff to show they can work within a Test-like environment.
Head coach Ali Hepher has been making waves as part of Exeter Chief’s coaching set-up, including a first Aviva Premiership play-off final appearance this season. He is given the reigns on this tour, but is supported by England World Cup winner and genuine legend of the game, Richard Hill.
Hill has quietly been going about his business since his retirement in 2008, just as he did on the field for the entirety of his career. He has been mentoring players at Saracens and beyond, including current England back row player Jack Clifford. To have some one of Hill’s experience managing the tour and to offer advice to the players is fantastic for English rugby.
Finally, Hepher and Hill are joined by Wasps’ forwards coach Andy Titterrell and Northampton’s academy manager and assistant coach Alan Dickens. Ex-England and Lions hooker Titterrell was often underrated as a player, but as a coach he is fast being recognised as one of the best new minds in the game. Since joining Wasps as strength and conditioning coach, he is now their forwards and skills coach and has been a key cog in the revitalisation of the club on the field.
Northampton’s Dickens has a coaching background in developing young players through his academy role at Saints and is part of the senior squad’s management set-up as well.
The tour offers all of these excellent coaches an opportunity to come out of the shadows and prove they can lead an England side to glory in South Africa.
3) Touring South Africa
Whilst England will be busy dealing with ‘Pooper’ and co in Australia, England Saxons will fly out to both Bloemfontein and Outeniqua Park in George to play two tough matches in brutal atmospheres. Playing in South Africa is a unique experience and if England Saxons come home with a series win, then those players will have gained so much from hard-fought victories.
It will also give those individuals an ideal opportunity to showcase what they can do in a hostile environment and with the senior squad touring South Africa in 2018, what better way to show you can make the step up?
4) South Africa ‘A’ and their squad
Just as the selection of the likes of Cipriani, Attwood, Kvesic and more shows England is not taking this series lightly, the South Africa Rugby Union has named Johann Ackerman as the ‘A’ coach, the current head coach of the Lions and the Golden Lions in the Currie Cup.
The squad features six Springboks, five of whom are from the pack. Forwards Oupa Mohoje, Nizaam Carr, Coenie Oosthuizen, Vincent Koch and Marcel van der Merwe will ensure England’s tyros up front face a tough test. Bulls scrum-half Piet van Zyl will offer game management experience.
New Springboks head coach Allister Coetzee made it clear that opportunities will arise for the ‘A’ squad:
“Many of the players in the SA ‘A’ squad were considered for the Springboks and will obviously come into consideration in the event of injuries, but we could only select a certain number of players and it will be good to see them get international exposure against a strong England Saxons team.” (via SuperXV.com).
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