England’s depth of players is something many supporters are quick to celebrate when it comes to the national team’s strengths, but just how good is it? We compile a list of the top three individuals in each position and all other major contenders for numbers 1 right the way through to 23.
1) Mako Vunipola
2) Joe Marler
3) Ellis Genge
Other contenders:Ross Harrison, Nick Auterac, Matt Mullan, Alec Hepburn
Rating: Two excellent international players with the potential to be world class and a whole host of young looseheads with potential.
1) Dylan Hartley
2) Jamie George
3) Tommy Taylor
Other contenders: Luke Cowan-Dickie, George McGuigan, Harry Thacker, Jack Walker
Rating: A fantastic captain who is under pressure for his starting spot from a trio of outstanding up-and-coming players. The best depth England have had at hooker for years.
1) Dan Cole
2) Kyle Sinckler
3) Paul Hill
Other contenders: Kieran Brookes, Henry Thomas, Jake Cooper-Woolley, Scott Wilson
Rating: England are still in search of a world class tighthead after the national side previously enjoyed the luxury of having both Phil Vickery and Julian White simultaneously. A number of young players threaten the place of regular starter Cole.
1) Maro Itoje
2) George Kruis
3) Courtney Lawes
1) Joe Launchbury
2) Charlie Ewels
3) Dave Attwood
Other contenders: Mike Williams, Mitch Lees, Will Whitty, Jonny Hill
Rating: Is there another nation in the world with as much depth at lock than England? Possibly New Zealand, but for the men in white to be able to have four world class locks in Itoje, Kruis, Lawes and Launchbury is superb strength in depth. Even then, Jones has one eye on the future with Ewels starting to develop as an international lock and likely to be handed his first test start in Argentina next summer.
1) Chris Robshaw
2) Nathan Hughes
3) Teimana Harrison
Other contenders: James Haskell, Tom Wood, Sam Jones, Mike Williams, Jack Clifford, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Charlie Ewels
Rating: It’s hard to know whom Jones sees as his second and third choice blindsides when Chris Robshaw has started almost every game since the Australian took over. However, the head coach has name dropped Hughes as a potential blindside and has already selected Harrison at 6 against Wales back in May. There are a number of players who could fill the role well, but perhaps not be considered anywhere close to world class.
1) James Haskell
2) Tom Wood
3) Jack Clifford
Other contenders: Matt Kvesic, Sam Underhill, Will Evans, Ben Curry
Rating: Haskell has excelled as a type of ‘6.5’ since Jones took over – although the Wasps flanker hates being pigeonholed as such – but Northampton’s Wood has also done a thoroughly excellent job there as an injury replacement this autumn. Jack Clifford was emerging as a possible openside before long term injury struck, and there are a number of younger candidates vying to take on the mantle for the longer run. However, it’s very much about potential in this position still.
1) Billy Vunipola
2) Nathan Hughes
3) Jack Clifford
Other contenders: Josh Beaumont, Ben Morgan, James Chisholm, Dave Ewers, Mark Wilson, Zach Mercer
Rating: Vunipola is now arguably the form number eight in the northern hemisphere and potentially the world. His understudy, Wasps’ Nathan Hughes, performed well in his first test start against Australia. Harlequins’ Jack Clifford is another player who could blossom as a test 8, and that’s not even taking into account Sale’s Beaumont, the experienced Morgan and a number of supremely talented younger players.
1) Ben Youngs
2) Danny Care
3) Dan Robson
Other contenders: Joe Simpson, Sam Harrison, Micky Young, Will Homer
Rating: Youngs and Care are two very talented 9s with their own particular strengths, but both Dan Robson and Joe Simpson are waiting in the wings to get their chance. Youngs has improved as a player under Jones, but England are still missing a genuinely world class talent at scrum half.
1) George Ford
2) Owen Farrell
3) Alex Lozowski
Other contenders: Danny Cipriani, Freddie Burns, Harry Mallinder, Henry Slade
Rating: In Ford and Farrell England have two quality fly halves, and a further attacking maestro in currently exiled Danny Cipriani and Freddie Burns, as well as a number of promising players in development. Whilst Farrell and Ford are still some way off the talents of Beauden Barrett, England are very lucky to have two such individuals to choose from.
1) Owen Farrell
2) Ben Te’o
3) Manu Tuilagi
Other contenders: Henry Slade, Ollie Devoto, Sam Hill, Sam James, Harry Mallinder
Rating: Inside centre has been a problem position for the England team since Will Greenwood’s retirement, but in Owen Farrell England appear to have found a player who is consistently good at international level, but perhaps unlikely ever to excel there. Jones has been a vocal advocate of Ben Te’o’s for a couple of seasons and his appearances off the bench recently suggest he could be a worthwhile back up to Farrell.
Moreover, whenever Manu Tuilagi manages to string together a run of games he will come back into the centre equation, although still relatively new to the 12 position.
1) Elliot Daly
2) Jonathan Joseph
3) Joe Marchant
Other contenders: Nick Tompkins
Rating: England have lacked outstanding attacking quality at 13 since the days of Jeremy Guscott, but in Daly and Joseph the side now have two international class centres, with Joseph one of the form players in the world in the position.
Outside of that pair, there is wonderful potential in Harlequins’ Joe Marchant, a player remarkably similar to the pair. Saracens’ Nick Tompkins is also another player to watch out for.
1) Anthony Watson
2) Jonny May
3) Jack Nowell
1) Elliot Daly
2) Marland Yarde
3) Semesa Rokoduguni
Other contenders: Christian Wade, Paolo Odogwu, Alex Lewington
Rating: Even without first choice wings in Watson and Nowell, England were able to choose from a considerable player pool of talent. When Christian Wade can’t even get in the squad you know you’re spoilt for choice.
1) Mike Brown
2) Alex Goode
3) Mike Haley
Other contenders: Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, Jack Nowell, Jamie Shillcock, Matt Protheroe
Ratings: With Brown entering potentially the last few years of his career, England will need to unearth more fullbacks. Although Goode has his admirers, he’s never quite reached the same heights for England as he has with Saracens.
Sale Sharks’ Mike Haley is in the current training squad and may get his chance in Argentina next summer, but don’t be surprised to see Daly, Watson or Nowell shifted to 15 before too long.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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