Trial matches were an important part of the amateur era, particularly in the southern hemisphere where they would be used to determine the final make-up of squads for important games or tournaments. So what would the teams look like for an England ‘Probables’ v ‘Possibles’ match now?
Warren Gatland, a proud New Zealander, introduced a Wales trial match in 2014, where the ‘Probables’ lined up against the ‘Possibles’ and took place at the Ospreys’ Liberty Stadium. In that game the Probables destroyed the Possibles 55 – 7 in a completely one-sided affair.
New Zealand has always enjoyed the concept of a trial match and in 2005 Graham Henry and New Zealand prepared for the Lions tour by having their squad smash the living daylights out of each other. Indeed, it is the fear of serious injuries taking place to key players before games that means trial matches are now very rarely used.
On that day the Probables lost 32 – 27 to the Possibles and a number of players put their hands up for selection.
Both Stuart Lancaster and Martin Johnson used trial matches of sorts in the build up to their respective World Cup campaigns, but these were played behind closed doors on the training field.
What would the England teams look like then for a public match? This writer came up with the following teams:
This team is largely made up of the side that started most of the Australia summer tour, with only Teimana Harrison starting ahead of the long-term injured James Haskell. Harrison is the incumbent but was also hauled off after 30 minutes against the Wallabies in the third test after failing to make an impact. This game would provide him with an opportunity to show he deserves a second shot.
Mako Vunipola stays at loosehead over Joe Marler, who is now available for selection once more. Vunipola made a huge impact on the summer tour and now has forced himself in ahead of the Harlequins prop.
Dylan Hartley (c)
For this team this writer has gone for the next available options where possible, but Nathan Hughes is included at blindside as Eddie Jones has previously spoken as seeing him as a potential blindside option.
Jonny May is included as he should be returning from injury soon and Jones has spoken previously of his admiration for May.
Finally, Manu Tuilagi has been included at inside centre as Jones is said to view him as a long-term option there. Hopefully the Leicester powerhouse will be raring to go soon after being ruled out of England’s summer tour with yet another injury.
Those are not the only options available to the England coaches. Northampton’s Harry Mallinder is pushing for a spot in the EPS squad as an option at 10 or 12, there are other wings such as Semesa Rokoduguni and Christian Wade and one must not rule out both Josh Beaumont and Ben Morgan at number eight.
It is a great shame that trial matches are very much a thing of the past, but these teams do highlight England’s growing depth. Who would win this game is anybody’s guess.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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