Eddie Jones has today named his England EPS squad, but what exactly does it suggest about his plans for the Autumn Internationals and beyond?
As per the new ‘progressive partnership’ between England and the Premiership clubs, 45 players will join up with the England coaching staff in both August and October before the Autumn International window begins.
Therefore it’s important not to get too carried away with this initial squad as under the eight year agreement:
“The England Head Coach will now also be able to make the final selection of 45 squad members in the first week of October. A reduced number of 20 players will be selected as part of a ‘Next EPS’ squad for training camps and possible Saxon fixtures.”
However, it does give us an indication of Eddie Jones’ current thinking.
In the forwards, Bath second row Charlie Ewels is rewarded for his excellent form last season and his impressive performances against South Africa ‘A’ in the recent Saxons tour.
Additionally, Semesa Rokodugini, Dan Robson and Mike Haley, all in outstanding form on the Saxons tour as well, are promoted to the expanded EPS squad.
On the wing, Jonny May has been recalled as predicted by this writer. Eddie Jones has been a vocal fan of the Gloucester wing since before he took on the England coaching job. With Rokodugini’s inclusion as well it suggests Jones is not yet satisfied with his options on the wing. The omission of Chris Ashton does hint that the Saracens winger’s England days are now numbered.
Ben Youngs and Danny Care will continue to act as England’s first choice scrum-halves, but Wasps duo Robson and Joe Simpson will fight to take hold of the third scrum-half spot for the Autumn. It certainly highlights improving depth in the position for the Red Rose.
As promised, Eddie Jones has included players from the U20s squad that won the World Rugby U20s Championship in Salford last season. Centre Joe Marchant – one of the outstanding individuals in England’s side throughout the tournament is named, as well as openside flanker Will Evans. Marchant is a similar player to Jonathan Joseph and like the Bath centre both have something of the ‘Jeremy Guscott’ about them in the way they glide across the field.
However, Harry Mallinder, England’s fly-half and centre, arguably their best player of the tournament and who was unlucky to lose out to Ireland’s Max Deegan for the World Rugby Junior Player of the Year award, misses out. In fact, beyond George Ford and Owen Farrell (with Henry Slade as a possible back up) there are no other fly-halves in the 45 man squad.
Another man who will be disappointed is Danny Cipriani, who despite playing well during the Saxons tour is not a part of the expanded EPS squad. Although publicly Wasps’ new fly-half will be stoic about it, he will be continually frustrated that consecutive England coaches have overlooked him.
With both Mallinder and Cipriani missing, it suggests Jones has no real plans to look beyond the pair as options at 10 for the time being, which is probably of no great surprise considering the talent of both.
Significantly, newly-appointed Leicester Tigers captained Tom Youngs has been included for the first time under Jones, with former Sale hooker Tommy Taylor drops out. This is an intriguing inclusion given Youngs’ absence for a large part of the season having undergone back surgery and that Jones had seemed to have ostracised the player by not including him in any of his squads since taking on the job.
Perhaps Jones just wants to have a look at the Leicester man in training to see what he can offer. However, both Richard Cockerill and Youngs will be delighted that he is included. Whilst previous England coaches had been accused of having a ‘face doesn’t fit’ mentality, it seems Jones is making a point that anyone is still capable of being selected.
Finally, Leicester’s Zimbabwean-born lock Mike Williams is Jones’ traditional curve ball selection, having not been included in either the EPS or the Saxons squad for the summer. Saxons Mitch Lees, James Craig and Dave Attwood are all notable absentees. This may mean that like Tom Youngs, Eddie Jones wants to get a closer inspection of the lock and see how he performs in training.
Gloucester flanker Matt Kvesic continues to miss out, and given Will Evans’ inclusion it appears he has even more work to do to convince Jones that he is the right man to take over from James Haskell on the openside flank.
Overall, chances have been handed to both Saxons players and U20s. The only man to really pay the price for a disappointing summer is Luther Burrell, who will be incredibly disappointed but ultimately he is competing with a number of fantastically talented individuals.
It’s an interesting squad with a few surprises, but it means very little until October when the final EPS squad is announced. However, the chosen 45 will know they now have one foot in the door and are given an opportunity to force their way into a senior squad that is currently performing spectacularly well.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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