Following the historic series whitewash down under, Eddie Jones named his provisional squad for the QBE Autumn Internationals on Monday, with the number of players included increasing to 45 following the new deal with the RFU. Some old faces have been brought in from the cold, while some new faces have been added to the mix for the first time.
Firstly with the forwards. Tom Youngs has been recalled to the squad for the first time in Jones’ reign, completing a good month for the hooker in being back from injury, being named Leicester captain, and now reclaiming his place amongst England’s elite. More importantly, Jones now has three quality hookers that can put pressure on Dylan Hartley for the starting spot.
While Youngs’ inclusion may have been unexpected, the selection of Nathan Hughes was inevitable. Hughes has been a dominant force in the Premiership over the past few years, and has undeniably earned his place in this squad, having bided his time patiently whilst waiting to qualify under residency rules.
He, arguably, has been more consistent than current number eight occupant, Billy Vunipola, over the last three seasons, until the latter hit world class form for England and Saracens last year. Their battle for the no.8 shirt will be titanic and it’s very exciting for England fans to have such quality available. There are also reports that Jones may want to utilise Hughes as a blindside flanker in order to accommodate both bulldozers in the same pack.
Another new addition on the flank is U20s star flanker Will Evans from the Leicester Tigers. Evans was hugely impressive in the junior World Cup victory this summer, and looks set for an equally bright future. As well as the call up being a big honour and step for him in his early career, you can’t help but think that if a deal was put in place with the RFU, this place would have belonged to Sam Underhill. However, unless the latter returns to England, his enormous talent will be overlooked.
Another Leicester player, Mike Williams, has also been included, as well as Charlie Ewels of Bath. Both second rows were very impressive last season for their respective clubs and it will be exciting to see them challenge the four world class locks the squad already contains in Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes.
On to the backs. Yet again, Chris Ashton and Danny Cipriani are left out of the squad, with Jonny May coming in having recovered from his knee injury. I, personally, consider this to be a strange decision, with May never really impressing for England (apart from his stunning try against New Zealand in 2014), and Ashton being electric for Saracens this year. You can’t help but think that his incorrect ban back in late January has taken a hugely negative impact on his international career, and for that, the IRB must tread far more carefully before handing out any more reckless suspensions.
Luther Burrell, too, has been omitted having been subbed off in the first half of the first test in Australia, with Manu Tuilagi being recalled. He will hope to move past his injury troubles and fulfil his world class potential. Joe Marchant had a scintillating World Cup and he is a player I am very excited about. His style is much like Jonathan Joseph, and he has the potential to have a terrific breakthrough season this year with both club and country.
A player I would have thought to have been included was Harry Mallinder, who starred at the junior world championship at fly half. Although Jones and I share the opinion that he is not a fly half, I feel he would benefit from being around the squad, especially as so many young players are being tried out. Mike Haley was fantastic in the Saxons tour to South Africa, and he will join Alex Goode in putting pressure on a struggling Mike Brown.
The final new inclusion is Wasps scrum half Dan Robson. I believe that he should be England’s starting scrum half, and if he hits the ground running at the start of the year there is no reason why he couldn’t overtake both Danny Care and Youngs. His work with the ball in hand is electric, with his tries against Saracens and South Africa A proving that, whilst his passing is as good as Richard Wigglesworth’s of Saracens, the best distributing nine in the league. Robson is a mixture of Wigglesworth, Care and Youngs, which is the perfect scrum half combination.
Overall, it is an exciting squad with a good mixture of a strong winning formula and the future stars of English rugby. Exciting times lie ahead.
Angus Cross, Pundit Arena