England has enjoyed a superb rugby year where it has gone undefeated in 2016 and picked up a Grand Slam and a whitewashing of Australia along the way.
In part this has been achieved because of the amount of quality players available to coach Eddie Jones. Even when openside flankers appeared to be dropping like flies in October and both first choice locks were ruled out, England still won all four autumn internationals.
Yet despite the country’s prosperity and increasing depth in almost all positions across the pitch, a number of players in the Premiership get discounted and ignored.
We have put together a team made up of those players; individuals who are talented, consistent and reliable but ultimately no where near international recognition.
The Underrated XV
1) Matt Mullan
In and out of England squads for the last six years, Wasps’ loosehead Mullan is an effective scrummager, a potent defender and an all-round useful front rower. Yet in recent times he has seen the likes of Joe Marler, Mako Vunipola and even the untested Ellis Genge overtake him. Many international teams across the world would welcome him with open arms.
2) Mike Haywood
A new generation of hookers is emerging, with Jamie George, Luke Cowan-Dickie, George McGuigan and Tommy Taylor leading the charge, but Northampton Saints man Haywood has never been granted England recognition despite being one of the most consistent performers in the Premiership. Dylan Hartley’s time away with England (or indeed away from rugby altogether) has given Haywood extended opportunities to prove his worth as a top flight player.
3) Henry Thomas
Bath tighthead Thomas’ career seems to have stalled after he first burst on to the international scene in 2013. Injuries in recent times have contributed to his lack of test recognition in the past few seasons, but Eddie Jones has preferred to try out raw individuals such as Paul Hill and Kyle Sinckler.
4) Mitch Lees
Most of the media enjoy eulogising about the likes of Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes, but Australian-born Lees quietly goes about his work at Exeter Chiefs and he was justly given a chance to start for the Saxons last summer on their tour to South Africa. The 20 stone second rower is an important player for his club and is unfortunate to have so many talented individuals ahead of him in the pecking order.
5) Matt Symons
Wasps lock Symons signed from London Irish at the beginning of the season after the Reading-based club were relegated, but originally made a name for himself in the Super Rugby competition, earning 28 caps for the Chiefs. Such was his impact in New Zealand that there was talk of him qualifying for the All Blacks on residency.
6) Jamie Gibson
Back rower Gibson burst onto the Premiership scene with London Irish and spent four years at the club before switching to Leicester Tigers and then Northampton Saints. Known for his pace, awareness and athleticism, Gibson looked to be a certain England cap early in his career, but in recent times he has seen others over-take him.
7) Luke Wallace
Harlequins flanker Wallace has made over 100 appearances for his club and has been part of a back row that has featured England regulars Chris Robshaw and Nick Easter, as well as current England squad member Jack Clifford. Yet whilst he has seen his clubmates win test places, Wallace has been passed over.
8) Mark Wilson
No one can get enough of Billy Vunipola, who has evolved into a world class player under the tutelage of Eddie Jones, but with Nathan Hughes, Ben Morgan, Josh Beaumont and Teimana Harrison selected ahead of him, Newcastle Falcons captain Mark Wilson has every right to feel a little bit hard done by when he has been so consistent for his club.
9) Will Chudley
As well as England pair Ben Youngs and Danny Care, the Wasps duo of Joe Simpson and Dan Robson are given plenty of press coverage. Yet few voices are heard for the inclusion of Exeter Chiefs scrum half Will Chudley, a fine player and an excellent all-round scrum-half.
10) Freddie Burns
Beyond the battle between George Ford and Owen Farrell for the England number ten jersey, people are call for the inclusion of Danny Cipriani or Alex Lozowski. Yet Leicester Tigers fly-half Burns is a brillaintly talented attacking fly-half and is now beginning to find the form that launched him into the test arena in the first place.
11) Tom Varndell
It seems like former Leicester and Wasps winger Tom Varndell has been around forever. After all, he won his first cap against Samoa way back in 2005. Unfortunately, England’s disastrous tour to Australia in 2006 ended Varndell’s international career before it had ever really got going. A solitary cap followed in New Zealand a few years later, but Varndell joins the long list of England players that never really fulfilled their early promise.
It’s hard to believe he is only 30, but the current Bristol winger showed off the fantastic finishing abilities he possesses with a sublime hat-trick in a superb win over Worcester last weekend.
12) Ollie Devoto
Former Bath centre Devoto was a surprise inclusion in Eddie Jones’ Six Nations squad earlier this year and he finally won his debut cap as a replacement against Wales in May. Although only 23, the youngster has pace, power and handling skills that could make him an exciting international player in the future.
13) Nick Tompkins
The 21 year old Saracens centre has found his opportunities for his club somewhat limited given the star quality the side possesses at centre, but Tompkins was named in the Saxons squad to tour South Africa last summer and made the most of the opportunities given to him.
14) Marcus Watson
Watson’s brother Anthony has taken to international rugby like a duck to water, and he is of course a tremendously talented individual, but the other Watson’s career hasn’t quite developed so rapidly. After three years with London Irish and a season at Saracens, he switched to play for the England Sevens team and featured in the Olympics earlier this summer. But Watson promptly signed for Newcastle Falcons for this season and has made an instant impact at the club.
15) Chris Pennell
England continue to rely on the duo of Mike Brown and Alex Goode, but Chris Pennell deserved the cap he earnt on the tour to New Zealand in 2014 and has been unlucky with injuries in recent times that have kept him out of the international reckoning. Hopefully 2017 will give him his chance to compete with Sale Sharks’ Mike Haley for the third fullback spot.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena