Home Rugby The Leading England Candidates To Replace Billy Vunipola

The Leading England Candidates To Replace Billy Vunipola

With England talisman Billy Vunipola ruled out of the final autumn test against Australia, and likely to be out of action for up to four months, we assess the options at number eight available to the national side for next week and beyond.

Josh Beaumont

The Sale Sharks captain was named in England’s extended 33 man squad to take on Australia on Sunday evening, and the athletic back rower provides an option to Eddie Jones at the back of the pack that none of the other candidates can.

Beaumont is fast, intelligent and with fantastic handling skills that have been at the centre of everything good about Sale Sharks’ Premiership campaign this season. He is also an excellent option at the lineout as well.

Nathan Hughes

The Fijian born-and-bred back rower has been in impressive form for Wasps for several seasons now, but his first few appearances for England off the bench have been mediocre at best. Hughes seemed at times uninterested in closing out a game for his adopted country and has yet to bring his club form to the international stage.

A first start for England may encourage the player to show his true potential, but it was telling that Jones opted for Northampton Saints’ Teimana Harrison on the bench over Hughes for the match against the Pumas last weekend.

Teimana Harrison

Although his specialist position is as an openside flanker, Harrison has played many games for Saints at eight and put in a decent shift for England against Argentina on Saturday.

Harrison isn’t the most powerful of players, but he has a fantastic work rate and causes teams problems at the breakdown, but he should most likely be seen as number eight cover rather than as a genuine starter there right now.

He does, however, have plenty of potential and is still young for a back rower.

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Jack Clifford

After recovering from a serious ankle injury, the Australian-born Clifford is ready to relaunch his international career after a promising start.

Clifford has been employed mostly as an openside flanker by Eddie Jones so far, but the Harlequins man’s future may lie at the back of the pack and his all-round skills set could suit the position as he continues to grow as a test player.

The game against Australia is likely to be a little too early to bring back Clifford into the fore, however.

Ben Morgan

Brought into the original squad for the autumn internationals, Morgan is England’s forgotten man after the Stuart Lancaster era, one of few players from the 2015 World Cup not to have had a second chance in the side.

With Vunipola out and the only realistic options available having a combined 6 caps between them, the experience of Morgan could persuade Eddie Jones to recall the Gloucester man to the team.

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Mark Wilson

Never mentioned by any pundits south of Newcastle (and very few in the city itself as well), Wilson has been in impressive form for the Falcons.

The club’s captain recently led his side to a 22 – 16 victory at Franklin’s Gardens and at just 27 could be a long-term option for the national side.

He represents a possible leftfield selection for the England coach, but we all know Jones enjoys his selection curveballs.

Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena

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