Even though Eddie Jones and his coaches have worked wonders to turn around an ailing England pack into a force to be reckoned with once more, there is still much progress to be made with the Red Rose’s back division. Here we look at three possible combinations England could go with during the Autumn Internationals.
The Tried And Tested
As long as injuries don’t play their part, Jones could decide to stick with the men that have brought him grand slam success and a whitewashing of Australia in their own backyard. Whilst fly-half Owen Farrell’s repositioning at second five-eighth was originally seen as a quick and temporary fix for a position that has been so troublesome for England for over a decade, he has grown well into the role and formed an effective partnership with number ten rival George Ford.
Ben Youngs is still at the front of the scrum-half queue, whilst Nowell and Watson made the most of any chances provided to them since Australian Jones took over as head coach.
Mike Brown is always dependable at the back and is part of England’s current leadership core, but he is under pressure from Premiership player of the season Alex Goode, who has been in fine form for Saracens for a prolonged period.
In all likelihood Jones will stick quite closely to this formula, although if any player’s form drifts from now until November then we may well not only see some changes to the starting line-up, but the reduced 36-man squad for the four games in the Autumn as well.
The Second Stringers
A test against tier 2 nation Fiji and the chance to tinker a little against Argentina – although their current form and their win against South Africa in the Rugby Championship may restrict too much experimentation – will provide Jones with the opportunity to look at more players from his squad.
If he wants to look at genuine second stringers then there are a number of candidates. Danny Care deserves a run out after playing second fiddle to Ben Youngs in recent tests, but so too do Elliot Daly and Alex Goode – both of whom have been waiting patiently for their chances.
Besides Ford and Farrell the only other fly-half in the 45 man EPS squad right now is Henry Slade, although most fans see him as England’s best option at inside centre. However, if he continues to start at fly-half as he did against Wasps this weekend then he may be worth a look in the ten side against the likes of Fiji.
Manu Tuilagi is slowly coming back to match fitness and although not his greatest match for Leicester against Gloucester the other evening, he put in a couple of quality offloads that suggest he may be a viable option for England at 12 rather than his usual outside centre position.
Marland Yarde had a solid but not spectacular game for England in the first test against Australia in the summer, but he is the best ‘all rounder’ winger England have in terms of attack and defence, plus he offers a power to his game that most of England’s other options cannot provide.
Speedster Jonny May is finally moving past his severe knee injury that has kept him out of action since January and should return in October. If he can string together some decent performances for Gloucester than Eddie Jones may want to get a look at May in the white shirt once more.
Finally, we come to the players that have a slim chance of making it into the England team for the November tests. Scrum half Dan Robson made the most of an extended run in the Wasps team when Joe Simpson picked up a nasty ankle injury, and his club form coupled with impressive performances for the Saxons in the summer have rightly seen him promoted to the senior EPS squad. However, he will find it tough to get past both Care and Youngs.
Although Danny Cipriani was a surprise omission from the expanded 45 man EPS squad, his England chance may come again if he can effectively boss Wasps’ fantastic back line. Indeed, it’s not just Wasps fans looking forward to seeing what a partnership of Robson and Cipriani can do.
Semesa Rokoduguni is probably the most underrated winger in England and deserves the chance to move on from being a one cap wonder. Even when Bath were not at their best last season his form was always consistent.
Certainly not an England supporters’ favourite by any means, league convert and new Worcester signing Ben Te’o has a vocal advocate in Eddie Jones, although his chance may be slipping with the return of Tigers powerhouse Manu Tuilagi.
Harlequins’ Joe Marchant is a similar to England centre incumbent Jonathan Joseph, with both players having wonderful dancing feet and the ability to ‘ghost’ past opposition players. He is now being given opportunities for Harlequins and a win against Bristol at Twickenham this weekend will not have harmed his chances.
Mike Haley was little known outside of Sale, but the young fullback has been a bastion of stability for the Sharks for a while. His form last season was good enough to see him start the Saxons tour of South Africa and impress in the process. If Jones wants to look beyond the ageing Brown and the solidity of Goode then Haley might just be given his shot at the big time.
Finally, Christian Wade was another player missed out of Englad’s initial EPS squad, but the Wasps bottle rocket is one of the most creative players in the Premiership and might provide that spark that has been missing from the Red Rose’s back line for a while.
Although Eddie Jones has already achieved great things with his England squad, the November internationals will be a real test of his man-management skills. Will he rotate his squad or stick with what he knows across four challenging matches? We will soon find out.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena