Given the depth of talent available to England head coach Eddie Jones, it’s often hard to narrow down options to just one or two in each position across the rugby field.
However, ahead of the Autumn internationals, we’ve chosen our top English picks in every position on the field, assessing each player’s possible contribution to the Red Rose cause in the coming months and into the future.
Mako Vunipola – The existent myth that Vunipola cannot handle himself in the scrum surely has to have been silenced after his impressive summer. He is now up there with the best in the world in his position.
Joe Marler – Marler has had a difficult time with it over the past six months, yet he remains a class operator at loosehead and a handy option for England.
Ellis Genge – Former Wasps captain Matt Mullan may disagree on this one, but Genge is one of the hottest properties in England right now. Richard Cockerill has already predicted his destiny at the top of English rugby and a move from Bristol to Leicester can only aid his development, as well as being a surprise inclusion for England’s summer tour of Australia.
Dylan Hartley – Who would have thought a year ago that Hartley would be in an England squad again, never mind captaining one to a historic series win in Australia? He is a crucial cog in the works of how his team succeeds and is arguably the favourite for the Lions captaincy in New Zealand.
Jamie George – As well as being an impressive operator in the set piece, George displayed his surprisingly good footballing skills in the second test in Australia. He has a brilliant all round game, and is arguably England’s long-term option at hooker.
Luke Cowan-Dickie – Tommy Taylor had a terrific start to the season in a man-of-the-match appearance against Cowan-Dickie’s Exeter, but the latter can claim the title of third best hooker in England. Although not as developed as Hartley or George, Cowan-Dickie is a more than suitable option, which was evident in his cameo appearance in the first test in Australia.
Dan Cole – As well as being a key try scorer under Eddie Jones (3 in 8 matches), Cole’s presence at the breakdown is as important to the cause as his solidity in the set piece. He has become a key player once again.
Kieran Brookes – Despite only being selected once for Jones’ side, Brookes remains a big man with a lot to offer. He is a dominant ball carrier, something he has over his potential rivals for the England jersey.
Paul Hill – Kieran Brookes’ understudy at Northampton, Paul Hill has been a slight favourite of Eddie Jones. Hill was included as an inexperienced wild card on the bench for all his five appearances, yet has impressed in the toughest circumstances whenever called upon.
Maro Itoje – Is there a hotter prospect in world rugby right now? An All Black here and there granted, but it is very exciting when a genuine superstar emerges whilst not wearing the black uniform of New Zealand. Itoje’s rise from Junior World Cup-winning captain to European Player of the Year has been a pleasure to watch, and whilst still at the age of 21, he is not even anywhere near his best, which is frightening for his opponents.
Joe Launchbury – The newly made captain of Wasps has endured a tricky time for his country recently, due to the rise of George Kruis and Maro Itoje. He was fantastic in the Wales game, and has played well whenever called upon. However, with Jones preferring the physicality of Lawes, Launchbury has found himself fourth in the pecking order, further down than any of us would have ever thought.
Ed Slater – Plagued by injuries through his career, Slater’s promise has never truly been allowed to shine, despite his impressive performances as captain of Leicester. He is a fierce defender, with his line out work gaining praise from coaches and pundits.
George Kruis – Kruis has developed into one of the top second rows not only English rugby, but in world rugby. Under the guidance of Steve Borthwick, he has taken up his master’s boots and become one of the best lineout operators in the game.
Courtney Lawes – Lawes’ form may dip from time to time, but he brings such a level of physicality to a game that it is sometimes hard to tell when he is playing poorly. It is a trait that Jones admires and he has not let him down yet.
Dave Attwood – Attwood is a huge force for Bath and when given a chance for England, he has impressed. A big man, Attwood has a very strong ball carrying game, arguably one of the best ball carrying second rows in England, making him a different threat to his rivals.
Chris Robshaw – Robshaw’s reputation was in tatters nearly a year ago, yet through stellar performances, sometimes going under the radar, he has built back up a reputation of being a top quality workhorse. The pressure of the captaincy has been lifted off of him and he is striving.
Dave Ewers – Ewers has been at the heart of everything Exeter have done well in their rise to the top. He is a very strong runner and consistently pulls off some of BT Sport’s hits of the week.
Josh Beaumont – Sale’s captain, son of the legendary Bill, has real potential as a modern day back row. He is tall, quick and very skilful, never having a bad game.
James Haskell – Haskell may be missing the autumn internationals, but his heroic man of the series display in Australia has cemented his place as England’s first choice openside flanker when at full fitness.
Teimana Harrison – Harrison was unlucky to be substituted so early on in the third test in Australia, yet his performances for Northampton last year show is evident potential. He will be a strong player for England either now or in the future.
Luke Wallace – Wallace hasn’t been selected in the England squad, yet the work he does for Harlequins has not gone unnoticed by pundits. He is arguably the best out and out openside flanker, with Matt Kvesic being his main rival, with a strong running game and a typical nous at the breakdown.
Billy Vunipola – Vunipola has always been known as ‘Big Billy’ around the world for his huge runs and hits. However, following his explosive year with Saracens and England, he has developed a beautiful subtlety to his game, sucking in opponents to create space for others instead of carrying every time. He is a very intelligent rugby player.
Nathan Hughes – Hughes has finally qualified for England on residency grounds, and was straight away included in the England squad. He adds a similar threat to Vunipola, and despite predominantly being a number 8, Jones has already hinted at playing him at blindside flanker, alongside Billy Vunipola.
Jack Clifford – Clifford has featured at openside flanker for England, yet the majority of his young career has been spent at the back of the scrum. A Junior World Cup-winning captain, his leadership qualities are already evident amongst the older players, and his athleticism separates him from his back row counterparts.
Ben Youngs – Although I am not always the biggest fan of Ben Youngs, I can admit that when he plays well, his team plays well. At his best he is a fantastic game controller, and was very good in England’s series win, and is at present the first choice for Eddie Jones.
Danny Care – Danny Care, along with Joe Simpson, is the most attacking scrum half in England. His eyes are always looking to see what’s on and, more often than not, he will find a gap and score or put a team-mate over. He is a very dangerous player to have.
Dan Robson – Dan Robson had a brilliant tour to South Africa with the England Saxons, and was equally as impressive in the back end of last season, scoring brilliant tries left right and centre, for example against Saracens in the Champions Cup semi-final, whilst displaying a confident kicking game. One would think it won’t be long before he makes the scrum half jersey his own.
Owen Farrell – Farrell, equally comfortable at inside centre, has become a world-class operator from the midfield. His goal kicking skills were already well-known around the world, but a criticism of his game was his attacking game. With his clear improvement in this area, he has become a dangerous player that is feared by his opponents.
George Ford – Ford had a season to forget last year, besides his impressive comeback in the Australia series. His performance against Northampton was brilliant, and having him on top form is a huge positive for his country.
Danny Cipriani – Cipriani’s move back to Wasps will be a huge factor in whether he can force his way back into Eddie Jones’ England squad. Everyone knows the talent and game changing qualities of the former Melbourne Rebels man, all he needs to do is consistently perform at the top level and showcase his brilliance.
Manu Tuilagi – Once or if Manu Tuilagi overcomes his tragic injury problems, he will develop into one of the best centres in the world. His natural power is terrifying for defenders, and with his skill set developing constantly, you feel he will eventually be considered amongst the top players.
Henry Slade – Slade, on his day, is a very impressive footballer that can change a game with his quick hands and feet. However, following a leg break last year, he has not hit his top form and did not feature in the England team against Australia, despite being a favourite to start after the World Cup.
Ben Te’o – Te’o was the big name surprise in Eddie Jones’ squad to Australia, with his move from Leinster to Worcester qualifying him to play for England. Te’o impressed in his time in Ireland, and Worcester will be excited to have brought in such a well-known and talented star. He offers a similar threat to Tuilagi, with a huge load of international experience from Rugby League.
Jonathan Joseph – Joseph has occupied the number 13 jersey for the past couple of years. He burst onto the international scene in 2012, but only really made an impact in the 2015 Six Nations and onwards. His silky feet keep defenders on their toes and is a clever threat in attack. However, in the Jones era, despite his hat trick against Italy, he has been rather subdued in attack, with his defensive positioning and tackling standing out as his prime asset in Australia. At present he is the best option at outside centre.
Elliott Daly – Daly has been hailed as a future international for years, and it was only last year when his electric pace and huge left boot, accompanied by a poor England world cup, had pundits and critics calling for him to start against Scotland for his first cap. In the end, Eddie Jones did not include him in his first matchday squad but he has picked up a few caps here and there.
Nick Tompkins – This may seem a strange call, with Tompkins not being the first choice outside centre at his club Saracens, but if any had watched his performances for the England Saxons against South Africa, they would have seen his brilliant potential. Despite not being very tall, nor very big, he is a real rugby player, aggressive as anything, with pace and power generated through momentum, with a solid kicking and passing game. He is one for the future, and should develop into a fantastic little player. (A special mention also for Joe Marchant, who has been impressive at Harlequins and for the England U20s.)
Anthony Watson – Watson has scored 14 tries in 24 appearances for his country, including four tries in his first six games under Eddie Jones. Compared to Jason Robinson, Watson has electric pace and is a brilliant finisher of opportunities, being equally adept at full back as well as on the wing.
Jonny May – May reclaimed his place on the wing for England’s disappointing World Cup, scoring a handful of tries in the warm up games and against Wales in the tournament. However, leading up to the Six Nations, May picked up a long term injury, ruling him out of all of England’s matches so far. He remains a valuable option to Eddie Jones, and was recalled to the England squad for the autumn internationals.
Marland Yarde – Yarde was also a surprise inclusion for England’s summer tour and was an even bigger surprise to start ahead of Jack Nowell in a try scoring effort in the first test in Australia. Yarde is an option Eddie Jones is very excited about due to his raw speed and strength, yet remains an unpolished option, making a few too many mistakes at crucial times.
Jack Nowell – Nowell is one of the most complete options in English rugby, a player that is comfortable in positions all over the back line. His all round game and small error count has made him one of Eddie Jones’ favourite players, who he knows he can rely on.
Chris Ashton – Although not in the past two England squads, Ashton remains the best try scorer in England if not Europe. His try record speaks for itself, and if given the opportunity to return to the international fold, he would do a great job for England.
Semesa Rokoduguni – Rokoduguni is such a fun player to watch. All eyes are fixed on him when he gets the ball and he has a rare ability to create something out of absolutely nothing. His side step is ridiculous too – he could beat a defender in a phone box. Bath fans adore him, and there have been many calls for England to give him a chance again after is solitary cap.
Alex Goode – Goode, player of the Aviva Premiership last year, is a beautiful rugby player. He is a pleasure to watch, and when other players were on international duty last year, he carried Saracens and won them games when they really did not deserve to win. He is the stand out performer in English rugby and deserves a crack at international level to prove his critics wrong.
Mike Brown – Brown, whilst remaining a fierce competitor, has lost a bit of his skill that saw him crowned player of the Six Nations in 2014. His defence remains a strong part of his game, but he bottles so many chances with his lack of a pass of his right hand and too many loose kicks that in my eyes he has slipped down the pecking order of English full backs.
Mike Haley – Haley, like Tompkins and Rokoduguni, really impressed in the Saxons’ tour to South Africa. Being the dark horse of English full backs, his performances for Sale Sharks gathered attention, and once given his chance, his elusive attacking style caused South Africa A all kinds of trouble. I’m sure it won’t be too long before Eddie Jones gives him a chance.
Angus Cross, Pundit Arena