Following Eddie Jones’ recent squad announcement for England’s upcoming tour of South Africa, we look at a team made up of unlucky players who may never make their full international bow for the Red Rose.
Given the competitiveness of international rugby, and in particular the depth with which Eddie Jones can summon England players from, there is unfortunately an abundance of fantastic players who will never receive a cap for their country.
Here is a hypothetical match-day 23 of the best English players who may never make it all the way.
Note: Notable omissions are due to a reasonble chance of them earning a cap.
1. Alex Waller
A constant in the Northampton Saints front row, Waller has the record of most consecutive starts in the Premiership and European competitions.
Waller earned himself legendary status at the Saints by scoring a try in extra time of the final to win them the 2014 Aviva Premiership. However, he has only appeared for England in a non-cap match against the Barbarians and for the Saxons.
2. Dave Ward
After an up-and-down career, Ward found his footing at the age of 28 in the 13-14 season for Harlequins and is now ever-present on the team sheet either at hooker or flanker and has captained the club for matches.
An incredibly dynamic and energetic player in the loose and leading the Premiership turnover stats with 17. Unfortunately, it is unlikely he will make his bow for the Red Rose.
3. Petrus du Plessis
At 36, the English-qualified South African is too old to break into an international side, however, he certainly has the credentials after making the Saracens tighthead shirt his own for a number of years, earning 100 caps, lifting the Champions Cup trophy twice and winning the Premiership three times.
An incredibly experienced player and devastating scrummager.
4. Graham Kitchener
Kitchener has over 200 professional caps in the engine room, helping Worcester get promoted to the Premiership in 2010-11 then becoming a permanent figure for Leicester since.
The second-rower played for the Saxons through 2011, captained England in an uncapped match against the Barbarians in 2014 and was called up for the 2015 Six Nations squad but is yet to receive a full cap and likely won’t due to the young locks coming through.
5. Ed Slater
The second and back-rower partnered Kitchener at Leicester for a number of years and captained the club for the 14/15 and 15/16 seasons. S
later was ruled out of contention due to injury after his first call up to England in 2013 then the same happened again in 2016 with a tour to New Zealand. Although he captained England against the Canterbury Crusaders in 2014, he is turning 30 this year and it looks like Slater is starting to wind down his career at Gloucester.
6. Jamie Gibson
One of the few shining lights in a dismal season for Northampton Saints, Jamie Gibson covers every blade of grass, often making last-ditch covering tackles when no other forwards are to be seen.
At 6’5” Gibson is also a useful lineout option. He has made a few England appearances against South African Barbarians in 2012 and Barbarians RFC in 2014 but has never earned a full international cap.
7. Luke Wallace
The versatile backrower instantly made an impact in his first season at Harlequins after being promoted from their academy in the 11/12 season. He was even shortlisted for both the LV Breakthrough Award and the Land Rover Discovery of the Season award.
Now a stalwart in the Quins backrow with over 150 appearances, he has only managed to earn one uncapped match for England against the Barbarians in 2014.
8. Jackson Wray
Arguably one of the most under-appreciated players in the Aviva Premiership amassing nearly 200 caps in a tough Saracens backrow.
Jackson Wray’s performances have been so impressive that he has managed to fit the enormous hole left by an injured Billy Vunipola with decent effect.
If England bring in any more 6/8s for the Test Series with South Africa, it’s likely that the similar Dave Ewers would get called up instead of Wray.
9. Will Chudley
Chudley has faced a difficult battle for the Exeter 9 shirt of late with the Australian international Nic White and young prospects Jack Maunder and Stu Townsend. However, his consistency often makes him the go-to guy for important situations.
Many Chiefs fans and Rob Baxter himself will be sad to see him in Bath colours next season.
10. Gareth Steenson
Steenson has always been a good player but has really struck a vintage since hitting his 30s and has been the lynchpin behind all of Exeter’s recent success.
A reassuming, level-headed figure in any backline and, at the time of writing, the second-highest points scorer in the Premiership this season with a kicking success rate better than both Farrell and Ford.
Steenson qualifies for both England and Ireland but hit his peak too late in his career for international caps.
11. Alex Lewington
London Irish’s star player and prolific try-scorer Alex Lewington touched down eight times in the Premiership this season, despite the Exiles winning just three matches.
A transfer was essential for Lewington to continue playing Aviva Premiership rugby, however he may struggle after moving to Saracens, as enough game-time for international recognition will be limited. Sarries will likely favour Williams, Maitland and a returning Strettle on the wings.
12. Sam Hill
A strong ball-carrier who often punches holes from direct upfront carries and is used to playing outside Steenson at the Chiefs.
Whilst only 24 it looks like Hill might not make it all the way to full international honours due to being behind Farrell, Te’o, Tuilagi and Lozowoski in the 12 pecking order.
Hill may have to settle for his England age grade and Saxons caps as it looks likely that a full cap may elude him.
13. Henry Trinder
Henry Trinder plays in a complimentary style to the aforementioned Hill and has the pace, footwork and agility to work off his shoulder and exploit the space that Hill has created from sucking defenders in.
Gloucester fans have been calling for Trinder’s inclusion in the England setup for much of his career however has only managed an uncapped match against the Barbarians.
At 28 years old, he may just be past his opportunity.
14. Olly Woodburn
If Steenson is the driving force behind Exeter’s success, Woodburn is his most potent weapon and given his form since moving to Exeter in 2015, it is criminal that he is uncapped.
Often topping statistics of meters gained and clean breaks, yet also capable of being used as a first receiver in Exeter’s ‘roaming wing’ system, Woodburn’s talent cannot be denied.
However, sitting behind Watson, Daly, May and clubmate Nowell in the England wing pecking order, Olly Woodburn may never get a deserved opportunity to earn his first full cap.
15. Mike Haley
Haley could well have been a genuine long-term option to take over the England 15 jersey from an ageing Brown given his inclusion in the Saxons, an England XV against the Barbarians last May and being just 23 years old.
However, the Irish-qualified has taken himself out of contention by moving to Munster.
We hope we’re wrong, but unfortunately, it looks likely that the fifteen players above may never earn their maiden cap for England.