After much talk over the fallow summer months, England coach Eddie Jones has named his latest training squad that reveals quite a bit about the Australian’s thinking for the approaching autumn tests against Argentina, Australia and Samoa.
Firstly, Jones has rewarded the players who stood up to be counted and walked away from a hostile environment in Argentina with a 2-0 series win. The entire starting line-ups for the first and second tests make the squad, as well as winger Nathan Earle.
Barbarians non-cap man of the match Ben Curry is unlucky not to join his brother Tom in the squad, but the latter – along with new Bath signing Sam Underhill – now seem to be well in the reckoning to start at openside for their country in the long term.
One notable absentee is Tom Wood, who was Jones’ back-up whilst incumbent seven James Haskell was out with a severe toe injury. His suspension at the tail end of the season allowed the aforementioned young upstarts to take their chance with both hands, and it may be that his international career is now at an end.
Will Collier, who provided back up to Exeter prop Harry Williams, is absent, and he can feel hard-done-by having been solid at the set piece against both the Baa Baas and the Pumas, but Lions tourist Dan Cole has opted to spend one day with the squad during their three day camp in Teddington.
He joins stars Owen Farrell, Jamie George, Maro Itoje, Jack Nowell, Kyle Sinckler and Anthony Watson as well as Ben Youngs who will all spend one day with the squad, whilst Haskell, Ben Te’o, Jonathan Joseph, Elliot Daly, Joe Marler, Mako Vunipola, George Kruis and Courtney Lawes he chosen to take advantage of an extended break after a gruelling couple of years of international duty.
We know Jones is planning to rest some of his Lions players, and giving them the choice to miss the training camp coupled with the continuity in selection from the summer suggests the core of the team will be selected from those who toured South America.
Jones has also spoken of his desire to improve England’s depth (via England Rugby):
“There were some players that came through that we knew about but probably didn’t realise were as close to being real contenders for a World Cup squad.
“We’ve got two years until the World Cup so the next 18 months is crucial in finalising our squad. We’re probably 75% down the road.”
Nor is Jones being close-minded in his selections: the inclusions of U20s player Marcus Smith who trained with the squad before Argentina, and Bath hooker Tom Dunn highlight Jones’ philosophy that the international door is open to all if they can prove themselves to be good enough at age grade or domestic level.
With Mike Brown still the only dedicated fullback in the squad, Jones could opt to look at Anthony Watson, Alex Lozowski, Jack Nowell or Elliot Daly as potential options there, but it’s an issue that the England set-up will need to address sooner rather than later. This autumn window might be the perfect time to give Brown a break and look at some other players before Japan in 2019.
Finally, the inclusion of Tigers centre Manu Tuilagi has taken most of the headlines in the past few days, but the East Midlands powerhouse will need to prove his fitness for his club before he can seriously be a contender for England once more.
With the focus of the camp being on fitness, medical checkups, functional and rugby training, planning meetings and individual reviews, it’ll provide Jones with important information on how Tuilagi is recovering from the latest of a series of long-term injuries, but don’t expect him to be thrown in to Jones’ plans in the autumn if he is not ready fitness-wise; Tuilagi is too important a player to risk in these games.
With Jones choosing to use the autumn games rather than the summer tour to rest key players, the three matches in November provide England fans with a fascinating insight into the depth of the options available to the coach and his plans for the World Cup in less than two years’ time.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena