After England coach Eddie Jones announced two new training squads for the coming year, we take an in-depth look at those selected and axed from the 33 and 45-man training groups for the start of 2017.
Bath’s Nathan Catt is Eddie Jones’ traditional curveball, with the 28-year-old loosehead getting his chance to impress ahead of Leicester Tigers’ youngster Ellis Genge, who drops out of the 45-man extended squad completely.
Just like hooker Tom Youngs, who was included in Jones’ training squad back in August, it appears the Australian wants to get at a look at Catt in training and see if he’s up to international standard.
Moreover, Wasps’ Matt Mullan returns to the England squad having not been included in any of Eddie Jones’ squads since August. It appears Jones is not happy with the recent performances of Ellis Genge and wants to assess his other options. It is rather disappointing, however, to see Northampton Saints prop Alex Waller passed over once more.
Exeter Chiefs hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie does not feature in the training camp for January, but is a part of the wider 45-man squad. The three hookers continue to be captain Dylan Hartley, Jamie George and Tommy Taylor.
Kyle Sinckler and Dan Cole will continue to fight it out for the tighthead jersey, but Saints’ Paul Hill returns to the wider training squad.
Even though Maro Itoje and George Kruis are now both fully fit, Jones has still included Bath second row Charlie Ewels in both squads, along with Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes. Leicester Tigers’ Mike Williams, who can play at both lock and flanker, is also included in the reduced 33-man squad. Williams was originally included in the squad back in October, but was subsequently ruled out due to injury. It seems Jones is determined to get a good look at him in training.
But does the wide selection of potential locks mean Jones may be tempted to experiment with Itoje in the back row?
There is a welcome return for Wasps back rower James Haskell, who is quickly recovering from the toe injury that has ruled him out since the summer. Young Leicester openside Will Evans does not feature this time around, but as expected Teimana Harrison, Chris Robshaw and Nathan Hughes all continue to be involved in both squads, particularly now that Billy Vunipola is likely to be out for the whole Six Nations campaign. Tom Wood stays in the squad after impressing in the autumn.
Surprisingly, Jack Clifford has been left out of the squads despite being an integral part of Eddie Jones’ plans previously. Harrison has clearly impressed Jones in training since the autumn.
Josh Beaumont continues to be on the fringes of selection after remaining in the wider EPS group of players.
Ben Youngs and Danny Care are still the only two scrum halves in the reduced squad, but Dan Robson and Ben Spencer are given chances to push for places in the 45-man squad.
No sign of Danny Cipriani, with Saracens’ Alex Lozowski joining Owen Farrell and George Ford in the third fly-half spot in the 33-man squad.
Most people expected to see Bath winger Semesa Rokoduguni dropped from the squads entirely given he only started one test for his adopted country in the autumn, but Jones has kept faith with the Fijian-born flyer in his extended 45-man squad. Moreover, Harlequins winger Marland Yarde continues to be included in the same squad.
It is, however, no surprise to see Anthony Watson and Jack Nowell return to the 33-player selection along with Jonny May. Yet three won’t go into two places and it will be fascinating to see who gets the wing berths against France in early February. Can we also assume Daly is there as a winger as well as as a centre? Or has his bizarre red card out on the wing against Argentina blotted his copybook for the time being?
Along with Owen Farrell, the only other recognised inside centres in the 33-man squad are Ben Te’o and Manu Tuilagi – though the latter has only recently begun playing at 12 rather than 13. Te’o and Tuilagi are both similar players and we will likely see Tuilagi replace Te’o on the bench for England’s Six Nations opener.
Elliot Daly and Jonathan Joseph make up the outside centre options as was the case in the autumn.
In the 45-man squad, Harlequins centre Joe Marchant – who was involved in England’s training squad in Brighton in October – keeps his spot, as well as Exeter Chiefs utility back Henry Slade.
Probably the biggest call of this annoucement: Alex Goode is axed from both the 33-man squad and the wider training group. This could indicate Eddie Jones is now willing to look at Elliot Daly as a genuine fullback option – as suggested by this writer. Mike Brown is still the forerunner, but Sale Sharks youngster Mike Haley continues to be included in the wider training group.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena