There were mostly expected names in the most recent 33 man England EPS squad announced today, but a few surprise inclusions as well.
Coming in from the cold are Gloucester number eight Ben Morgan and Northampton Saints flanker Tom Wood, two players who were previously not included in Eddie Jones’ match day squads despite being regulars for former boss Stuart Lancaster.
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It’s an interesting move on the part of head coach Eddie Jones, who has reflected on England’s injury crises in the backrow and resorted to two experienced international players to fill the void, with all of James Haskell, Jack Clifford, Mike Williams and Sam Jones ruled out through injury.
Similarly, Bath lock Dave Attwood has earnt a recall in the wake of first choice locks Maro Itoje and George Kruis being ruled out of the series through injury. The physical second row will offer something a little different to Launchbury and Lawes, who will be England’s likely pairing for South Africa.
However, a number of uncapped players are in the squad with tighthead Kyle Sinckler still part of the mix despite not getting on the pitch with the England senior team last season. Eddie Jones clearly sees a long-term future for the very raw Harlequins prop. His inclusion comes at the expense of the already capped Paul Hill – a huge call.
Moreover, as expected Wasps number eight Nathan Hughes comes into the equation after the Fijian-born backrower qualified on residency. Yet it seems likely the Wasps player will be tested at blindside rather than in his favoured position at the back of the scrum.
Bath lock Charlie Ewels is England’s fourth lock and may well get his chance to impress sooner rather than later.
In the backs, Alex Lozowski is named as England’s third fly-half behind Ford and Farrell after an impressive series of performances for his new club Saracens. The talented back was frozen out at Wasps last season, but has made the most of his opportunities so far with Saracens and will be delighted with his call-up. More cynically, it also means new Italy coach Conor O’Shea cannot select the player for his squad, with Lozowski also qualifying for the country based on his parentage.
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Speedster Jonny May is back in the squad despite having only made two appearances for Gloucester since his return from injury. Eddie Jones has always been a vocal fan of the winger and it would be of no surprises to anyone to see May return to the starting line-up against South Africa given the absences of both Anthony Watson and Jack Nowell.
Similarly, Bath’s Semesa Rokoduguni – who has been patiently biding his time down at the Rec with consistent performances for his club and in South Africa for the Saxons – is named and will be hoping to earn only his second cap.
With Harlequins’ Marland Yarde having been dropped from the England team after the first test in Australia, he has his work cut out to convince Jones he should be in the team ahead of the two aforementioned wingers, but there is certainly good competition for places.
Finally, young Sale Sharks fullback Mike Haley is named in the squad as a third fullback – an excellent move on Jones’ part given the age of Mike Brown (who may not make it to the 2019 World Cup). It’s important that England build up depth at 15 and whilst Haley is unlikely to start against fellow tier 1 nations South Africa, Australia and Argentina, he may get his chance against Fiji.
Commenting on the squad, Jones said (via England Rugby):
“With a number of influential players missing through injury we have two weeks to prepare a robust and resilient team to meet the challenges set for us in the Old Mutual Wealth Series.”
The inclusion of experienced heads of Attwood, Wood and Morgan may seem like a ‘backwards step’ to some, but all three players know what it takes to compete against the best nations in the world and will provide that ‘robustness’ Jones is looking for at a time of injury crisis.
Given the mix of youth and experience, this is a fantastic squad Jones has picked and the best he could have hoped for given the country’s daunting injury list. That England can unveil such a squad given in the circumstances says a lot about the depth the men in white are quickly establishing.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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