With a large number of regulars unavailable for selection due to injury, suspension or being on the Lions Tour, I’m sure that many players who have been playing for the England Saxons or on the fringes of the Elite Player Squad felt that this summer’s tour to Argentina would be the perfect chance to show Eddie Jones they deserve a place in the EPS next season. I expect many of them, along with a number of fans, were surprised when Jones selected a number of young, uncapped players, many of whom were likely expecting to feature for the England U20s in Georgia this summer.
It is possible that Eddie has decided to use this tour against one of the ‘weaker’ top tier nations as a chance to blood youngsters with the pressure largely off them, as some of them could possibly be competing for a place in the 2019 World Cup Squad. Regardless of the reasoning, these players impressed against the Barbarians and in their games against the Pumas, winning all 3 games this summer, with many of the debutantes putting in great performances.
However, it does feel that there are some players who were overlooked for this squad that are young enough to still be around for the foreseeable future and also have performed well enough at club level to feel they should have been selected ahead of some of the youngsters. I will be the first to say that Eddie Jones’ record with England so far means that he has much more of an idea about who deserves selection than I do (he has stated that he has over 60 players who are competing for a spot in the EPS), so this is by no means a rant about players who should have gone or an attack on players who have been selected, but instead a look at some players who will surely be hoping that they are given a shot in the near future.
Every time I see Dan Robson play for Wasps, a bit of me dies inside remembering how Gloucester let him leave to pursue more game time. Gloucester’s loss has certainly been to Robson’s – and Wasps’ – gain, as he has in my opinion become one of, if not the best, English scrum halves. His competition with Joe Simpson has brought out the best of both players at Wasps and with them having topped the Premiership table and come so close to winning the final, you would have expected at least one of them to be in contention for an England call-up. With Ben Youngs taking the summer off for family reasons, I felt that this would be the perfect time for Robson (who impressed for the Saxons in South Africa this time last year) to get a chance in the first team, however he instead missed out to 20-year-old Jack Maunder, who may be a good player (I haven’t seen enough of him to be able to form an opinion) but was not included in Exeter’s matchday 23 for either of their playoff games at the end of the season and barely featured against the Pumas.
After the Premiership final, James Simpson-Daniel tweeted that Robson should be in the England matchday squad “every game next season”. As a Gloucester fan, I may be biased towards our former player, but I find it hard to agree with that sentiment.
After the season that Matt Kvesic has had, I am not surprised that he was not included in this squad. Finishing last season with the most turnovers of any Premiership player was not enough to get him into the squad so there was no way that he would feature this summer after dropping behind Lewis Ludlow and Jacob Rowan in the Gloucester pecking order. Moving to Exeter should be good for Kvesic, but he will be up against fierce competition for the 7 jersey even at club level from the impressive Don Armand, who fully deserves his international call-up.
With England missing 3 players from their back row this summer (Billy Vunipola, James Haskell and Tom Wood), Eddie Jones took the chance to blood some young talent in the form of Sam Underhill and Tom Curry, who both excelled when on the pitch. Zach Mercer, who was fantastic leading the U20s in Georgia, will surely also come into consideration as another back row option (I would rate him above the Curry twins) and has the versatility to play multiple positions. I feel that the changing of the guard may have begun at 6 and 7 for England, however I do not think that Matt Kvesic will be high on Eddie’s list next season.
Cipriani’s return to Wasps has not had the positive impact on his international career that I’m sure he was hoping for. Though he has spent some time training with England, his last cap was in August 2015 and he has not been included in Eddie Jones’ squads so far. The decision to call up Alex Lozowski – Owen Farrell’s backup at Saracens – in recent squads as a third fly half option suggests that Cipriani is not in Eddie’s immediate plans. Furthermore, having Henry Slade (recently classed as a centre but with plenty of experience as a fly half) in the squad gives Eddie Jones another option and the selection of Piers Francis (currently at the Blues but about to move to Northampton) means that things are not looking good for Cipriani, especially considering Max Malins will soon be graduating from the England U20s and will be looking to increase his playing time over the next few seasons.
I really feel for Alex Goode as he has been a quality player for Saracens over the last few years. Unfortunately his style of play does not seem to match what Eddie Jones wants from a fullback, so he has been unable to make the squad despite Mike Brown’s drop in form over recent seasons (though he looked much more like his old self in the second Test against the Pumas). Further to this, Mike Haley seems to be the second choice at 15 these days for England, though even he was deemed surplus to requirements for the summer tour, so it looks like Goode will find his international chances limited while Eddie Jones is in charge.
Burrell quickly fell out of favour with Eddie Jones after a poor start to 2016’s summer tour to Australia. A strong runner, Burrell is fighting with Ben Te’o and Manu Tuilagi (when fit) for at best 2 places in the EPS, and when you consider the go-to England centre pairing recently has been Owen Farrell and Jonathan Joseph, there is no guarantee any of the 3 would make the starting lineup – though I would personally pick Te’o/an on-form Tuilagi over Joseph. Much like with Cipriani, I think Jones’ willingness to play a fly half in the centre will make it hard for the 29-year-old to add to his caps in the near future.
Christian Wade & Semesa Rokoduguni
I doubt many people are shocked to see these names on the list. Christian Wade equalled Dominic Chapman’s record for Premiership tries in a season but continues to be considered surplus to requirements by Eddie Jones. Semesa Rokoduguni has not featured for England since his Man of the Match performance against Fiji in November 2016 but is another great talent and finished joint third on the list of try scorers in the 2016/17 Premiership season with 10 tries, behind only Wade and Exeter’s James Short – who could also consider himself unlucky to not be selected.
There have been questions previously about their work rate in defence but it has appeared to me that they have both improved in this area, and they both clearly bring a lot to their club’s attacks – both are full of pace and where Wade is elusive, Rokoduguni is strong – so I am very shocked that they are continually overlooked for the EPS.
With Nowell, Watson and Daly all away on Lions duty, I was sure that these two would have been given a chance to prove themselves against Argentina, however Eddie Jones continues to pick Marland Yarde – for reasons that I can’t understand – and handed debuts to Denny Solomona and Nathan Earle, while also calling up Joe Cokanasiga from London Irish. Solomona is no surprise at all as he was one of the stars of the season on the wing and much like Wade and Rokoduguni his potential in attack outweighs his possible defensive frailties (as we saw in the 1st Test). He also needed to be capped soon in order to be eligible before World Rugby’s new residency laws take effect. I haven’t seen Cokanasiga play so can’t comment on his ability, but to play for England after making your Championship debut this season is a huge step up. Nathan Earle impressed me for the U20s a couple of years ago, but his game time has been very limited for Saracens and I was therefore surprised to see him called up. That said, I was highly impressed by his performance against the Barbarians and I hope that he gets regular time for Saracens next season in order to push for a regular England spot – though I will be happy if he misses the Gloucester games!
Another player who could easily come into the mix in the next few seasons will be Gabriel Ibitoye of Harlequins. A contender for the World Rugby Junior Player of the Year award alongside his U20s captain Zach Mercer, Ibitoye often looked a real danger in Georgia and will only improve as he gets more game time.
Eddie Jones is not the kind of man to bow down to fan pressure, so I feel that it may be a while before we see either Wade or Rokoduguni as regulars in the EPS. I think their best chance to play for England over the next few years would be to have a word with Simon Amor about featuring on the 7s circuit.
What do you feel about this list? Is there anyone that you think I missed? Comment on here or feel free to tweet me @PS_tetheridge