An England XV to start against Argentina

Courtney Lawes

Courtney Lawes

England open their Autumn Internationals with their third game against Argentina of 2017. With so many players away on the Lions tour, an under-strength England team performed admirably to edge two close games against the Pumas in the Summer. England’s Lions players are now back in the fold and available for selection, so Eddie Jones will have some tough choices to make.

Jones has frequently stated his end goal is victory at the World Cup in 2019. And with that in mind, I think we need to use the November tests to try out a couple of fringe players and new combinations. I still want to win all three games, but Japan is not the time to be trying things for the first time if injury or form forces the hand.

Front row
1 Ellis Genge; 2 Jamie George; 3 Dan Cole

We know how good Mako Vunipola is, and Joe Marler is suspended. However, every good team needs real strength in depth in the front row and Genge is probably the form pick regardless. His impression of a (slightly) smaller bulldozer will take some of the onus off Nathan Hughes to get England on the front foot and he stood up well against the Puma scrum in the summer – another couple of international games will do him no harm.

At hooker, George has to be given a chance. The starting Lions hooker, he now needs the vote of confidence from Jones. Dylan Hartley may be captain but this is a perfect opportunity for a changing of the guard on that front as well. We need our best players starting in 2019 and that won’t be the moment to drop your captain.

Cole is my tight head pick – he brings out the best in Genge, and you don’t want too many changes with players thinking they have been picked purely as an experiment… Harry Williams will get useful time off the bench and should get a start against Samoa, however.

Second row
4 Courtney Lawes; 5 Maro Itoje

Jones name-checked Lawes as a player whose form has dipped and needed to raise his game: ‘He started the season like a house on fire but someone has put some water on it.’ Well either Jones has been watching a different guy called Courtney Lawes to me, or this is one of his classic mind games to get Lawes to raise his game to even higher standards. Either way, I wouldn’t want to be playing for Argentina against a blazing Lawes looking to make a point.

Elsewhere, Jones has indicated Itoje is one of the players very likely to be rested for at least one game – however, he is increasingly the heart of this pack and it should be built around him. Alongside this, neither George Kruis or Joe Launchbury is quite at their very best right now. There is a real case for the wildcard Nick Isiekwe to be given a start, if just to light a fire under the rest – perhaps against Samoa.

Back row
6 Chris Robshaw; 7 Sam Underhill; 8 Nathan Hughes

Underhill has been smashing anything that moves this season and he can fill James Haskell’s destructive tackler role with aplomb. I think he has the potential to be better at the breakdown too. A serious talent.

Robshaw is the player that brings everything together and makes the pack better than the sum of its parts; his work rate and all-round contribution are second to none. Plus, with the rookie Underhill on the openside, it is good to have some experience there as well.

With Billy Vunipola out injured, his understudy Hughes gets a chance to add to his international minutes. He is a great back up to have in the eight shirt, but Hughes will be itching to show he deserves the jersey on a permanent basis – his carrying is vital to the team. I really like the balance to this back row.

Half backs
9 Ben Youngs; 10 George Ford

The reunited Leicester duo continue at half back. Jones’ hasn’t given much option at scrum half – the usual pair of Youngs and Danny Care; Youngs starts – while he has overloaded on flyhalves. Ford starts for me; he really stood up and ran the midfield in Argentina while his partner in crime Farrell was away with the Lions. Ford is a player who benefits from continuity and faith being placed in him – every minute of international rugby will push him further toward world-class level.

12 Owen Farrell (capt); 13 Henry Slade

Farrell has played a huge amount of rugby in 2017 and is probably one of the leading candidates for a rest – although he would never want that. However, with Hartley benched I would give Farrell the captain’s arm band and let him lead a run of games to see how he fares.

Outside him, Slade is the form 13 in the Premiership and deserves the shirt. There has been a lot of debate about whether a Ford/Farrell/Slade midfield contains too many playmakers, but to pigeon-hole Slade as purely a creative force would be a mistake. He may not have the physical presence of a Manu Tuilagi/Ben Te’o, or the dancing feet and out-and-out gas of Jonathan Joseph, but Slade is a wonderfully balanced runner, with a great break and surprising turn of pace, and is a lethal attacking threat in his own right.

Back three
11 Jonny May; 14 Denny Solomona; 15 Anthony Watson

The biggest call for me. Mike Brown should be given a chance at some point to reclaim his place, but another option needs to be found – especially if form or injury rules out Brown for 2019. It was a tough call between Watson and Daly – Watson’s superior pace and broken field running versus Daly’s huge boot and better positional play. However, injury made my decision for me. I would still like to see Daly given time at 15 at some point in the future.

Jonny May is in astonishing form right now and deserves a chance to replicate that at international level. He has blown hot and cold for England over his career, but with Daly and Jack Nowell out, he won’t have many better opportunities to take ownership of the shirt.

Solomona is another that deserves a chance. In his brief time in the white shirt, he has demonstrated a contrasting mix of horrific defending and quicksilver try scoring. Hopefully we will see more of the latter and less of the former. This back three has a frightening amount of pace and try-scoring ability – however, there is definitely a hint of defensive frailty about it. But that is exactly why I want to trial it now.

16 Dylan Hartley; 17 Mako Vunipola; 18 Harry Williams; 19 Joe Launchbury; 20 Sam Simmonds; 21 Danny Care; 22 Jonathan Joseph; 23 Mike Brown

A lot of experience in the replacements, with some who would consider themselves to be normally first choice – how they respond to some competition for their place will show a lot. Sam Simmonds is the only uncapped player I would pick and he offers something very different to the others in the England squad. He has real pace for a backrow forward and with Jack Clifford out, his versatility will be invaluable. Just being in the squad will benefit him immensely, but I am looking forward to seeing what he can do against tired legs in the last 20 minutes.

Who would you pick?

By Henry Ker

53 thoughts on “An England XV to start against Argentina

  1. Launchbury not at his best right now? You must be watching a completely different player to the one I have seen.

    1. I will admit to missing the Northampton/Wasps game at the weekend – apparently Launchbury was immense. Prior to that, and judging him against the exceptional form he was in last season, I felt he was not at quite the same level. Probably wasn’t helped by Wasps poor form.

  2. I agree with most of your picks here except for Slade over JJ and Solomona starting.

    Whilst I agree that Slade should get a chance I don’t think outside Ford and Farrell would be right for his talents. If we had a stonger ball carrier at 12 then I would say it would be perfect, but I just don’t see it working with a Ford/Faz/Slade combo.

    On many occasions I have moaned about Brown but, on this occasion with Daly injured I would have to start with Brown at 15 with May and Watos on the wings. Have Solomona on the bench and come on for the last 20 to see if he has improved his defensive frailties but, starting with him could be dangerous.

    I have to say I am disappointed Eddie hasn’t looked deeper into the Premiership teams to look for an alternative to Tui or T’eo.

    1. I’m not sure I see what JJ offers that Slade doesn’t (he may be slightly quicker) – whereas I do see what Slade offers that JJ doesn’t.

      Think what damage the back 3 could do with a ballplayer at 13 to really let them loose

      Agree with you about Solomona and Brown. Think this team will need Brown’s solidity and ability to take the ball up and present it cleanly

      As for an alternative to Tuilagi or T’eo. Can you think of any? Of centres I can only think of 13s who are performing well – Trinder and Marchant. We seem lacking in powerful 12s at the moment

    2. Agree with everything you say on Slade and back three selection.

      On the Te’o/Manu thing though – where else would you look? He tried Burrell and it was a disaster. You would probably argue that at Prem level he is the next best option of that ilk so I can see why Jones hasn’t bothered going deeper.

      1. Here are the centre combos from the games just gone:

        M Jennings / S James
        I Whitten / H Slade
        Roberts / Alofa
        J Willison / W Olivier
        L Burrell / N Tuitavake
        J Jongh / E Daly
        B Barritt / N Tompkins
        F Mulchrone / T Fowlie
        M Clark / J Joseph
        B Twelvetrees / H Trinder
        J Socino / C Harris
        M Tait / M Smith

        Not much in the way of options. Max Clark is probably the closest thing to a powerful centre. He turned Wales down didn’t he?

        1. Sam Hill at Exeter could still make it as a boshing 12, but he doesn’t play regularly enough either through injury or selection at the moment.

          Failing that throw Banahan in there for a giggle or see if Burgess is available.

        2. A bit thin really! Max Clarke could potentially be an option but probably a bit early still. He did turn down Wales for the summer tour but he didn’t say he’d never play for them so it’s still open.

          I think Jones will just have to make do with the best players he has available, and right now they seem to be his playmakers!

          1. Yup – we’re laughing when it comes to outside centres but not so much on the 12s!

            I think Mark Jennings played pretty much all England age groups, like Clarke, but has had issues with injuries.

            I’ve always liked Sam James but he’s more of a Greenwood-style player

            1. Sam James has played plenty of times at 10 for Sale, and I believe played at 10 predominantly as a junior so again we’re picking out players that are more comfortable as playmakers.

              Really like him as a player though!

              1. For sure but at 6’4 and 15 stone or thereabouts, you’d hope he can carry hard as well!

                After all, what we’d really like to see is a 12 that can bosh and has some craft and skill – a la Ma’a Nonu in his later years.

                1. 15 stone probably isn’t that heavy to be honest, particularly for that height! Probably considered lanky in professional rugby terms!

                  Pretty sure Farrell is about 15 stone and 6’2 so he’s only that sort of build.

        3. The thing is we a re looking at Tui and T’eo and thinking about their size rather than just the ability to break tackles and offload. Smaller guys can be almost as good at doing the same thing.

          Marchant for me would be a good option as he brings a lot of pace as well. He chopped and changed between 12 & 13 in the U20’s so should have no problem playing at 12.

          Also Tomkins for Sarries (despite being more lightweight) brings great physicality and an ability to break tackles and offload. He also has plenty of pace and a good step. He does need more game time for Sarries to be in with a shout but, still better than Burrell! 😉

          1. Tompkins is a good call. He needs more game time though as you say. Wonder if he’d be better served moving clubs?

            1. He’s been with Sarries right through his academy days and I would say is unlikely to leave. With an injury to Taylor (which looks like long term) and Bosch the only other real choice at 13 he should get some game time over the next couple of months. He has the ability to cover 12 and 13.

            2. Would love to see Tomkins at Wasps. 12 is still a position where we aren’t strong and he certainly needs game time…

    3. Slade had gotta be tried at 13 sometime and i can’t see that there’s a better time to do so than the AI’s. It might prove an amazing combo but then again it migjht not….at least we will know either way having tried and tested it.
      Eddie does need to flesh his wc squad out and remember NZ had to do it 2nd time round with a 3rd or 4th choice number 10.

  3. Yoda has said he will rest Maro.
    Perhaps, Maro will only play against Oz? England have loads of options at lock.

    1. Oh balls – we’ll scrap that plan then. Brown back at 15, Watson and solomona on the wings, roko on the bench and when he comes on switch Watson to 15

        1. I would be fine with that – but who covers the back three on the bench if Watson isn’t in the 23? I would expect Yarde to come into the squad (despite his recent ‘issues’ and swap to Sale) as injury cover and Joseph can play on the wing but who covers 15? Slade maybe? Think he’s done it occasionally in the past. Does he bring Mallinder or Haley in instead?

              1. Heh. Looks like it. I can just imagine Wade’s walls festooned with little images of Nowell, May, etc

                Anyone for a Banahan recall?!?

                1. With our current state of injuries, Banners isn’t altogether a bad shout!

                  Still reckon Sam Simmonds could do a job anywhere from 12-14 :/

                2. I could live with big Matt getting another go. He never let his country down in the past ans he certainly qualifies on the size front.

  4. Thought I would pick a team composed of has beens, never was´s, those who fly under the radar and people who EJ doesn´t seem to rate to take the suggested team on. Without giving it too much thought, how about… Wade, Goode, Roko, Marchant, Trinder, Cipriani, Wrigglesworth, Barrington, Tom Youngs, Cooper-Wooley, Garvey, Slater, Armand, Wilson and Wray. Bench could include Woodburn, Barritt, Robson, Attwood, Webber, though I admit to struggling for props on the bench. Who else out there is either apparently not wanted, under-rated or supposedly too old, but is at least as good as some of the tyros that seem to be getting into squads without serving much Premiership time?

      1. I considered all these Leon. I think the best of them are Catt and Thomas but I have seen little of Thomas while Catt has been out injured. Brookes and Waller get regularly stuffed in club games. Brookes in particular I don’t rate, and if Hill cannot establish himself in front of him I would have my doubts about him. Collier is a good club prop, but none of these are close to the top rated props whereas in most other positions there is room for debate.

        1. What on earth happens to tightheads at Northampton?

          Brookes was brilliant at one point and looked well on his way to establishing himself as England number 1. Ditto Hill who was at one point the next big thing

          Collier is under rated. Could probably do a good job for England without being superb.

          Another player for this team, although not a prop – Jack Yeandle

          And Chris Pennell for fullback

          1. I’m with you about Collier Pablito. Both he and Williams were very good on the Argentina tour. Eddie must rate Williams but not Collier. Wonder why?

    1. Attwood. Now there’s a mystery. Big,aggressive,can play and was touted by none other than the great (all hail) Johnno as a huge prospect. What the hell happened?

    1. Who’d ya think was a Saffa?
      Pennell has an England Cap and Short is English born and bred and Yeandle is an Exeter local

  5. Sorry Leon, comment got posted in the wrong place. I thought Short was a Saffa. Totally agree with Pablito that Yeandle is much under rated, though his throwing can be a bit iffy. He has really stepped up since C-D has been injured. I think Pennell´s time has been and gone. There are better full backs around. I would also like to know why Saints seem to have persistent front row problems. Could it be the bloke in the middle?

  6. Reading the comments .it would seem that our much vaunted strength in depth is a little shallower than we care to admit.
    It may be a good time to ask why we don’t produce big centres who can play a bit or why we have depth at L/Head but struggle a bit for 3’s. Is Eddie just too demanding or are the academies not giving us what we need? Do the clubs search out enough local talent from the lower lg’s?
    Anybody want to add their weight to the debate?

  7. ‘Jones has frequently stated his end goal is victory at the World Cup in 2019’. Well he & the rest of the NH, missed an op to get stuck into NZ’s dev team last Sat via the Baa Baas. Has Ed (& the rest) got the wind up? Keeping his powder dry? Wrapping his team in cotton wool in case of injuries? Instead of talking up 2019, why didn’t he put up & even try to put a dent in NZ last Sat instead of acting like Ant Joshua & going up against a bunch of stiffs (Oz apart perhaps)? Echos of John Pullen’s words all those yrs ago; ‘We may be not be much good, but @ least we turn up’ (during the ‘troubles’ in Ireland. Well England didn’t & aren’t turning up v the AB’s this yr @ ‘Fortress twic’, when EJ could have insisted on seeing where his team really stand. Missed op or what? @ least the maladroit Lancaster had the stomach to take his team down under, whereas Eddy will continue to talk his lot up like Cameron talked his lot up. Impressive.

  8. Leon
    Correct Leon, but he could have offered players for selection… as could have the other NH sides. NZers, for e.g., made up a 1/3rd of the the Baa Baas team. This is EJ’s last yr to get it right as, by 2018, it will in effect be too late to tinker with either playing style or team composition. Also, only Wales have grasped the nettle by playing the ‘big 3’ SH teams this autumn to gauge where they potentially stand by nxt yr.

    1. Fair comment on the AI’s, England probably would have been well served by lining up SA and NZ. Kiwis seem to want a lot for the pleasure of their appearance though.

      However, I don’t see the value of England possibles playing for the Barbarians. A week long jolly up leading to an exhibition match isn’t going to give EJ any clues. Would be fun and an honour for the players, sure.

      1. Don P

        I don’t think its as simple as “Wales are the only ones to have grasped the nettle”. There are 6 northern hemisphere teams, only 3 “big 3” SH teams and only 3 weeks to play the AIs. Thus some of the NH teams are going to miss out on fixtures with some of the SH teams automatically. There are also Argentina, the pacific islands and Japan to factor it.

        The only reason Wales play more games against the “big” teams is that they choose to play a games outside the window, when most of the other unions have released their players back to their clubs.

    2. Actually don’t agree there Don,.. Wales usually do this and loose 3 out of the four games too often, what does that do for confidence i wonder?, i think they should try and plan an increase in opposition ,maybe a Fiji ,Samoa, Argentina, S.Africa/Aus would be a more beneficial when developing/rebuilding to gain momentum


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