Although it seems like all roads lead to Australia at the moment, with focus on the Lions tour at an all-time high, the appointments of Rob Baxter and Paul Gustard to England’s coaching staff for the summer tour to Argentina, remind us that there is more going on this summer than just a Lions tour. Here is a look at the potential team which could line-up against the Pumas.
1. Mako Vunipola (Saracens)
Mooted by some as a potential Lions bolter, he is an intriguing prospect for Warren Gatland, but is arguably behind Cian Healy, Gethin Jenkins, Ryan Grant and a fit Alex Corbisiero in the pecking order. If Corbisiero is fit, and able to find form in time, he should be on the Lions tour, and if he isn’t, then, by the same merit, shouldn’t be on England’s tour either. An unimpressive Six Nations campaign for Joe Marler should have helped catapult Vunipola into the starting line-up for the Argentina tour.
2. Joe Gray (Harlequins)
With both Rory Best and Ross Ford failing to overly impress during the Six Nations, both Tom Youngs and Dylan Hartley could find themselves on the plane to Australia, leaving Joe Gray primed to take over the number two jersey, and prove he is more than just a solid Premiership player.
3. Henry Thomas (Sale Sharks)
Dan Cole is a certainty for the Lions squad and Thomas, one of the bright stars in Sale’s tough season, could be given preference over David Wilson, Cole’s long term backup. Wilson has shown glimpses of his ability at the international level, but nothing consistently, and Lancaster could look to blood Thomas in one of the most fierce scrummaging tests in international rugby.
4. Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints)
Lawes seems to have lost his place in the England side to Joe Launchbury, and this tour could come at the perfect time for him to reiterate his claim for a starting spot, with both Launchbury and Geoff Parling likely on Lions duty.
5. George Robson (Harlequins)
Calls for Robson to be given an opportunity with England have been quietened recently by the emergence of Launchbury, but there is no denying his form over the last couple of the seasons should warrant him a ticket on the plane to Argentina. Tom Palmer and Mouritz Botha are other options, particularly if Lancaster wants to add some experience to what will be a largely youthful team.
6. James Haskell (London Wasps)
A lot of new players will be blooded on this tour, so keeping some of the older heads in the team will be vital. Potentially both Tom Wood and Chris Robshaw will be with the Lions, leaving Haskell as arguably the best all-round back rower available to Stuart Lancaster. Tom Croft is another experienced option here.
7. Matt Kvesic (Worcester Warriors)
A hugely exciting talent, Kvesic has been knocking on England’s door for the best part of a year. Barring a dramatic call-up for the Toulon’s Steffon Armitage, the seven shirt will be a direct competition between Kvesic and Will Fraser.
8. Ben Morgan (Gloucester)
Morgan gets the nod over Billy Vunipola based on his maturity and control of the ball at the scrum, but expect the youngster to get plenty of game time off of the bench.
9. Danny Care (Harlequins)
It’s a big call. Ben Youngs makes the Lions squad and Care doesn’t. With Youngs unavailable, Care is clearly top of Lancaster’s pecking order at nine, but there will be stiff competition from Joe Simpson and Lee Dickson, both of whom have been in excellent form over the last month.
10. Toby Flood (Leicester Tigers)
With Owen Farrell tipped as a Lion, this is a shootout between Flood and Freddie Burns. Expect Lancaster to start Flood, as he seems unwilling to cast aside the perennial back-up, but it won’t hurt Burns to get some experience off the bench, as opposed to be thrust into the starting line-up.
11. Christian Wade (London Wasps)
As exciting a player as you’ll find in the Premiership. Calls for Wade to play in the Six Nations may have been slightly premature, but he should get his opportunity in Argentina. He faces stiff competition from Johnny May, but the Wasps flyer has the advantage at the moment.
12. Billy Twelvetress (Gloucester)
After his inclusion in England’s initial Six Nations squad as cover for the injured Manu Tuilagi, Twelvetrees was highly impressive on his debut. He showed enough then to warrant him being given another opportunity this summer, with Brad Barritt potentially making way.
13. Jonathan Joseph (London Irish)
Manu Tuilagi is another certainty for the Lions tour, and Joseph should prove to be a very adequate replacement. Joseph’s place in the England team is anything but a certainty however, and he will have to fight off competition from Elliot Daly, whose versatility could be highly desirable for Lancaster.
14. Tom Varndell (London Wasps)
Varndell is the leading try scorer in the Premiership and fully warrants a second chance at the international level. Chris Ashton has struggled for form for a while now, and barring a sensational end to the season with Saracens, should not be starting in Argentina. Charlie Sharpes, Ugo Monye and David Strettle are also all in contention.
15. Mike Brown (Harlequins)
Lancaster could do worse than giving Brown some playing time at his natural position, and the competition with Ben Foden could bring the best out of both players. Alex Goode is a potential Lion given his versatility, and isn’t considered on that basis.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)