England Squad for South Africa 2018: Key Talking Points

Tom Curry

tom curry

Last Thursday, Eddie Jones named his England squad to take on South Africa; alongside a familiar core there were several surprise names included, and the sound of many a pundit frantically googling Cameron Redpath.

Jones has made some interesting calls with this squad. And while he was never going to appease every fan and pundit – we all have our own individual players that we want to see selected – after a sub-par Six Nations, the coach is definitely shaking things up. There are seven new faces in the squad, and several others with very limited international experience, not necessarily what you would have expected a little over a year out from the World Cup.

Building much needed depth

Eddie Jones has decided to take a look at his options in several key positions, notably scrum-half and the back row.

All I will say on the scrum half options is ‘hurray’. Dan Robson and Ben Spencer have earned their call ups. Now we will see if they have what it takes for test rugby and whether they can supplant the experienced duo of Ben Youngs (also touring) and Danny Care (rested).

In the back row, Tom Curry, Ben Earl and Jack Willis are all fantastic young players. Coupled with Brad Shields, who (the whole selection debacle aside) is another great talent, and we have four genuine contenders for the future test team. It is also good to see Mark Wilson back in the fold.

While I (like many I am sure) would have liked to see Don Armand there, I can perhaps understand Jones’ logic. Armand has been involved in the squad before and Jones hasn’t entirely discounted him, but clearly feels it is more important he take a look at the other players in perhaps his last chance to experiment before the run in to the World Cup. I expect Armand has been stuck with a bit of the ‘Tom Wood label’ – a fine player, with an excellent engine and who could do a job if necessary, but not necessarily what Jones is looking for.

Curry is 19, Earl 20, while Willis is the relative elder statesman at 21. These three, alongside the injured Sam Underhill, are the long-term future of the England backrow. My only question is, is this too early for them? Curry, while the youngest, is perhaps the most experienced, benefiting from playing at Sale rather than in the more all-star Saracens and Wasps packs. Regardless, I hope we get a chance to see them in action – and on that note, please, no more locks on the flanks…

Jones likes a playmaker

This England squad contains six flyhalves (or players more than capable of playing there): Danny Cipriani, Owen Farrell, George Ford, Alex Lozowski, Cameron Redpath and Henry Slade.

While I imagine Jones is considering Lozowski and Slade purely as centres rather than 10s, and Farrell as both, with Cipriani and Ford vying for the flyhalf jersey, that is still an abundance of playmakers.

I haven’t mentioned Redpath there, who may be a prodigious talent but – given his lack of even premiership rugby experience – surely this is much too early for him to be breaking into the test side. The lack of the ‘apprentice’ tag that has sat on the likes of Marcus Smith previously is surprising.

Ben Te’o is the only ‘non-playmaker’ centre, and while I am not trying to suggest the likes of Slade and Lozowski are not fine attacking talents in their own right, with Jonathan Joseph rested it is not necessarily the most balanced set of options. Elliot Daly and Jack Nowell have both been considered as options at 13 by Jones, but the former is listed as back three and Nowell has been rested.

If Te’o is not nailed on to start then it will be interesting to see how Jones manages to incorporate three creative players into an effective attacking unit.

However, the selection of so many creative players shows Jones has clearly identified his vision for how he wants to play: heads-up rugby, adaptive and full of guile and imagination. This was a little lacking to say the least in the Six Nations, but incoming attack coach Scott Wisemantel should help that – and he certainly has been given a resourceful backline to work with.

More generally, there is still a lack of size among the backs – again Te’o the only ‘power’ player capable of offering a contrasting approach. I wouldn’t be surprised if a more forceful player likes Marland Yarde or Joe Cokanasiga emerges as a late contender for the World Cup.

Cipriani needs minutes

I am loath to single out Cipriani – because of his profile he naturally gets a huge number of column inches devoted to him – but I will say, now he has been picked, he has to play.

On the wrong side of 30, there is no point just including him for experience. If Jones genuinely believes he can play a key role in this England setup then he needs game time; time to see if he can click with Farrell, play within England’s structure and gameplan, and demonstrate his undeniable ability at a higher level than he has played for near on a decade. This is of course assuming he trains well and gels with the squad.

I also do not see the value of giving him five minutes as a sub at fullback as has been suggested by some – maybe in the case of injury, but he was the best 10 in the premiership this season, not the best 15. If Jones wanted to trial options at the back, there were other names he could have looked at and it won’t make the best use of Cipriani’s mercurial talent.

Player selection rules show their worth

Linked to this, what the selection of Cipriani – and to an extent James Haskell, despite not being picked for the South Africa tour – has shown is the value of the RFU’s refusal to pick players based overseas.

Out of their Wasps contracts, and with the potential for fat pay packets, both Cipriani and Haskell could have disappeared abroad. Instead they have opted to sign for Gloucester and Northampton Saints respectively.

The rule has been criticised by many for its lack of flexibility and effectively hamstringing England coaches from picking the likes of Steffon Armitage, Nick Abendanon and, more recently, a revitalised Chris Ashton. I cannot speak for Cipriani and Haskell, but I suspect their involvement with the international team, and desire to go to a World Cup, was a strong factor when evaluating their options and settling on staying in the Premiership. The league, including us as fans, and their new clubs are the beneficiaries of that.

By Henry Ker

7 thoughts on “England Squad for South Africa 2018: Key Talking Points

  1. Front row – All the right players have been selected (though Mako V might have been rested) but only 2 hookers and 2 tight heads seems a bit light to me.
    Lock – Tough for Ewels to miss out and I think Spencer would have been in with a shout if fit. Hill is a decent call but we do look one injury away from being a touch exposed.
    Back row – Pleased for Wilson who has been harshly ignored this season. Armand missing out is no surprise – i’m afraid Eddie is the one person in the rugby world who doesn’t rate him. Mercer unlucky to miss out and Ben Earl is a wasted pick: he’s nowhere near international standard. Hopefully Billy V will stay fit and one of Curry or Willis can break through.
    SH – At long last some new faces. Long, long overdue.
    FH – Delighted Cips is included, but i think FB is a more likely fit given the balance of the squad..
    Centre – Cam Redpath is far too raw and surely wont be risked in the tests. Trinder would have been a better option.
    Back 3 – Only one recognised FB seems risky to me, though Cips might be in line for cover here. Nathan Earle is another who has really done nothing to justify selection. Wade very unlucky not to be given a chance and Woodward would have been a sensible selection given his form and the absence of many alternatives.
    So we are left with a typical Eddie Jones squad. Some good calls, some youngsters being brought in (though most wont play in the tests), some sensible retention of experience and some selections that seem either wildly optimistic or plain dumb.
    Time will tell.

  2. Agree with a lot of the sentiment above. I have never really understood an EJ squad and this one is no exception. Whilst I am glad to see a change of direction in selection of SH and some of the back row options, I cannot understand choices like Redpath and lack of options in certain positions again. Redpath, regardless of national representation issues, can surely be nowhere near international readiness and I seriously doubt close to RWC so why bother – we haven’t done it with players much closer to standard like Polledri? Also, the lack of fb and different type of centre but taking 6 playmakers seems strange; really hope Cips is not wasted at fb. Surely Woodward/Marchant/Trinder would be a better pick than Redpath or Lowoski? Just my opinion but don’t see a balance in squad

    1. I also agree with most of the points in the article though each can be viewed through a different lens

      Not building much needed depth.
      At fullback where we don’t have much depth beyond Mr Angry. Would have made sense to take Woodward

      Jones hates a Centre
      Picking so many fly halves (one just to spite Scotland) means that unless Teo plays every game we are likely to see 3 playmakers across the middle and no one left to straighten the line. Could end up with a case of too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Should have took Tinder

      Don’t waste minutes on Cipriani
      If he plays at 10 and is a genuine contender for a fly half spot at RWC fair enough, but if as many suggest he is played at full back it is a waste of minutes and a poor squad pick as it would be better to test a new specialist fullback

      Player selection rule show very little
      If the only players not cashing in abroad are Haskell and Cips then its not adding much value as neither is likely to make the RWC

      1. Haha I like it Leon – very true, always a flip side to any argument. I think I tried to be very ‘glass half full’ in my views…

        And I agree re Trinder – good to see him in the baabaas match training squad at least.

  3. Some exp, but some odd selections too. If Jones wants to looks @ some new players, then this tour is not nec the place to do it. After taking England down the dunny in the last 3, surely he needs to WIN the series 1st! S Jones of the ST e.g. reckons Armand’s exclusion rates with Burgess’ being picked in midfield in the prev WC as a dsiaster. OTOH, Woodward’s exclusion @ f/back does begger belief esp as Brown is under scrutiny & Watson’s injured. Time’ll tell, but some peculiar chioces here.

  4. Agree with all the above-just a strange squad, find myself agreeing with Stephen Jones’ comments in the Sunday times about how inconsistent Eddie is, apparently not picking players in prem form but on potential int quality, which is basically his way of saying that his squad picks are completely subjective.

    So many quality on form prem players ignored, I think overall the jury is still out on Eddie as a selector, great that he likes youth but giving he odd cap here and there to teenagers who looked good for the under 20s is not a Long term solution to building great depth. A good handful players edddies picked on previous tours have disappeared and not been seen again eh Harrison, Francis, hill

    1. As a saints fans i back Eddie on the exclusion of all three of those. Francis and Hill are no where near good enough, Harrison is the best of the three but isn’t as good as Simmonds who is the most similar backrow in his setup


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