Following a fairly abysmal Six Nations defence, it’s time for Eddie Jones to go back to the drawing board. His Lions players need a complete rest and so do some of the stalwarts. South Africa is a great opportunity to pick players on form and this would be my Matchday squad for the 1st test against the Springboks in June.
1 – Ellis Genge (Leicester)
Vunipola has been overplayed therefore his loose contribution can’t make up his weaknesses at the set piece. Genge on the other hand is a completely new breed of prop who under the tutelage of Boris Stankovich has become a sublime scrum operator whilst still being a devastating ball carrier in the loose.
2 – Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter)
Jamie George has been given two golden chances to impress Eddie Jones in the starting position at hooker and did he take either of them? No. In my opinion, when fit, Cowan-Dickie is such a powerful hooker in the loose and forms part of a strong Exeter Chiefs pack in the set-piece too.
3 – Harry Williams (Exeter)
Kyle Sinckler started England’s last fixture but showed he still has some way to go in terms of scrummaging and Williams is a more complete player. A guy who can hold his own in the scrum and can carry the ball too, in my opinion Williams has the calibre to handle the notoriously difficult Tendai Beast Mtawarira at scrumtime.
4 – Joe Launchbury (Wasps)
He would be my captain of this team as he is a proven leader for Wasps and gives everything on the pitch. England need to go back to the drawing board but there still needs to be a familiar backbone. One major criticism of England during the Six Nations was the lack of leadership therefore I think South Africa is a great opportunity to develop England’s options and specifically Launchbury’s credibility as a potential future captain.
5 – Will Spencer (Worcester)
David Flatman won’t shut up about him and rightly so. The giant lock is an enforcer on the pitch and very difficult to stop. Spencer has been involved in the set-up before winning a unofficial cap off the bench against the Barbarians. With Lawes injured and Itoje hopefully rested, this a chance for Spencer to prove that he is a viable 4th option as a lock-forward as Nick Isiekwe and Charlie Ewels haven’t convinced so far.
6 – Mark Wilson (Newcastle)
Had a great debut versus Argentina but hasn’t even been in an EPS squad since which I think is criminal – he is the perfect player to fill the void of Chris Robshaw but is no mimic. Wilson is quicker in open field and is probably slightly better over the ball. Robshaw deserves a rest and Wilson deserves a recall.
7 – Don Armand (Exeter)
Got his debut last year against Argentina and has been raved and raved about but again, like other players in this theoretical squad, has simply been underused by England. Through injury he returned to the English lineup against Ireland in the final match of Six Nations, and with Eddie Jones promising to rest players, this a great chance for Armand to cement his place in the England side with his ball-carrying ruthlessness and his lineout prowess.
8 – Sam Simmonds (Exeter)
I’m giving Simmonds another shot here. In the Six Nations I felt that Jones’ fears were realised that Simmonds is maybe just too small for international rugby. Or at least he was played wrongly, the England forwards should have binded in when he was carrying as he was shunted back by two or more players each time he carried the ball on his own. Against South Africa, I think the majority of the carrying in the tight should be delegated to Armand and Spencer while Simmonds can be left to blitz the defenders out wide, which could be a nightmare for the wingers especially if Rassie Erasmus picks wingers such as Raymond Rhule or Aphiwe Dyantyi who are quite weak defensively.
9 – Ben Youngs (Leicester)
When Ben Youngs went off injured against Italy we feared the worst, however his knee injury didn’t require surgery and he has worked his way back to fitness and is expected to play against Newcastle at the end of this month. Youngs needs to go to South Africa as Danny Care proves he isn’t a starting scrum-half unless England change their style of play which I doubt they will.
10 – George Ford (Leicester)
Ford had an outstanding tour against Argentina that proved he could do the job well without Farrell, and South Africa is another opportunity to do that. Moving to Leicester has been really fruitful for the [still] young flyhalf as his place-kicking has come along considerably and has built a potentially salivating partnership with Matt Toomua. His defence has also improved significantly and is one of the stalwarts that still deserves their place in the starting XV.
11 – Jonny May (Leicester)
The left wing is May’s best position and while footwork is often found wanting, his tryscoring form has been scintillating this season since his move to Leicester. He was also England’s best tryscorer in the Six Nations, crossing the whitewash 4 times. He will be crucial to England’s cause in the coming tour.
12 – Henry Slade (Exeter)
This is the puzzling question: I believe Slade deserves to be in the England starting XV but where? His best position is arguably at 13 but will England change their tactics to have a playmaker, crash-baller such as Te’o or Tuilagi (although the latter is widely speculated to be rested this summer) and then a playmaker? Or could Slade be switched to inside centre.
13 – Elliot Daly (Wasps)
When he came back from injury in the Six Nations he was arguably one of England’s few good players. He has never been tried at outside centre at international level (at least not starting anyway) and many England fans have cried for it for a long time. This is a perfect opportunity to see where Daly’s actual best position is. Left Winger, outside centre or fullback?
14 – Joe Cokanasiga (London Irish)
Eddie Jones has long commented on the need to bulk up his backline and Cokanasiga is the perfect player in my opinion for that role. He has been one of London Irish’s few form players and his try against Gloucester showed that he could be a very good England winger with his combination of power, pace and finishing capability.
15 – Jason Woodward (Gloucester)
Anthony Watson needs a rest after the Lions tour and didn’t really prove his worth at fullback during the Six Nations. Jason Woodward has already been on Eddie Jones radar and has been magnificent for the Cherry and Whites this season. He has excellent control in the air whilst also possessing a potent attacking threat.
16 – Jamie George (Saracens)
I’m really annoyed with George, England fans have wasted a lot of their breath to try to get George a start – he is given opportunities against Samoa and France and absolutely blunders both. He might have been the starting hooker in New Zealand for the Lions but that was a year ago and a lot has happened since, and George was anonymous against Leinster in the European quarterfinal as he has been for too long. It’s the bench or nothing for the Saracens hooker I’m afraid.
17 – Alec Hepburn (Exeter)
Mako deserves a rest and Marler has become a bit of gamble with his disciplinary record. Hepburn is now a test international, coming off the bench against Italy & Wales, not putting a foot wrong. He was absolutely fantastic for Exeter against Gloucester in Round 19 in a man-of-the-match performance right in front of the Head Coach so he couldn’t have done any more to impress.
18 – Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins)
Against Ireland some fears about the youngster were realised. First of all he’s not a 1st class scrummager yet and his impact isn’t as significant as it is off the bench. Against Tendai Mtawarira I’m sorry the Harlequin will have no chance, therefore Sinckler will be confined as a finisher for the foreseeable future.
19 – Calum Green (Newcastle)
Consistently excellent for Newcastle this season with unprecedented dominance in the lineout, I believe his form should be rewarded with a cap this summer. His lineout skills will make up for the loss of Courtney Lawes to injury and his tackling is top-notch too.
20 – Ben Curry (Sale)
Although twin brother Tom stole the headlines on his debut against Argentina, he has been frustratingly injured and Ben has regained some of the limelight. He has been in excellent form for the Sharks, destructive at the breakdown and has the pace to finish tries. After the Six Nations, there were one or two articles written expressing their dismay that Curry was not called up when Underhill was injured and I hope that Jones has learnt his lesson.
21 – Dan Robson (Wasps)
One of Eddie Jones’ largest failures of the Six Nations was the use of only two scrum-halves and when Ben Youngs did get injured, he called up Richard Wigglesworth on the bench which is pointless as he isn’t an impact player. Dan Robson has been involved in a couple of EPS squads but my guess is that either there was no displacing Youngs and Care or Jones didn’t like the Wasps scrum-half, which is fair enough really. I hope that he does get the call to South Africa because the time is now to develop options for the World Cup and I don’t want to see relics of previous eras (ie Wigglesworth) being relied upon to fill the gaps.
22 – Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester)
Twelvetrees has been in the international wilderness for a while now but since Johan Ackermann has joined Gloucester, Twelvetrees has become rejuvenated. Plus, an excellent substitute for Farrell, he is an inside centre but can kick for the sticks himself and has become a more capable back up inside centre option than Alex Lozowski.
23 – Henry Trinder (Gloucester)
We, especially Cherry and Whites fans, have always known of the incredible talent that Trinder possesses. He has been on the Premiership scene since 2007 and won an unofficial cap against the Barbarians in 2014. But he has been injured so often that it has denied him any chance of proper recognition but this season he has been undeniably excellent for Gloucester scoring some wonder tries and setting up one of the tries of the season for Twelvetrees.
All of this would be with a 32 man squad of:
Looseheads: Genge, Hepburn and Beno Obano (Bath)
Hookers: Cowan-dickie, George & Jack Singleton (Worcester)
Tightheads: Williams, Sinckler & Jake Cooper-Woolley (Wasps)
Locks: Launchbury, Spencer, Green & Jonny Hill (Exeter)
Flankers: Wilson, Armand, B Curry & Jack Willis (Wasps)
No8s: Simmonds & Ben Morgan (Gloucester)
Scrumhalves: Youngs, Robson & Ben Vellacott (Gloucester)
Flyhalves: Ford & Marcus Smith (Harlequins)
Centres: Slade, Daly, Twelvetrees, Trinder
Wingers: May, Cokanasiga, Olly Woodburn (Exeter) & Gabriel Ibitoye (Harlequins)
Fullbacks: Woodward & Chris Pennell (Worcester)
Bath (2), Exeter (8), Gloucester (5), Harlequins (2), Leicester (4), London Irish (1), Sale (1), Wasps (4) & Worcester (3)
Mike Brown, Danny Care, Jack Clifford, Dan Cole, Charlie Ewels, Owen Farrell, Dylan Hartley, James Haskell, Nathan Hughes, Nick Isiekwe, Maro Itoje, Jonathan Joseph, George Kruis, Alex Lozowski, Joe Marler, Jack Nowell, Chris Robshaw, Denny Solomona, Ben Te’o, Manu Tuilagi, Billy Vunipola, Mako Vunipola, Anthony Watson & Richard Wigglesworth.
Who do you think I have left out? There are of course other options: Danny Cipriani, Will Evans, Brendan O’Connor, Lewis Boyce, Ed Slater, Joe Marchant, Zach Mercer, Adam Radwan even some people have called Toby Flood to be recalled to the international scene.