The optimisms of a trio of consecutive England Six Nations titles were swiftly squashed this year, parallel to the bubble of Eddie Jones’ invincibility bursting. The World Cup hopes stumbled to their worst tournament finish for 35 years, Jones lost his Midas touch, and England fans were left scratching their heads as to what exactly went wrong.
It’s obvious that changes need to be made to slingshot England back towards the top of the food chain, but what areas need fine-tuning?
There is a pool of uncapped talent, and a cluster of players who possess the skillsets and form to positively influence the current England side. The following individuals should be given an opportunity during the summer tour to South Africa.
Since his emergence as the regular Wasps scrum-half, Robson’s name has been repeatedly mentioned, but he is yet to feature internationally. Ben Youngs’ premature Six Nations departure had opened a seemingly perfect sized door for Robson, but Richard Wigglesworth was hauled out of the international wilderness.
Danny Care failed to seize his opportunity and will likely be reverted to the finishing role he has fulfilled so successfully, and although Youngs has returned to Tigers duty, he would still benefit from a summer off.
Robson has attended a couple of EPS training squads, but Jones has been reluctant to hand him his debut. With Youngs and Care not at their best, South Africa would be the perfect setting to unleash Robson.
He has been orchestrating one of the most potent backlines in Europe over the past two seasons and his form has been crying out for a cap. He has an impressive strike rate, tracks well and has a world class box kicking game.
Shields’ imminent arrival has been shrouded in debate, but there is no doubting the man’s quality. He played a pivotal part in the Hurricanes’ recent success, including their Super Rugby title in 2016. Although born and bred in New Zealand, he wasn’t deemed an All Black and his English parents make him eligible for contention.
The Six Nations proved that the English back-row needs a shakeup. The Eddie Jones experiment of trialling locks on the blind-side was a failure and the usually, ever-dependable Chris Robshaw was found wanting on several occasions.
A handful of Premiership flankers are putting their hands up for inclusion, but Shields has a robustness and a proven winning record. With a mental toughness, Shields is regularly seen winning turnovers, is an asset in the lineout, strong in defence and a genuine ball carrier.
Although it remains to be seen whether he will be released from his Hurricanes duty for the South Africa tour, Shields must be incorporated into the squad as soon as possible.
The reign of Mike Brown as England full-back is over. The man of the match showing against Wales reminded us of what he can do, but there are genuinely better options currently plying their trade in the Premiership, and with Anthony Watson injured, there are none better than Jason Woodward.
Many have called for Elliot Daly to be set free at 15, but he has had his own injury concerns and is not playing in the position for Wasps. Woodward has been in scintillating form ever since he came to England and has been particularly imperious for Gloucester this year.
Woodward is another product of the endless New Zealand talent engine but qualifies for England through his London born and raised grandmother. He has already expressed his desire to pull on the England shirt and undoubtedly deserves a shot on merit.
He has been at the heart of all things good about the rejuvenated Gloucester this year. Woodward has been shredding defences throughout and has accumulated a healthy stack of tries along the way. As a bona fide game-changer, Woodward needs to be in Jones’ plans.
Are there any other uncapped players you would like to see included on the South Africa tour?
By Josh Cousens