Eddie Jones will announce his new England training squad this Friday. Jones has strongly indicated he will rest a number of those involved with the British and Irish Lions tour for the autumn test series (which is still a little way off, beginning against Argentina on 11 November), with an extensive list of Maro Itoje, Jamie George, Owen Farrell, Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly, Courtney Lawes, Be Te’o, Mako Vunipola, Kyle Sinckler and Jack Nowell all involved in the tests, not to mention the others in the wider squad.
Exactly who will be rested – and the criteria for deciding – is a bit less clear; it could be a blanket omission of all those involved in the tour; those involved with the tests; just those who look a bit burnt out; or maybe just those whose positions Jones wants to grow depth in.
Meanwhile, we have had three rounds of the new Premiership season and it’s safe to say there has been a real mix of results – reigning champions Exeter losing on the opening weekend, the likes of Northampton got smashed one game before roaring back with strong wins over Leicester and Bath.
But in amongst the chaos, a few players have given Jones massive nudges, and if they maintain this form should be in contention for to start for England come November.
I have not seen a loosehead prop carry with such unfettered aggression since Andrew Sheridan packed down for England. A number eight before making the switch to the front row, Ellis Genge is an absolute monster with ball in hand – have a look at what he did to his England captain (and several others in the Northampton team) the other weekend.
— Leicester Tigers (@LeicesterTigers) September 11, 2017
Genge is pretty solid in the scrum – if maybe not quite at the heights of his rivals for the England shirt, Mako Vunipola and Joe Marler, yet. However – he is only 22. With a couple of years to hone his technique, and coupled with his raw power, Genge should soon be chewing up and spitting out tightheads.
Jones is already blessed with two Lions in the loosehead position, however I think Genge has the raw potential to be better than either. After starting both tests in Argentina, the autumn series would be a perfect opportunity to continue his development.
Another winger left out in the cold by England who scores tries for fun but has be tarred with that ‘defensive problems’ brush. Like Christian Wade and Chris Ashton before him, Rokoduguni has supreme attacking abilities, but supposed weaknesses mean he is deemed surplus to requirements.
Although I am not suggesting an international winger can get away without any defensive nous (anyone who saw Raymond Rhule’s impression of a doormat on the wing for South Africa against New Zealand at the weekend will attest to that), Roko’s flaws really only amount to a few positional problems and a weak(ish) kicking game – hardly insurmountable, and, for me, don’t matter when you can do stuff like this:
— Bath Rugby (@bathrugby) September 15, 2017
Eddie Jones has been pretty open about his desire for more size and power in his backline; it is why he recalled Marland Yarde and tried out Nathan Earle, Joe Cokanasiga and Denny Solomona (hardly a defensive rock himself) while the Lions were away. Right now, Roko is in better form than all of them, and with his three first-choice wings involved in the Lions tour and candidates for a rest, this is the moment for Jones to give him another chance.
Despite helping Exeter to their maiden Premiership title last season, Henry Slade’s form was a bit patchy and inconsistent. He toured Argentina with England in the summer and showed glimmers of his potential, but for such a talented player, more is needed and demanded – certainly if he is to force his way into the England midfield ahead of guys like Jonathan Joseph, Owen Farrell, George Ford or Ben Te’o.
Jones has called on Slade to make the number 13 shirt his own, rather than bouncing around the back line and becoming a victim of his versatility. He seems to have risen to the challenge and delivered some excellent performances in the first few rounds for Exeter – this deft chip for Olly Woodburn’s try against Worcester showed great vision:
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) September 16, 2017
It’s his moments of inspiration and deftly-executed skill that make Slade so valuable. With Owen Farrell one of the more likely Lions to be rested by England, there will be a spot in the England backline for Slade to claim. Jones also has the freshly-capped likes of Piers Francis and Alex Lozowski, so he is an England coach in the unusual and lucky position of not being short of ball-playing centres. Out of all of them, however, I feel Slade has the complete skillset and growing maturity to challenge for a regularly starting shirt.
Who has impressed you in the opening Premiership games and who deserve an international call-up?
By Henry Ker