With injuries to key players and uncertainty surrounding the availability of others, Stuart Lancaster faces the most difficult squad selection for some time. It’s been mooted that he’ll take a squad of somewhere between 40-50, given that he won’t know until after the squad announcement who he will be with or without for the first test. Here, we look at those who are certain to travel, those who will probably do so, and (because it’s fun) those who would be a left-field pick.
Not touring: Christian Wade, Alex Corbisiero, Tom Youngs, Tom Croft, Jack Nowell, Dan Cole
Dead certs: Joe Marler, David Wilson, Mako Vunipola
Probables: Henry Thomas, Matt Mullan
Bolters: Kyle Sinckler, Kieran Brookes, Alex Waller, Nathan Catt
The tighthead cupboard looks particularly bare. With Cole injured, there is not much after Dave Wilson. Lancaster’s leaving of Thomas on the bench for the majority of the Six Nations didn’t scream of trusting him at the top level, while the likes of Sinckler and Brookes are no where near ready for test rugby yet, but are probably the next cabs off the rank. At loosehead, it would be good to see someone like Catt or Waller travel in place of Matt Mullan, who feels like little more than a stop gap.
Dead certs: Dylan Hartley
Probables: Dave Ward, Rob Webber
Bolters: Jamie George, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tommy Taylor
A real problem area. With Youngs out for family reasons, Webber an injury doubt and Hartley likely to either be unavailable or injured for the first test, Dave Ward has emerged as the most unlikely of candidates to start that game. He has had an outstanding season though, so fair play to him. Jamie George looks likely to travel if Webber doesn’t recover from injury in time.
Dead certs: Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Geoff Parling, Dave Attwood
Probables: Ed Slater
Bolters: Graham Kitchener, Michael Paterson, Elliot Stooke
Probably England’s area of greatest strength. Parling’s return from injury means he will definitely travel, along with the trio that performed so well in the Six Nations, but so should one of Ed Slater or Michael Paterson, both of whom have had exemplary seasons. You could pick two of any of the above and it would be a high-class partnership.
Dead certs: Chris Robshaw, Tom Wood, Billy Vunipola, Ben Morgan
Probables: James Haskell, Tom Johnson, Matt Kvesic
Bolters: Steffon Armitage, Jamie Gibson, Jackson Wray, Luke Wallace, Will Fraser, Calum Clark, Matt Garvey, Dave Ewers, James Gaskell
Another area with great depth. James Haskell’s form is such that he could arguably jump into the dead certs category, given that possibly two of the four there could be missing for the first test. Johnson and Kvesic will likely travel, although the latter’s poor form this season could see him leapfrogged by one of the bolters – and that list proves that the future is bright for England in the back row.
Dead certs: Danny Care, Ben Youngs, Lee Dickson
Bolters: Joe Simpson, Dave Lewis, Richard Wigglesworth
Not much to say here really – the trio of Care, Youngs and Dickson are pretty much guaranteed to go. Wigglesworth would be a sensible replacement if any of them got injured/two were involved in the Premiership final (highly unlikely), while Simpson and Lewis would be more risky, but exciting, options.
Dead certs: Owen Farrell, George Ford
Probables: Danny Cipriani, Stephen Myler
Bolters: Freddie Burns, Henry Slade
Farrell and Ford will definitely travel, but the former is likely to miss the first test. This means that one of either Cipriani and Myler would be needed for bench duty (unless Lancaster leaves Twelvetrees/Goode to cover, as he has done before). Both are likely to travel as part of the squad and both have had impressive seasons, and while Myler was part of the Six Nations camp it is Cipriani who probably edges when it comes to form. Time for a recall from the wilderness?
Dead certs: Billy Twelvetrees, Luther Burrell, Manu Tuilagi
Probables: Kyle Eastmond, Brad Barritt
Bolters: Anthony Allen, Elliot Daly, Jonathan Joseph, Henry Trinder
One of Burrell or Tuilagi will miss the first test, and with Twelvetrees an injury doubt this could be Kyle Eastmond’s best chance to shine. He’s not had as strong a season as last year, but has still been in and around the squad and is the man best placed to fill the void. Of the bolters list, Trinder has been included in squads before but Daly would bring the most ‘X Factor’ – a buzzword that Lancaster has used in the past. Joseph and Allen are more experienced but aren’t as exciting as the other two.
Dead certs: Chris Ashton, Marland Yarde, Mike Brown, Ben Foden, Alex Goode, Jonny May
Probables: Anthony Watson
Bolters: Semesa Rokoduguni, Chris Pennell, Charlie Sharples, Tom Varndell, Jamie Elliott, Dave Strettle, Josh Drauniniu
Even with the injuries to Wade and Nowell, the depth here is encouraging, especially given the dark days of a couple of years ago. Yarde and May will likely start the first test (assuming Ashton is missing), with Brown at fullback and either Goode or Foden on the bench (or both, if the former is trusted with covering fly-half). Anthony Watson has been around the squad this season so will probably go, but clubmate Rokoduguni would be a more bold selection – and one based more on form. The other names on the list are unlikely to go (especially Drauniniu, but he’s been included because he’s such a dangerous finisher and has shone in a poor Worcester side), but if anyone did deserve to do so, it would be Chris Pennell, who has been utterly sublime in every game he’s played – no mean feat for an outside back when your side is losing most games.
Adding up the Dead Certs and Probables list gives a total of 38 players, meaning the likelihood is that a few of the bolters will travel. What do you make of our selections? Who do you think will make the plane to New Zealand?
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images