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England banking on new blood to bring the best out of the whole squad

Henry Ker argues England’s World Cup bolters can bring more to the team than just their rugby ability

If earlier this year you correctly predicted the 31 players Eddie Jones is taking to Japan for the World Cup, then I’d also like to know your picks for the lottery this week. And if you’ve got any good stock tips. Because you’re either Nostradamus or Marty McFly.

The term ‘bolters’ is too underwhelming a term to describe the meteoric rise of Lewis Ludlam and Ruaridh McConnochie. To a lesser extent this also applies to Willi Heinz and Jack Singleton. Four players who didn’t have a cap between them until Sunday afternoon.

In his article, Ed Alexander has already weighed the various players’ merits against the risk of their inexperience and discarding of stalwarts such as Mike Brown and Ben Te’o. We also lost Chris Robshaw, Danny Care and Dylan Hartley. Oh and Nathan Hughes, Sam Simmonds and Alex Goode. Danny Cipriani, Richard Wigglesworth and Ben Morgan.

Basically, there are a lot of good, experienced players who aren’t there. Jones has his reasons, and selection is always an art, not a science.

Some of the rationale is more tangible – in The Telegraph, Jones is described as ‘[conceding] that he had to change his view two years ago when he realised that the legs of his experienced core of players “were about to fall off”‘ – some of it less concrete, as was alluded to in Billy Vunipola’s post-match interview.

Accepting the man-of-the match award, he said ‘that gave me goosebumps, seeing [Ludlam’s] tears at the start. Playing often, you can take it for granted. To see that emotion, it motivates you and it excites. They bring that energy every day, not just to the game, and it is contagious.’

Jones said something similar to the BBC: ‘It’s always nice to bring new blood in … It freshens everything up and when you’ve got that enthusiasm as young players do, it helps to add to the squad.’

A settled squad can be good. But it can also breed complacency. Injecting some new blood and different perspectives and experiences can bring the best out of everyone in the squad.

McConnochie and Ludlam have had unconventional routes to the top, McConnochie via Cranbrook in Kent (in the sixth tier) through sevens and the Olympics before moving to Bath; while Ludlam was still fighting for a Northampton Saints contract at the start of the season, only coming into the England camp for the Barbarians game as cover for Teimana Harrison.

That is a very different career compared to the likes of Owen Farrell and George Ford, or the Vunipolas – rugby royalty fast-tracked through club academies and age-grade rugby.

Now the cynics among us will say, international-class rugby players should not need added motivation to play well for their country. And to an extent, they are right. But if shaking things up can bring an extra percent or two from the established stars, as Vunipola seemed to suggest, then that is a valuable contribution; and that’s on top of the impact of Ludlam’s performance on the pitch.

This is not to dismiss their strengths as players. They earned their place in the training camps through hard work and ability, but it also seems Jones feels they bring other qualities to the squad that can help bring out the best in their teammates.

Sometimes forgotten is that the team sport of rugby involves, well, a team. Of people. With personalities. We, as fans, see the players’ skill on the pitch, but how they contribute to the overall environment, whether they are a positive or negative influence on their teammates, whether they promote constructive competition or generate toxic division, is all an unknown to us.

This is a frequent factor in sport of all forms – to use an extreme example, compare the final few games Manchester United played under José Mourinho to the first games under Ole Gunnar Solskjær. Same players on the pitch, no radically different game plan, but a change to personnel brought a completely different attitude and performance.

Now we can also arguably look to Ben Te’o’s exclusion from the squad – and Danny Cipriani’s for that matter – as a counter point. Clearly something happened with Mike Brown in training, although the details have not been divulged, but it is not a stretch to think that may have factored into Jones’ eventual decision not to take him as part of the 31.

For another extreme example, look to possibly the most talented England batsman of all time, Kevin Pieterson’s eventual booting from the England cricket team after a spectacular breakdown in his relationship with teammates.

On the flip side, of course inexperience is a risk. You only need to look at Gareth Davies’ try down the blindside on Sunday, where Ludlam was pinned into the side of the scrum by Aaron Wainwright, for an example of that. You feel a cannier and world-wise operator may have identified what Wales were trying to do and been able to counter it. But that’s a hypothetical.

We’ve all played with a great player who left something to be desired in the personality department. While we’ve also seen the brilliant impact a player can make in a very short amount of time, almost regardless of whether or not they take the field. On a long tour abroad, with the world watching and the highest of stakes in play, who would you want in your corner?

By Henry Ker

19 replies on “England banking on new blood to bring the best out of the whole squad”

I think this is hard to evaluate for many reasons.
Firstly, it does feel like Eddie is winging it a bit with his final selections, particularly Ludlam and McConnochie both of whom were nowhere near an England shirt up until 3 weeks ago.
Secondly, no one wants to be the big bad wolf who knocks England’s chances now that the final 31 has been announced
Thirdly, yes we all hope the newbies have a great WC and continue to play in the red rose shirt for as long as possible but…., the squad IS unbalanced and that will do far more harm to our chances than lobbing a few rookies onto the mix.

Nothing wrong in bringing in new players at this stage. It can energise a squad to have some new faces in it.
However…the players picked have to perform. They might be good blokes (Ludlam is very personable for sure) but they have to hit the standards required of an international player.
Don’t underestimate how luck can play a big part in selection. One man’s untimely injury (Shields) or unavailability (Ashton) can open the door for another. Some selections are not planned, as is the case for Heinz in particular, though I think it fair to say that the muddle headed thinking around the SH position has been Jones greatest failing. Has he now got the right back up man in Heinz? Time will tell.

Ludlam was the star performer in the 2015 U20 world championship picking up at least 2 MotM awards whilst playing alongside the likes of Genge and Ewels as well as some other players who have broken through into the premiership such as J.Walker, P.Hill, W.Witty, J.Chisholm, A.Mitchell N.Tompkins, M.Clark, A.Morris

I think of Care and Robshaw as examples.Because they have seen it all before their motivation energy and sense of excitement cannot match that of the newbies.So whilst the latter are a risk Jones gambled its a risk worth taking.I agree.

Jonathan Woss would agree with yr 2nd last sentence H’quin. When questioned recently about stealing a kitchen item from B&Q, he replied that he though it was a whisk worth taking. Ed should sign him up pronto!


If England do well in the WC, youth selection will be praised. If not, it won’t. It’s neither right nor wrong, it’s just what Jones decided to do.

If Jones wins the WC he will be a hero. If he does not he will be a failure. Only time will tell. As an interested bystander (a SAFFER), one question, why no Danny C of Gloucs.??????????????

Jones won the WC for the ‘Boks with Jake White. I have no idea if he had any input as who would play, when, why and how. I would love to have DC in the ‘Bok squad.

I trust his judgement generally. How many other coaches have had as significant world cup experience and had major achievements in each one? Australia – runners up; Key member of the coaching group for SA 2007 which won, and Japan’s ability to go from the worst aggregate performers in world cups to beating the aggregate best performers in SA. The ave total caps is still very high and I agree broadly with his ability to spot trends before others do – so in that sense I don’t doubt his judgement here. Whilst his selections haven’t always been popular, I think his win record with England gets discounted massively and overall he has done a brilliant job. There is no doubting his lack of respect for status quo, and being good friends with Kyle Sinckler, I have had some visbility into how he fucks with peoples heads, but it seems to work…..


Think you’re bigging Jones up somewhat. Reality is, he’s not won anything. Lost home WC final, kicked out of Reds, Saracens. Picked 1/2 his pack due injury. With most recourses in W rugby, he’s taken England to 4th.. just!

You’re being harsh here Don on Mr Jones. He lost a WC final in the dying seconds to a drop goal and was beaten by the greatest England team of our time. He took a beaten up England side knocked out of their own WC at group stage to back to back Six Nations champions, six back to back wins against Australia in 2016 and runners up six nations this year. As I am sure many will agree world rankings is not an absolute measure of how good a side is….as seen by some ropey NZ performances of recent. Don’t get me wrong, EJ has his faults but he has delivered as a Coach.

Perhaps you have a point DM. He did win a S Rugby title with the Brumbies & Tri N one.. in 2001. Also won a number of Asian titles with Japan, an Aus series & a Gr Slam with England, but apart from all that..? He’s had a checkered career. Seems to go awry after an initial period of some success. There are also gaps in his history. The bottom line is, are you confident of his leading England to WC glory?

Agree with DP comment; if they win (or get to the final IMO), it was all along the right plan from EJ, If they don’t then start the enquiries and criticisms and they will be more volatile depending on what stage England exit…

However its the same for several teams. Let’s assume the current top six ranked teams get through to the QF. Anything less than the final will no doubt be viewed as a failure for them and all the ‘ifs and buts, what could have been’ will echo across the rugby community. Personally I think a big part of who wins the WC hinges on injuries!

GH, yet to be seen how Ed’s effing with Cipriani’s head will help England’s WC, esp if Ford or Farrell get crocked.

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