This afternoon, the new England rugby coach, Eddie Jones, is going to announce his squad for the Six Nations which begins in February. As the last vestiges of the Lancaster era are swept away we await Eddie’s era with excitement and anticipation. Here, Hanover Sport take a look at the players who could make an impact and help England turn over a new, trophy-laden leaf.
The traditional strengths of English rugby lay in our forwards and pack. Our forward game wasn’t as strong as it should have been during the World Cup but England do have riches to choose from. The scintillating form of the Saracens means Mako Vunipola is a cert, along with the likes of Joe Marler, Dan Cole and Dylan Hartley. But there have been young tyros knocking on the door for some time, and the claims of Jamie George (Saracens) and Henry Thomas (Sale) have been to the fore.
Among the second and back row, many pundits have advocated reconstructive surgery, with England in need of some no-holds barred brawn in the engine room. Robbed of the talents of Bath’s Dave Attwood and Leicester’s Ed Slater through injury, Jones can still call on Joe Launchbury and George Kruis (assuming concussion protocols clear them to play), Courtney Lawes. Some such as England World Cup winning centre, Will Greenwood believe Launchbury’s claims are so strong he should be made captain. The protagonists in this area are potentially world class so is probably the area Jones needs to worry about least.
The back row has been the most divisive area of debate among England fans for the last few gears, given its importance to the modern game. Arguably, the breakdown has been England’s greatest weakness. Matt Kvesic of Gloucester is beginning to show real class in the position, while the virtues of the Saracens pair of Will Fraser and Jack Clifford are unmissable. The one name that has many commentators salivating is Maro Itoje, the 21 year old Saracens bounder who led the England U-20s to the World Cup in 2014. He is wise beyond his years and plays with a maturity and aura that is so rare but can he handle the Test arena? England’s World Cup winning captain believes the only way to find out is to throw him in but counsels against hyping him up too much as players need to grow into the Test arena. These will be new names to many casual fans but they are among a generation of flankers who will place considerable pressure on current captain Chris Robshaw and Tom Woods.
The question of captaincy has been hotly debated as it looks certain Robshaw will no longer carry that honour. For as many who believe that Dylan Hartley is the abrasive, hard-nosed leader England need, others consider him a liability. Jones hasn’t given much away and it is rumoured he won’t make an announcement for another fortnight. His decision will be important for the direction of the team.
The other area of English rugby that requires a sea change is the midfield. England possess classy players such as Jonathan Joseph, Manu Tuilagi, Anthony Watson, George Ford but they need to be unshackled, and be given the confidence to express themselves. This is a hallmark of Jones’ teams, as we saw with Japan in the Rugby World Cup this autumn. Do the mercurial talents of Danny Cipriani demand another chance at international level? Will Chris Ashton’s exhilarating try-scoring exploits see him back in the Red Rose? And will the Wasps midfield maestro, Elliot Daly, he of the quick feet, quicker brain and 50 metre penalty-kicks finally be given his head for the senior team?
We await with baited breath as to who will make the cut!