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3 play for Six Nations rivals, 1 changed sport: England A's last team

By Josh Raisey
Dan Robson, Danny Cipriani, Tommy Taylor, Sam Jones, Jake Cooper-Woolley and Christian Wade of England Saxons (also all players for Wasps) pose for a picture after the International match between the South Africa A and England Saxons at Free State Stadium on June 10, 2016 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. (Photo by Steve Haag/Getty Images)

England A are set to return on Sunday for the first time in eight years when they take on Portugal at Welford Road.

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A team selected by England head coach Steve Borthwick and coached by Gloucester boss George Skivington will take on one of the World Cup’s surprise packages a day after England play Scotland in the Calcutta Cup.

Under the title of the Saxons, England A faced South Africa A in two matches in 2016, winning the first 32-26 in Bloemfontein and winning the second 29-26 in George.

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Up against a South Africa A side that featured future World Champions Lukhanyo Am, RG Snyman and Malcolm Marx, the match in George would signify the last time an England A/Saxons side would play until this weekend (although a fixture against Scotland A was scheduled in 2021 before being cancelled due to Covid).

A lot has happened to the players in that England A squad over the past eight years- some have retired, some still play and some have trodden some very interesting paths. So this is what has happened to the 2016 squad:

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15. Mike Haley
The then-Sale Sharks fullback Mike Haley went on to represent England against the Barbarians a year after this match in George, before securing a move to Munster in 2018 with the aim of representing Ireland, for whom he also qualified. As his performances for England (in whatever iteration) were not capped Tests, Haley was called up to Ireland’s 2019 World Cup training squad, making his debut in a warm-up against Italy. He did not, however, make the World Cup squad and has not since added to his single cap, but the 29-year-old remains at Munster.

14. Semesa Rokoduguni
With one cap to his name already at the time of playing this match, former Bath fan favourite Semesa Rokoduguni only would earn three more caps – one against his country of birth Fiji later that year, and two against Argentina and Samoa in 2017 – as he continued to be overlooked by Eddie Jones. The 36-year-old joined French ProD2 outfit Montauban in 2022, bringing his decade at Bath to an end.

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13. Nick Tompkins
Of all the players in this squad, Saracens’ Nick Tompkins has become the most established international, albeit not for England. Another player that was controversially ignored by Jones, the centre was called into Wayne Pivac’s Wales squad for the 2020 Six Nations, qualifying through his Welsh-born grandmother. The 29-year-old has won 34 Wales caps to date, and starts in the No12 jersey against Ireland on Saturday at the Aviva Stadium.

12. Ollie Devoto
Having won his first England cap a matter of weeks before this outing in South Africa, against Wales at Twickenham, Ollie Devoto earned just one more, against France in the 2020 Six Nations. Shortly after the tour of South Africa, Devoto made the move from Bath to the Exeter Chiefs.

11. Christian Wade
A  lot has happened in the career of Christian Wade since this match. The winger joined the NFL’s International Player Pathway programme in 2018, becoming a member of the Buffalo Bills’ practice squad after that. After his career in American football failed to take off, Wade returned to rugby union in 2022, joining Top1 14 giants Racing 92. However, the 32-year-old has never been able to add to his one England cap which he earned in 2013.

10. Danny Cipriani
The most high-profile name in this squad in 2016, the once golden boy of English rugby Danny Cipriani had 14 full England caps at the time. A Sale Sharks player in 2016, he would go on to return to Wasps, join Gloucester and play for Bath, perhaps producing his best rugby for the Cherry and Whites, being crowned Premiership player of the year in 2019. Cipriani did earn two more caps after this England A game – both against South Africa in 2018 – but will go down as one of England rugby’s most criminally underused talents. The fly-half retired from rugby last month at the age of 36.

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9. Dan Robson
Uncapped in this match against South Africa A, Dan Robson went on to win 14 caps for England. But his move to Top 14 outfit Pau in 2022 following Wasps’ demise effectively ended his international career.

1. Alec Hepburn
Exeter Chiefs’ loosehead Alec Hepburn would have to wait two more years after this tour to make his full debut, earning all his six England caps in 2018. After a six-year Test exile, the 30-year-old made his international comeback, this time for Scotland. After meeting World Rugby’s three-year stand-down period, the prop was able to switch allegiance due to his Scottish-born father. He made his debut this Six Nations, starting on the bench so far in the opening two rounds against Wales and France.

2. Tommy Taylor
Sale Sharks hooker Tommy Taylor was fresh from his full England debut in May 2016 when he played for England A, but it turned out to be his only cap. This tour came just before a move to Wasps, where he stayed until 2021 before returning to Sale. The hooker has been plagued by shoulder and knee injuries over the past eight years.

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3. Kieran Brookes
Tighthead Kieran Brookes had won 16 England caps between June 2014 and March 2016, but he has not won another cap since. A Northampton Saints player in 2016, the 33-year-old has had a stint at Wasps since then, before joining Toulon in 2021, where he remains.

4. Dave Attwood
England’s most experienced player in this squad, Dave Attwood had 23 senior caps to his name. He only earned one more, against South Africa later that year, but his career continued until last year, when he hung up his boots at the end of his second stint at Bath.

5. Charlie Ewels
England A’s 20-year-old lock on this occasion Charlie Ewels has gone on to form a successful Test career, earning 30 caps for England, but has been included in the England A squad again this week. The lock remains a Bath player, although he had a loan spell with the Blue Bulls in 2023, and has been in camp with England this Six Nations. He has not earned another cap since his 82-second red card against Ireland in 2022.


6. Dave Ewers
One of the best players in recent years to never earn a cap, Dave Ewers was a monster for Exeter Chiefs for years but surprisingly never made it into a Test team. After over a decade with the Chiefs, the Zimbabwean-born flanker joined Ulster at the beginning of the season.

7. Matt Kvesic
Having won his first two caps for England in 2013, flanker Matt Kvesic was part of the cohort that played against Wales in May 2016. He would earn his fourth cap three years later in a World Cup warm-up against Italy, but has been out of the Test scene since then. The 31-year-old was part of the Worcester Warriors set-up during their demise in 2022, and has since played for Zebre and is currently plying his trade in the Championship with Coventry.

8. Don Armand
Unlike his fellow Zimbabwean-born Exeter back row Ewers, Don Armand did indeed earn a deserved England cap after this tour, playing against Argentina in 2017 and against Ireland in the 2018 Six Nations. Armand retired from rugby in 2022 after nine seasons with the Chiefs.

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16. George McGuigan
This tour came just before George McGuigan moved to Leicester Tigers from Newcastle Falcons, where he remained for two years before returning to the Falcons and finally joining Gloucester in 2022, where he remains. The hooker has been called into England training camps, but has never earned a senior cap.

17. Ross Harrison
Sale Sharks loosehead Ross Harrison would feature for England against the Barbarians in 2017, but has never earned a cap. The 31-year-old remains with the Sharks, for whom he is nearing 300 appearances.

18. Jake Cooper-Woolley
Tighthead Jake Cooper-Woolley did not improve on this A team performance when it came to England, but continued to be a key member of the Wasps pack until 2019, when he joined Sale Sharks. He left the Sharks in the summer of 2021.

19. Mitch Lees
The towering Australian-born lock Mitch Lees was another member of this bench who never quite made it to Test rugby. He remained with Exeter until 2019, when he sealed a move to join Brive in France, before being forced to retire through injury in 2022.

20. Sam Jones
A player that was tipped to have a bright future, Wasps flanker Sam Jones was called into Eddie Jones’ squad for the autumn internationals later that year at the age of 24. However, a catastrophic leg injury during a judo session with Maro Itoje in this camp forced the flanker to retire from rugby two years later.

21. Micky Young
A seasoned Premiership scrum-half and an England Sevens representative, Micky Young has never earned a full cap. The 35-year-old has played for Newcastle, Leicester, Bath, Toulon, and most recently Gloucester, a club he only left this month after providing injury cover for four months.

22. Sam Hill
A member of England’s Grand Slam-winning squad in 2016, centre Sam Hill was never able to kick on and play for England. He left his boyhood club Exeter in 2020 after ten years to join Sale, where he stayed until the end of last season, whereupon he joined Blackheath in National League 1.

23. Sam James
Completing a bench that was heavy on Sale or Exeter players, Sam James still plays for Sale at the age of 29. Like the rest of this bench, he has also never won a full cap, but probably came the closest. Not only did he play against the Barbarians a year later in 2017, but toured Argentina with England, but was never selected by Jones.

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