A couple of names may be making the headlines but England’s Six Nations squad is largely as expected and they should be able to play their way into the tournament.
Some people will say that makes me an arrogant Englishman but I don’t think you can argue that the fixtures have fallen kindly for England with the two weakest teams in the tournament historically over the past decade or two at home to start off with.
Scotland may well fancy their chances after drawing at Twickenham a couple of years ago and looking at how little rugby some of the England players have under their belt recently but they still haven’t won away at their ‘Auld Enemy’ since 1983.
England’s preparations have to be a concern given that the coaching staff are self-isolating, the players don’t go into camp until Wednesday and the likes of Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Jamie George and Elliot Daly haven’t played for two months.
Billy Vunipola has only had one run out against Ealing Trailfinders as well and the likes of Courtney Lawes and Mark Wilson haven’t played a lot of rugby this season either. However, it would be more of a worry if they were starting with away trips to France and Ireland.
Harry Randall and Paolo Odogwu’s inclusion shouldn’t be a surprise because they’ve been tearing it up in the Premiership but they have raised eyebrows because Eddie Jones hasn’t picked on form in the past.
Some people will say they’ve been included because they’ve been attracting the attention of Wales and Italy respectively, in which case Joe and Sam Simmonds must wish they had an Italian grandparent, but they have more than earned their place in the squad.
Odogwu, in particular, has made more metres and clean breaks than any other player in the Premiership this season and that’s despite only starting four of Wasps’ league games so he certainly merits his inclusion.
Of course, Kyle Sinckler’s omission is going to create headlines but Jones has said he will “judge his selection when he becomes available”, which suggests he will try to bring him into the squad as soon as he can.
He will miss Bristol’s Premiership games against Bath and Sale because of his suspension and then could be brought back into the squad for England’s game against Italy in Round 2. It was initially indicated that the 28-man squad would only be changed in the event of injury but it seems like there is leeway.
Joe Heyes is a tighthead and has been named in the 12-man shadow squad, though, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens after the opening round or two.
The selection of a shadow squad, who will be part of the same testing protocols as the tournament squad, and the fact that half of that group are uncapped and very green is an interesting call but we can fully expect players from outside of the 40 names to play a part later in the competition.
Jack Willis is probably the player most unfortunate to miss out on a place in the 28-man squad but back row is an area of real strength for England at the moment and Jonathan Joseph is another notable absentee from the main group.
He started three times on the wing and once at centre in the autumn but clearly his form isn’t where Jones wants it to be and maybe the touch rugby game he watched between Bath and Wasps where Odogwu got the better of Joseph was the deciding factor.
You could look at the squad and say England have only picked two bonafide centres in Ollie Lawrence and Henry Slade but obviously Farrell will be used there and I think Odogwu has been picked more as an outside centre than a winger.
He’s always been a winger in the past but he’s been picked at centre four times by Lee Blackett this season. He’s openly said recently that’s where he prefers to play and that’s where he’s shone the most for me.
He perhaps doesn’t inspire massive confidence under the high ball as part of a back three but Eddie likes one of his centres to be that power runner, with Lawrence blooded in the autumn as well, and Odogwu very much fits that mould as well.
As with some of the forwards who can cover both second row and back row, it’s great to have players in the squad who have the flexibility to play a couple of positions but I think he’s been picked as an out-and-out number 13.
This is possibly one of the most difficult ever Six Nations to predict with postponements and cancellations having the potential to heavily affect the outcome and it’d be good to hear clarification on exactly what the protocols are on that with just two weeks to go until the tournament begins.
France and Ireland will both fancy their chances but, despite having a smaller main squad officially than their rivals, England are the reigning Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup champions and there is no doubt they will be favourites.
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