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Big trio miss out again


Big trio miss out again but England's Six Nations squad is an exciting one - Andy Goode

Alex Goode, Danny Cipriani and Don Armand may have been left out yet again but Eddie Jones is finally showing signs of picking on form and his latest England squad is one to get excited about.

You can always pick out players who you think are in form and should be in there but I think this is a damn good squad on paper. Before the autumn, people were looking at the squad with all of the injuries and on the back of a poor Six Nations campaign and thinking that we could lose three of the four Tests.

However, we won three of the four Tests and have the likes of Billy Vunipola, Mako Vunipola and Joe Launchbury back fit again and there is now a renewed confidence ahead of the 2019 Six Nations.

The big trio of omissions again are Goode, Cipriani and Armand and, while I and others might have picked them, Jones clearly doesn’t fancy them and perhaps doesn’t think their style of play suits what he’s looking for.

There is definitely a feeling that the more people talk up their chances, the less likely they are to be picked because of the way Jones is but it’s his job to pick the people he thinks best fit into the group in order to head towards a World Cup and try to win it.

We can all sit back as pundits and fans and say who’s on form and act surprised that certain players aren’t being selected but the buck stops with him and it’s obviously his prerogative to pick who he thinks fits best into his system and environment.

He has been heavily criticised in the past, including by me, for not picking players on form but there are a couple of new faces in there completely on the basis of their Premiership form, most notably Ollie Thorley.

He’s got ridiculous pace and power and doesn’t come with any of the baggage of being involved in previous squads, so it’s perhaps easier for him to pick Thorley than someone like Goode.

With the likes of Chris Ashton, Jonny May, Elliot Daly, Joe Cokanasiga, Jack Nowell and Mike Brown for competition, it’s hard to see him getting a look in really when it comes to making a match day 23 but it’d be great to see him given a chance against Italy later in the Six Nations.

I think Alex Lozowski is probably the unluckiest player in terms of missing out on this occasion as he has been involved a lot recently but hasn’t really been given a proper chance. The only game he played in during the autumn was against Japan and that was at inside centre, rather than outside centre where he’s been playing for his club, and without Owen Farrell alongside him.

He got hooked at half-time but the game management issues England had in that first half weren’t down to him, so I think he’s really unlucky not to make the cut.

He’s even played on the wing for Saracens this season, as well as having the ability to play 12, 13 and 15 and maybe even wanting to go back to playing fly half eventually as well, so his versatility is likely to go in his favour when it comes to picking a 31-man World Cup squad.

I’m a massive fan of him, especially having seen the quality he has up close and what he produced at training day in, day out while playing with him at Wasps, but Ollie Devoto has been in fine form for Exeter too and his offload at the weekend was a bit special.

Alex Dombrandt of Harlequins scores the first try during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Harlequins and Newcastle Falcons at Twickenham Stoop. (Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images)

The back row is an interesting area again in this squad. There were lots of calls for Alex Dombrandt to be included with him scoring nine tries in 11 games so far this season but his team-mate Jack Clifford is in there ahead of him.

I think Clifford is a quality operator and, as well as his extra experience, I think he gets in on his versatility and because of the balance of the back row.

Dombrandt would only really be an option at blindside at the moment and it’s very early for him but if he keeps producing this level of performance over the next few months, he could make a late run for the extended World Cup squad.

Ben Earl is an exciting prospect, who went on tour to South Africa so has some credit in the bank, and he can play across the back row as well which helps his cause. Poor old Jackson Wray will be wondering why he doesn’t get a look in again, though, when he’s picked ahead of Earl at Saracens.

It’s great to see Dan Robson included and set to win his first cap, almost certainly off the bench, in Dublin. He was unlucky not to get any game time on tour to South Africa and then even more unlucky to get injured before the autumn internationals and he deserves his chance.

He’ll inject real pace coming on as a replacement and can perform a similar role to the one that Danny Care has done a lot in recent years. If there were to have been a third scrum half in the squad, I’d have liked to have seen Ben Spencer in there because of his kicking game as well as his sniping ability.

However, Care’s England career is far from over and he’ll be vying with Robson for a scrum half spot in the coming months I’m sure and could well be back in if he’s flying for Quins between now and the end of the season.

Care is in a similar position to Dan Cole to a certain extent. He was left out in the autumn but now more than deserves his recall. At the start of the season Cole wasn’t performing anywhere near the level of an England tighthead but he is now.

We don’t know whether that is because of good management by Jones, the change in management at Leicester, off-field factors or a combination of lots of things but it’s great to see him back.

Previously there have definitely been players in the squad based on reputation and as a result of them playing a part in England’s record 18-match winning run but that does seem to have changed a bit now.

You can always argue about the odd one or two selections but it’s an exciting squad and is a good blend of returning big names who played a part in England’s hugely successful winning streak not so long ago and a few new faces picked on form.

Everybody outside the England camp, including me, will have Ireland down as favourites for the game in Dublin on the opening weekend of the Six Nations but they needed an unbelievable drop goal from Johnny Sexton to beat France in Round 1 last season, all the pressure will be on them and it might just be the best time to face them.

I’ve jokingly said that this England squad has got Six Nations champions written all over it and that is tongue in cheek but, while Ireland will undoubtedly be favourites, it is a strong looking squad and one that fans can get excited about.

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Big trio miss out again but England's Six Nations squad is an exciting one - Andy Goode