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A look at Eddie Jone's potential starting XV for Argentina

By Alex Shaw
Australia v England

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England head coach Eddie Jones named his 34-man squad for the November Tests earlier today, but surprises were few and far between, as the Australian seeks to finetune his squad ahead of the Rugby World Cup in 2019.

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The Old Mutual Wealth Series begins on November 11th against Argentina, before England take on Australia and Samoa in the subsequent weeks.

There were suggestions that Jones could rest several of the players that were involved with the British and Irish Lions in the summer, but the likes of Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and Dan Cole are all included.

In fact, of the 15 English Lions, 10 have been selected in Jones’ autumn squad. Of the remaining five, four – Jack Nowell, Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler and Ben Te’o – are unavailable due to injury or suspension, leaving James Haskell as the sole player to miss out.

It remains to be seen how much rest those selected Lions will receive during the three weeks of competitive action.

For locks-cum-flanks Itoje, George Kruis and Courtney Lawes, there will be plenty of opportunities for rotation with three additional specialist second rows selected in the forms of Charlie Ewels, Joe Launchbury and Nick Isiekwe, as well as flanks Chris Robshaw, Tom Curry and Sam Underhill.

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Cole, on the other hand, will be required in all three Tests – barring a late call-up for Sinckler, whose suspension ends prior to the final Test with Samoa – as one of only two tighthead props in the squad, alongside Exeter’s Harry Williams.

There will be opportunities to spell Farrell, with Piers Francis, Alex Lozowski and Henry Slade all included, taking the tally of competent fly-halves in the squad to five, with current incumbent George Ford also present.

It’s a midfield that will not lack for creativity or initiative, especially with Jonathan Joseph also involved, but with both Te’o and Manu Tuilagi not considered due to injury, there is no clear power carrier option in the England backline.

As such, there will be an even heavier emphasis on the likes of Lawes, Itoje, Simmonds, Jamie George, Ellis Genge and Nathan Hughes to provide England with the front-foot ball they need to launch that backline.

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Strangely, two of the more interesting selections in the 34-man squad likely won’t touch a ball in anger during the series and those are Marcus Smith and Zach Mercer.

Smith and Mercer have both been included in the squad as “apprentice players” and will be involved with training and game preparation, but won’t be considered for selection. It is something New Zealand have long done on their European tours, bringing one or two promising youngsters north with them to get them used to the environment at international level, and its consistent adoption by other nations is long overdue.

Both players have shone in the age-grades for England, as well as transitioning seamlessly to senior club rugby and the opportunity to see how they cope in a senior international environment, as well as provide the England coaches with some one-on-one time with them, is too good to pass up.

Away from the apprentices, however, there is a feeling of a squad trying to iron out the last few creases and build depth before they enter the final stage of their 2019 RWC preperation.

There are no real “surprises”, with youngsters Curry, Isiekwe and Underhill all shining in Argentina this past summer and the likes of Genge, Simmonds and Tom Dunn rewarded for excellent starts to the Premiership and European seasons. Of that inexperienced six, only Simmonds hasn’t been capped or included in an England training camp before.

Some of the more interesting position battles next month could be at loosehead, blindside and on the wing.

Given Genge’s form this season and Jones’ desire to rest Lions, the young Leicester Tiger could push Vunipola as the series goes on, whilst the competency with which Itoje and Lawes have played at six for their respective clubs will certainly give Jones pause for thought. Lawes manned the loose forward role well during Robshaw’s injury-enforced absence in the Six Nations earlier this year and may have done enough to steal the jersey.

As for the wings, Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly may have been the favourites coming into the season as recent Lions, but Jonny May has made a scintillating start to his Leicester career, bagging almost a try a game.

Then there’s Denny Solomona, whose attacking incision took the Premiership by storm last season. If he can avoid overdoing it on the “team culture issues” on the training camp trip to the Algarve, he could be in the mix, too.

Elsewhere, Jones seems to have a solid idea of what his best XV is at this point and the six remaining international windows between now and the RWC will allow him the opportunity to tinker, but predominately to build chemistry and cohesion.

Having lost just once in the last two seasons, it’s unsurprising that Jones is sticking to the script with his selections. England have enjoyed 100% success over Argentina and Australia in that period from a combined seven games (three vs Argentina, four vs Australia) and it’s a record Jones will not want to relinquish next month.

Expect to see a strong – and familiar – side take on Argentina and Australia in the opening two weeks, before potentially resting several of the Lions for the challenge of Samoa in the series finale.

 

Possible XV to play Argentina

15. Mike Brown

14. Anthony Watson

13. Jonathan Joseph

12. Owen Farrell

11. Jonny May

10. George Ford

9. Ben Youngs

1. Mako Vunipola

2. Dylan Hartley (c)

3. Dan Cole

4. Maro Itoje

5. George Kruis

6. Chris Robshaw

7. Sam Underhill

8. Nathan Hughes

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