Ever since Eddie Jones announced his England squad for the autumn, the back row has perhaps been the area most keenly discussed.
This is in part due to the absentees, namely European player of the year Sam Simmonds, but that is a fairly hackneyed discussion by now. Elsewhere, a lot of focus has been on the inclusion of the RPA players’ player of the year Jack Willis.
The uncapped Wasps flanker produced some jaw-dropping stats last season in the league, particularly his haul of 46 turnovers (more than second and third place combined), as well as finishing with the joint-third most tries.
The 23-year-old starts at openside flanker this Saturday against Georgia in the Autumn Nations Cup, and there is understandably plenty of buzz online about his debut. This is a player who, if he can replicate his club form in an England shirt, has the potential to produce Pocock-esque stats at the breakdown.
However, when many pundits and fans were concocting their dream back row for this autumn and beyond, few envisaged it would feature Maro Itoje, who packs down at blindside flanker alongside his Saracens teammate Billy Vunipola at No8.
The decision to play Itoje at No6 is one that makes sense. He is not only accustomed to the position, but against a notoriously robust side like Georgia, it beefs up the pack. Under the influence of World Cup winning forwards coach Matt Proudfoot, the Saracen can play a role similar to World Rugby player of the year Pieter-Steph du Toit. This fixture does afford Jones the chance to experiment slightly as well.
Having both Tom Curry and Ben Earl on the bench, or as ‘finishers’, further provides Jones with options and the opportunity to alter the complexion and mobility of his pack entirely if he chooses to. But that does mean one member of Jones’ ‘Kamikaze Kids’, Sam Underhill, misses out this week, as do Lewis Ludlam and Ted Hill.
The No6-No7 combination of Curry and Willis seems to be a popular one online, and maybe the most eagerly anticipated. It is also one that may become a reality at some point at Twickenham. There is even the possibility of shifting Curry to the back of the scrum to accommodate Willis and Earl, or Underhill in the future. Given the depth options, the possibilities seem endless.
So glad Jack Willis is playing. He’s dynamite!!! I know Curry is a finisher on Saturday but can’t wait to see those 2 together. Be like Hooper and Pocock
— Jim-C (@jmconnor6) November 12, 2020
Willis is off the scale and I’d love to see him alongside Curry at 6/7. But we’ve got a plethora of back row options. I like Ollie Lawrence but I’d rather him at 12 and Slade 13
— David Summers (@davidsummers64) November 12, 2020
I want Willis, Underhill, and Curry at 8. Good luck to the other lot keeping the ball. Then Billy to go full bore for 20 minutes or so at the end.
— BigSmoke (@TheLondonSmoke) November 12, 2020
I think Itoje would be a poor imitation of PSDT. Not because he isn’t a great player but it took so long for PSDT to be mobile enough for flank. I’d rather stay with the Kamikaze flank options like Underhill, Curry, Willis, Earl etc
— Thala Msutu (@ThalaMsutu77) November 12, 2020
England can have a back row of Sam Underhill, Tom Curry and Jack Willis *chefs kiss
— Tyson. (@thatdudetys) November 12, 2020
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now