A lot has changed for England since their struggles in 2015 at their home World Cup. Much of that evolution is evident in the differences in caps between their 2015 and 2019 squads.
For all the criticism that went Stuart Lancaster’s way in the aftermath of the group stage exit, the core of his squad in that tournament continues to form the backbone of the side that Eddie Jones has assembled for the trip to Japan next month.
Among the tight five forwards, Mako Vunipola, Joe Marler, Dan Cole, Jamie George, Courtney Lawes, Joe Launchbury and George Kruis all return from the previous World Cup. As such, it’s not surprising to see the experience in the current group take a considerable leap from the previous tournament.
The front row accounted for 202 caps in 2015 at an average of 25 per player, with that jumping to 283 caps in 2019 at an average of 25 caps per player.
Just as Jones has done this year, Lancaster also opted for three hookers, although he split his props as three tightheads and two looseheads, rather than the loosehead-heavy selection of the Australian.
Leicester Tigers cleaned up in Eddie Jones' England RWC squad despite an 11th place Premiership Rugby finish last in May https://t.co/BFmqJN3HHl
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There has been a similar increase in the second row, where the 97 caps of 2015 – at an average of 24 per player – has moved on to 190 caps at 48 per player. The only change in the engine room is Maro Itoje replacing Geoff Parling, with the other three locks having all added to their wealth of experience over the past four seasons.
The back row bucks this trend, though, with England’s haul of 185 caps in 2015 – 37 per player – far exceeding the tally of 74 in 2019, with each loose forward only now averaging 15 caps. The disparity between the two only increases further when you factor in Nick Easter’s late inclusion as an injury replacement for Billy Vunipola.
Vunipola, in fact, is the only crossover between the two squads, with the replacements of Chris Robshaw, James Haskell and Tom Wood having left somewhat of an international experience vacuum in the back row.
Caps have increased in the half-backs, however, with 2015’s total of 168 caps falling short of the 2019’s squad tally of 213. One difference between the two squads is that Lancaster opted for three scrum-halves in 2015 while Jones has selected just two this year.
The average of 34 caps in 2015 has jumped to 53 in 2019, something which is unsurprising given that Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell and George Ford all feature in both squads and have been central to England’s plans under Jones for the past four seasons.
Henry Slade and Jonathan Joseph feature in both squads and help take the caps in the centres from 39 in 2015 to 101 in 2019. That has been further bumped by the return of Manu Tuilagi in the place of the relatively inexperienced Sam Burgess. The average has jumped from 10 caps per player to 25 caps.
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Finally, the back three sees yet more continuity with Anthony Watson, Jonny May and Jack Nowell all coming back for their second shot at the World Cup. The loss of Mike Brown does diminish the increase in experience somewhat, as 2015’s total of 93 caps was good for 19 per player while 2019’s 149 caps equates to 25 per player.
Jones has used the extra spot he crafted out for himself by selecting just two scrum-halves to bring in an extra wing, with the uncapped Ruaridh McConnochie making the cut.
That 2015 campaign may have ended in disappointment, but it is clear that the foundations of this year’s group were laid in that tournament with so many of them now returning as more experienced players.
Lancaster opted for a more cautious approach by selecting a third scrum-half, as well as a tighthead prop in David Wilson, who could cover loosehead in a pinch. It remains to be seen if Jones’ more aggressive approach to selection will reap greater rewards in Japan.
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