England became the first hosts of a Rugby World Cup to fail to get out of the pool stages in 2015 in a historically poor campaign.
This saw an end to Stuart Lancaster’s time in charge, and Eddie Jones to come in and start a new era. However, the Australian was reluctant to overthrow the system, and kept hold of a number of the players.
A large number made the most recent World Cup training squad, and those that missed out have still been part of the England set-up over the past four years.
But with Jones set to name his 31-man squad on August 12 for the upcoming tournament in Japan, here’s a look at the players who are likely to survive from the 2015 squad.
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RETAINED FROM 2015
After coming out of international retirement a few weeks ago, Marler looks all but certain to be going to Japan in September. England struggled to find a suitable deputy to Vunipola throughout the autumn Internationals and Six Nations (while Marler was retired) and he will be welcomed back by Jones.
A favourite under Lancaster, Marler was the starting loosehead in the 2015 RWC campaign, with Vunipola starting on the bench, but those roles will be reversed when it comes to the crunch games this time round.
It was clear in 2015 that the Saracens prop had talent, but he was not necessarily the finished article and had some holes in his game, particularly his scrummaging.
However, in the past four years, he has ironed out a lot of his weakness and established himself as one of the best props in the world. His handling in the loose has continued to improve, and he is arguably the best distributing forward in the world.
Behind Tom Youngs in 2015 but the beneficiary of Lancaster dropping Dylan Hartley due to disciplinary reasons. George is now one of the leading hookers in the world. Should Hartley not make this World Cup because of injury, the Saracens No2 will undoubtedly be the starting England No2.
Courtney Lawes, Joe Launchbury and George Kruis
England had a lot of depth when it came to locks in 2015 with Lawes, Launchbury and the relatively inexperienced Kruis – and it has only improved since then.
The emergence of Maro Itoje in the second row has only made the selection problem harder for Jones, but he will certainly take these three again.
Since 2015, both Lawes and Kruis were selected for the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour and both played in the Test series against the All Blacks. All three have gone from strength to strength over the past four years in England’s strongest position.
Going into the 2015 World Cup, the question for England was whether to start Vunipola or Ben Morgan at No8. Lancaster usually opted to start Vunipola and swap him with Morgan with around 20 minutes remaining.
There is no such debate this time round, as the 26-year-old is cemented as one of the leading No8s in the world. Jones has so much trust in the Saracens back row that he has not even included another recognised No8 in the squad (uncapped Alex Dombrandt is the closest to a recognised No8).
Vunipola’s World Cup was cut short in 2015, as he suffered a knee ligament strain in the gruelling loss to Wales. This served as a precursor for what was to come over the next four years as he has been blighted by injuries. But he is fit now, and when he is, no one takes that No8 shirt from him.
The Leicester scrum-half was a starter under Lancaster, and not much has changed under Jones. With Ben Spencer and Willi Heinz the other two scrum-halves in the squad at the moment with only three caps between them, Youngs will surely be wearing the No9 shirt come the pool matches against France, Argentina and beyond.
However, it’s simply unimaginable for Farrell not to start in any big game for England these days, and while he has been trialled as an inside centre, particularly in 2016 and 2017, he has reverted back to fly-half in recent months.
Not only has Farrell been captain in Hartley’s absence, but he is also one of the world’s leading fly-halves and is quite possibly the most dependable place-kicker on the international stage.
He was an emerging talent in 2015, who kicked on after the World Cup, forming the successful 10-12 axis with Farrell. However, he has been demoted to the bench over the past 18 months, particularly as England hit a slump.
Ford even faces a battle to make the World Cup with Danny Cipriani in the training squad, but the impression is that Jones still looks upon the Leicester fly-half favourably and it is more than likely he will travel to Japan.
Slade only had one cap to his name going into the 2015 tournament and that was earned in a warm-up Test against France, so the then-22-year-old was one of the surprise picks.
Since then he has become more of a regular with England, but it has only been the past year where he has established himself as England’s outside centre, partly down to Jonathan Joseph’s injury troubles.
Slade is now pivotal to how England play, with his kicking and passing skills in the outside channels and is almost guaranteed to go to Japan.
He is arguably the player that has come on the most since the last World Cup. The former Gloucester winger was a starter in 2015, but there were still a few question marks lingering over him.
However, since his move to Leicester in 2017, his game has improved dramatically. He has scored 15 tries for England since the move, as the team utilise his searing pace expertly. He will be one of the first names on the team sheet come September.
Exeter’s Nowell only had a few caps to his name in 2015 and was still young at the age of 22. Now he has become one of Jones’ favourites, with the Australian speaking very highly of the winger.
Nowell is a well-rounded player, who is remarkably hard to put down, as England and Exeter use him all over the field. Should he regain the form he was showing at the back end of last season before his injury, he is likely to be a starter for England.
POSSIBLES FROM 2015
The 85-cap Cole’s international career looked to be over when he missed last summer series in South Africa and the 2018 autumn Internationals. However, he made a return to the international set-up for this year’s Six Nations.
A mainstay in 2015, Cole has seen Kyle Sinckler replace him as the starting tighthead over the past four years. Assuming Jones opts for four props, Cole will face a battle with Exeter’s Harry Williams to serve as Sinckler’s deputy in Japan and could well miss out.
A long term ankle injury at the end of the 2017/18 season meant Joseph missed the tour to South Africa and the autumn Internationals and while he made his return for Bath at the beginning of this year, he did not feature in the Six Nations.
Since his injury, Joseph has seen Slade become England’s No13 and he now faces a battle to make the 31-man squad. With Jones needing to shave four or five backs from his training squad, Joseph may be one of them simply due to the injury-ravaged year he has had.
Like Joseph, Watson has played even less rugby since initially rupturing his Achilles against Ireland in the 2018 Six Nations. After two surgeries, he only returned for the final few games of the most recent season with Bath.
It was clear in 2015 that the 21-year-old was one for the future and being capable of playing on the wing or at full-back is a huge asset. But the World Cup may be coming too soon for him, although many would still back him ahead of his uncapped Bath team-mate Ruaridh McConnochie.
Initially not included in the 38-man squad, Brown is currently at England’s warm-weather camp in Italy. While that gives him a glimmer of hope of making the squad, it looks likely that he will be the first to go when the squad is trimmed.
Captain of England during their dismal 2015 campaign, Robshaw remained in the England team and continued to prove what an important player he is.
However, a knee operation in 2018 meant he did not play in the autumn and was not picked during the Six Nations. Despite having a good season for Harlequins, the emergence of Brad Shields from New Zealand nudged the 66-cap Robshaw out.
Care was not a popular figure under Lancaster in 2015, with the former head coach choosing Richard Wigglesworth ahead of him on the bench against Wales and Australia. However, over the past four years, he became synonymous with Jones’ ‘finishers’ but has since fallen from grace over the last 12 months and missed out.
It’s bizarre that Goode was a member of the 2015 squad, despite being in better form now than he was then. But the Saracens full-back’s face has not fitted under Jones, only earning one England cap in 2016 during the Australian’s tenure. Despite being named European player of the year for 2019, this is an omission that many saw coming.
WATCH: Part one of Operation Jaypan, the two-part RugbyPass documentary series on what the fans can expect at the Rugby World Cup
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