'If you want me to highlight one (new) England player I will...'
Eddie Jones has reflected on a calendar year with England in which he gave Test debuts to 23 players, including the unheralded Nic Dolly. In total, 59 players were used across the ten matches they played since February, culminating in last Saturday’s dramatic Autumn Nations Series finale win over the Springboks. That 27-26 success was achieved with a squad featuring seven of those newly capped players in the matchday 23.
Alex Dombrandt, Freddie Steward, Jamie Blamire and Marcus Smith all made their Test debuts in the summer series last July while Dolly, Bevan Rodd and Raffi Quirke joined them during the Autumn Nations Series. Steward and Smith have been real successes as they now have five caps each with Dombrandt making four appearances.
The introduction of so many newcomers into the set-up has enabled England to transform the mood since their derisory fifth-place finish to the 2021 Six Nations last March, a campaign where they suffered a triple crown of defeats to Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Jones’ shake-up has now helped generate an increased level of resilience in their performances.
He was initially hesitant, however, to single out newcomers who had made an impression on him following the Autumn Nations Series but he eventually relented and sung the praises of Dolly, the 22-year-old hooker from Sydney who had been released over the phone by Sale and was playing in the Championship last March when he answered an emergency call from Leicester.
Having initially honed his skills at youths level in New South Wales, Dolly came to Manchester in 2017 and was quickly included in the England U18s. He then played age-grade U20s but his club action was transient, Dolly making loan appearances for Sale FC, Rotherham Titans and Jersey Reds before getting released by the Sharks.
Exeter midfielder Henry Slade missed just one of England's 10 matches in 2021 and has started 14 of their 15 post-lockdown games since October 2020 #England #AutumnNationsSerieshttps://t.co/Kr57FbjckT
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 23, 2021
Then came his career-changing call and the emergency recruit has rapidly gone from strength to strength, scoring six tries in seven appearances this season to help the Tigers lead the way at the top of the Gallagher Premiership. Now Dolly is suddenly an England Test international. “There are a number of good young players. To highlight one or two would probably not be proper,” said Jones when put on the spot and asked to start naming some of the names that impressed him most.
“If you consider we have had 23 new caps this season and a lot of those players are going to have great careers ahead of them. If they keep working hard, keep that hunger for the want to get better they are all going to have very good careers. If you want me to highlight one player I will and that would be Nic Dolly.
“You consider where he has come from, he was going back to play for Coventry, got a call-up from Leicester Tigers, played four or five games for them, finds himself in the England squad and finds himself coming up against the best pack in the world and making his debut in front of 82,000 people at Twickenham. What a story in terms of resilience, in terms of just keep doing your work and when the opportunity comes, take it.”
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