Head coach Eddie Jones has suggested as little as 40 per cent of the current crop of England players will be on hand for the Rugby World Cup in France in 2023. A 20 per cent year on year cut is on the cards, as Jones’ looks to evolve his team in the midst of the increasing arms-race that Test rugby has become.
“I don’t think this group can have another World Cup in them,” Jones told BBC Sport. “While there will be core members of the team who will be able to continue to the next World Cup, there will be a new influx of members coming in. If you look at the squad this year we have changed it by 20%. There will be another 20 per cent change in the second year, and another 20 per cent in the third year.
“By the time we get to the World Cup it could be 40 per cent of the squad from the 2019 World Cup and 60 per cent new members.”
So who faces the chop? Here are nine candidates that could be on Eddie’s butcher’s block sooner rather than later.
Kruis appears to be on his way out of the country, with Japan looking the most likely destination. His England career will naturally come to an end as result, and at 30 and with 45 caps, it is unlikely he’ll be invited back should he return.
Marler could well take the decision out of his head coach’s hands. He’s already retired from international duty before, and his recent Six Nations controversy might see the colourful prop call time on his Test career once again.
Cole could well have already played his last game for England. At 32, Cole was not named in Eddie’s most recent Six Nations squad and will be 35 in 2023. Jones is highly unlikely to select the Tiger’s stalwart unless his hand is forced by injury.
Although a favourite for Jones and a crucial part of England’s game management system, the 30-year-old Youngs’ 99-cap mileage may mean a 2023 tournament could be beyond him. Could he go to France as second choice nine, form allowing? Yes, but a succession plan is surely now in place.
Another of the first names on the current England teamsheet, Lawes will be 34 in 2023. His ability to play 5.5 has been a huge plus point for the Northampton Saint but he’s at the tail end of an 11-year-England career, and Eddie doesn’t lack for options at either blindside or lock.
His England debut came late in his career, but the New Zealander will be nearly 36 by when the first ball is struck in three years time. The pandemic could mean his 10 cap run could have already come to an end.
He may be just 28-years-old, but the Leicester Tiger’s body has been through the mill. Cursed by injury, the centre always seems to be teetering on the brink of his next layoff.
The blockbusting centre has managed just 40 Test caps since he made his 2011 debut, injury the main culprit in robbing him of at least that number of appearances again. When fit, he’s England’s clear first choice 13, but his injury profile is unlikely to improve with increasing age and Eddie might place continuity ahead of his game-busting abilities.
Can he make his three of four World Cups at 32? Maybe, if his load is managed and he gets a decent run of injury luck.
Wilson has never been first choice for England but his versatility, durability and workrate make him a useful all-rounder in the mould of a Robshaw or a Haskell. Father time is not on the 30-year-old’s side however and one imagines the next generation of explosive English backrows – the likes of Alex Dombrandt and Ted Hill – will render him obsolete before the French tournament comes round.
Arguably still England’s sharpest weapon in attack, May will be 34 by October, 2023 – veritable dotage for a rugby union winger. While he’ll still likely be faster than his eventual replacement, it’s hard to see May surviving another three and half years in a position seemingly never lacking for the next bright young thing coming through.
Wing centurions are the rarest of rare things at Test level.
England squad for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Backs: J Cokanasiga (Bath), E Daly (Saracens), O Farrell (Saracens, capt), G Ford (Leicester), P Francis (Northampton), W Heinz (Gloucester), J Joseph (Bath), J May (Leicester), R McConnochie (Bath), J Nowell (Exeter), H Slade (Exeter), M Tuilagi (Leicester), A Watson (Bath), B Youngs (Leicester).
Forwards: D Cole (Leicester), L Cowan-Dickie (Exeter), T Curry (Sale Sharks), E Genge (Leicester), J George (Saracens), M Itoje (Saracens), G Kruis (Saracens), J Launchbury (Wasps), C Lawes (Northampton), L Ludlam (Northampton), J Marler (Harlequins), K Sinckler (Harlequins), J Singleton (Worcester), S Underhill (Bath), B Vunipola (Saracens), M Vunipola (Saracens), M Wilson (Newcastle/Sale Sharks).
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