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'No fluff': Why England picked Atkinson, an uncapped 31-year-old

By Liam Heagney

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Gloucester boss George Skivington has hailed the inclusion of uncapped midfielder Mark Atkinson in the latest England squad, describing it as a just reward for the 31-year-old who has become the latest 30-something Premiership player to show you are never too old to gain a first international recognition. While Jones has involved a multitude of young players in recent times, he demonstrated in the capping of 31-year-old Josh McNally against the USA in July that age is no barrier to England selection.  

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The shoulder injury sustained at training the following week before Canada meant that McNally was overlooked when Jones named a 45-man training squad this week. But the England coach has again shown a willingness to take a look at an unheralded older in Atkinson, the long-serving Gloucester centre who was one of eight uncapped players asked to attend the camp which starts in London next Sunday.  

It was last season, prior to Lewis Ludlow making his own breakthrough with England, when Skivington first learned that Atkinson was of interest to Jones and he was delighted that it has now resulted in a first international call-up for a player who has been playing for Gloucester since 2014 after learning the club ropes at Bedford, Esher, Wasps and Sale.

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Jack Nowell guests on the latest episode of RugbyPass Offload
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Jack Nowell guests on the latest episode of RugbyPass Offload

“Last season he was probably the best ball-in-hand twelve in the league,” enthused Skivington at the weekly Gloucester media briefing. “I did speak to Eddie Jones last year and I knew he was on the radar. He [Atkinson] probably was disappointed he didn’t get any involvement in the summer so delighted for him. Hopefully, he gets an opportunity. 

“Consistency is the key for any Premiership player, that is what you aspire to do, is be consistent week in week out. Having one or two good games and then ten average ones isn’t ideal for your club and it certainly won’t get you recognised at international level. His commitment to the cause and his consistently good performances have got him noticed,” added the coach, who confirmed Atkinson is available for selection to face Leicester at Kingsholm on Friday after missing the season-opening defeat at Northampton last Saturday.

“The development part of his game I haven’t gone too much into. Eddie will probably have those discussions with Mark, and I haven’t spoken to Eddie since he selected Mark so I’m not 100 per cent sure. But I know he likes his ball-playing ability. He is solid in defence but he does find a way through the line, he has got a good offload game and he is smart as well. If you are a ten playing with Mark outside you it is very comfy because he makes good decisions, he reads the game well and those are the sort of bits and pieces Eddie was talking about.”

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Skivington added that he now hopes a possible midfield partnership of Atkinson and Lions centre Chris Harris will materialise to greater effect in the coming months. “It didn’t happen as much as we would have liked last year… but get those two working together and they might end up playing against each other this year in international honours as well which would be awesome.

“Beyond being good players, they are key blokes to this squad because they are just good blokes, they work really hard, drive everything forward. They don’t mess around, they don’t fluff it up, there are no excuses and there are a few others in there as well like Billy Twelvetrees. 

“When you have got a good group of blokes like that they just add to your environment whether they are international players or not. So that is actually where I have the value of Chris, Mark and Bill more than anything else they do on the field, it’s what they do off the field.”

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'No fluff': Why England picked Atkinson, an uncapped 31-year-old

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