Eddie Jones will announce his first England squad of the season on August 2nd for a three-day training camp, a season which will culminate in his side heading to Japan to contest the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
The Australian has not been afraid of throwing in inexperienced players over the last 12 months, with the most prominent example being Tom Curry, who is currently in possession of England’s oft-discussed number seven jersey.
With the RWC just over a year away, there is not much time left for experimentation, but there is always the potential for a bolter or two to emerge in the build-up to the competition.
With that in mind, we take a look at six uncapped players who could make England’s preseason training camp and why their inclusions would be beneficial going into the 2018/19 season.
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Joe Cokanasiga, Bath
The former London Irish wing has already been involved in a couple of training camps with England but has yet to make his competitive debut for Jones’ side. He’s made the move to the Rec this summer, where he will join up with Semesa Rokoduguni, a wing that knows all about sparkling in the Premiership, but not quite fitting into the mould of player that Jones wants at international level.
Cokanasiga clearly brings a different physical threat to the likes of Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson and England’s other current wings and it’s that variation in attacking threat that could be most appealing to Jones ahead of the RWC. The three-day preseason camp would give him and Jones plenty of time to discuss what it is he needs to do to win his first cap and push to be in regular contention in the XV.
Marcus Smith, Harlequins
Smith served a year-long apprenticeship with England last season, before dropping down to the U20s and heading off to France for the World Rugby U20 Championship, with Danny Cipriani leapfrogging him and earning playing time out in South Africa. Jones’ acceptance of Cipriani and what the Gloucester fly-half has to offer doesn’t spell the end of Smith’s RWC dreams, though.
With Paul Gustard now in place at Harlequins, the effect on Smith’s defensive game is only going to be positive and if the club can turn around their poor form from last season, Smith could ride the crest of that wave to put him right back in England contention. Let’s not forget that Smith is still only 19 years old, too, and that another England training camp is only going to accelerate his learning and development in the senior arena.
Ben Curry, Sale Sharks
Brother Tom has proven his worth to England over the last two summers, so why not open the door to Ben, too? Where Tom is slightly more physical and robust in his tackling, Ben is more of predator at the breakdown, which, in theory, makes him more suited to the traditional stereotype of openside flankers.
It is likely that added element of physicality is what helped Tom win the nod initially, but if England are keen to improve their efficiency at the contact area, not only in terms of stealing opposition ball but also securing their own and not coughing up penalties, both brothers packing down in the back-row is not out of the question. Like Cokanasiga, this is another golden opportunity for Jones to sit down with a high-potential player and let him know what it is he needs to do to be considered for international rugby this season.
Michael Rhodes, Saracens
The South African back-rower qualifies to play for England in the week preceding the training camp and has been talked about repeatedly over the last two years as a potential bolter for the RWC. An injury-impacted 2017/18 season aside, Rhodes has thrived at Saracens in the three seasons he has spent there, standing out for his all-round game, consistency and versatility.
With Brad Shields and Tom Curry both now in the fold, openings in the back-row look less likely than they did at this point last year, but Jones has shown he is not averse to picking Saracens who prosper in a defensive system with puts an emphasis on width and line-speed, rather than mastery of the contact area. He and Ben Curry would be very different call-ups and speak to different defensive philosophies in the now Gustard-less England set-up, but they would give Jones options.
Ollie Lawrence, Worcester Warriors
A player, like Smith, who could serve a year apprenticeship with England this season, in order to lay a foundation for a future at international level after the RWC. At 18 years of age and fresh out of school, it would be too much to ask to expect Lawrence to genuinely push for England caps this season and make the RWC squad, but there is no harm in further introducing him to the environment.
Playing time at Worcester should be the priority for Lawrence this season but Smith’s inclusion in multiple camps last season didn’t stop him from having a breakout season with Quins. Lawrence is a different type of centre to the transplanted fly-halves that England currently lean towards, such as Owen Farrell, Henry Slade and Piers Francis, and that versatility could be very valuable for England over the next two cycles.
Will Capon, Bristol Bears
A real dark horse, here, with Capon in his first year out of school, playing at a hotly-contested position (hooker) and a member of a team that, whilst better equipped than any promoted team in some years, will still likely be scrapping it out at the bottom of the table. He is, however, a rampantly-gifted rugby player.
No one, to date, has been able to take the two jersey from Dylan Hartley, with Jamie George’s audition coming at a time when his form fell flatter than it had been for several years, Luke Cowan-Dickie having the odd lineout hiccup at Test level and Tommy Taylor struggling with injuries since his move to Wasps. Capon is not yet ready to climb that hierarchy and compete with Hartley – he is still 18 years of age – but he could well be a player that nestles into that group in the next cycle and this is an opportunity to get him accustomed to the environment, just as it is with Lawrence.
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