Ben Earl has been drawing on the experience of Saracens teammate Jamie George as he waits patiently to make his first England start. All six of Earl’s caps have been won off the bench where he has been a fixture since England’s last defeat, against France in February, with Eddie Jones seeing his value as a versatile replacement capable of covering the back row, centre and even wing.
Blocking his path into the starting XV are outstanding flankers Tom Curry and Sam Underhill and No8 Billy Vunipola, while behind him he is fending off pressure from Jack Willis and Lewis Ludlam.
It is a scenario well known to George, whose first 19 England appearances were as a substitute due to Jones’ preference for captain Dylan Hartley at hooker. His wait lasted two years during which time he had even made three Test starts for the Lions.
“I’m well aware that I haven’t started a Test match yet and it’s something that I’ve got a burning desire to do so fingers crossed it’s not far around the corner,” said Earl, the England sub who is currently on loan at Bristol.
“I have spoken to Jamie a lot about it. He’s a close friend of mine and he’s been brilliant with me. The way Jamie sees it is that you’ve got to get excited about the job that you’re doing at the moment. I know my job and Eddie makes that very clear when I’m on the bench.
"The back row, Underhill and Curry, what did they make, 7,400 tackles or something between them? It's just madness"
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 24, 2020
“I guess I’ve just got to get excited about that job and as long as I keep playing well that’s all I can really do. It’s not something that I’m massively frustrated with. You’d be frustrated if people weren’t playing as well as yourself and getting a chance, but everyone’s playing fantastically well.
“They have all got a great past with England, whether that’s at the World Cup or before that, so I know there’s a lot of work to do and I know it doesn’t just get given to you.
“Eddie’s brilliant in terms of where he feels there’s growth in your game. Defensively you look at Sam Underhill and his combativeness. Tom Curry as well. That’s the level I need to get to. I need to start showing both coaches and opposition that I can get to that level as well.
“I’m obviously picking their brains and working with them a lot in terms of what they do defensively, so hopefully it will start reflecting on to the pitch. But also I’ve got to stay pretty authentic to myself, I’ve got to stay good at what I’m good at and keep working on those strengths as well.”
Earl is the poster boy for Jones’ hybrid player theory, although since recently refloating the idea of interchanging players with the capability to play in the forwards or backs, the England head coach has yet to commit to it on the field.
In training on Tuesday, Earl spent time at inside centre and on the wing, but the 22-year-old is certain of where his speciality lies knowing that his versatility could result in an international career spent on the bench. “First and foremost, I’m an openside a flanker and I’ve got to keep pushing my skills on that position whether it’s defensively or offensively,” said Earl, who has never started in the three-quarters before.
“If there was a massive injury crisis on matchday and you can slot in to ease the burden, then I’m happy to do that. Obviously, I’m just happy to play in whatever position or capacity, as long as I’m contributing I’m happy.”
'Women’s rugby won’t be a true success until there is better competition between the sides. But that competition cannot come until more unions invest'
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 23, 2020
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