Eddie Jones has named his 34-man England squad for the upcoming Six Nations, and, as expected, there has been a significant overhaul of players.
While it may not be on the same level of France’s mass influx of 19 uncapped players, Jones has still picked eight new faces, while dropping ten players that were part of the Rugby World Cup squad.
While this squad has largely been based on form, with 16 players coming from Exeter Chiefs, Northampton Saints and Saracens, the three Champions Cup quarter-finalists, there are questions being raised about one position.
Billy Vunipola’s broken arm on Sunday would have thrown Jones’ selection policy into disarray, as the Saracen would have undoubtedly been picked and probably would have played every match.
Just like he did in the RWC, the Australian may have opted to forgo another No8 specialist in the squad for this Six Nations. However, with his injury, the question has been posed by England fans “Who is playing 8?”
So who is playing 8!?
— Callum ? ? (@CallumCouch) January 20, 2020
I would have picked at least one Number 8 personally.
— Tiny “Boop Squig” Shorterly (@AvOpJGA) January 20, 2020
Vunipola’s uncapped Saracens teammate Ben Earl seems the likely candidate now to start in the eight shirt come the Six Nations, and the 22-year-old deserves to after the season he has had so far. But only Northampton Saints’ Lewis Ludlam is a contender to play at the back of the scrum, although he is more comfortable as a flanker. Both these two would probably have been in the England squad prior to the 51-cap No8’s injury, raising questions as to who has actually replaced him in the squad.
What is most surprising to many about this back row selection is the wealth of in-form No8s England have at their disposal. Harlequins’ Alex Dombrandt and Exeter’s Sam Simmonds both looked to be shoe-ins to make the squad, while Bristol Bears’ Nathan Hughes and Northampton’s Teimana Harrison were also contenders for recalls. The fact that none of these players made the squad, particularly given Vunipola’s injury, seems to be the most surprising selection call of all.
Sooooooo we're supposed to ignore Sam Simmonds and Alex Dombrandt?
— Hadley Ravenall (@HadleyTRavenall) January 20, 2020
Or Simmonds ? bizarre
— Ben Jeffrey (@BJeffrey_) January 20, 2020
How has Sam Simmonds not been picked
— Matt (@MatthewJHolmes) January 20, 2020
Both Dombrandt and Hughes would provide the weight and ballast England are possibly lacking at the moment, although the explosive Earl could provide England’s pack with unparalleled dynamism. He could become the newest addition to the ‘Kamikazee Kids’, alongside Tom Curry and Sam Underhill on either flank.
No @Alex_dombrandt ?? Has Eddie not watched any rugby matches over the past 12/18 months??
— Chris Wood (@stoffason) January 20, 2020
Where is an 8?…….Dombrandt next cab off the rank surely?
— Lee Garner (@LeeGarn95261232) January 20, 2020
Then again, if Jones is looking to play at the intensity and power that blew the All Blacks away at the RWC, then Simmonds would be a prime candidate to feature, as he has already displayed his searing pace before in an England shirt.
Really surprised that there is Drombrandt or Simmons.
— Elz Cole (@cole_elz) January 20, 2020
Not selecting an out-and-out 8 seems mad, particularly given that Harrison, Dombrandt and Simmonds are all in excellent form…
— Tom Gorman (@TAGorman89) January 20, 2020
Can’t believe no @samsimmonds_ he been on fire this season or drombrant bit worried who will play at number 8
— Rob smith (@robchiefs4life) January 20, 2020
Earl looks like he will be a key player in the new four-year cycle ahead of the 2023 RWC, and he will thrive behind a strong English pack in the same way he does with Saracens, but there are some huge calls in the back row in this new-look England.
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