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The Unlucky England team of the decade

By Josh Raisey
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

This has been a mixed decade for the English rugby team, filled with some great highs and all-time nadirs. Over the past ten years, England have had three coaches, Martin Johnson, Stuart Lancaster and currently Eddie Jones, which means there has been a high turnover of players. 


As a result, there have been players that have been neglected and did not establish themselves on the international scene. Some faces have simply not fitted with some coaches, while some have suffered with injuries and some have not helped themselves. For whatever reason, this is England’s Unlucky XV of the decade: 

15. Nick Abendanon

Mike Brown has dominated the No15 shirt for England for most of the past decade, but an unfortunate encounter on his first Test start with Sebastian Chabal in a RWC warm-up match in 2007 meant the then 20-year-old Abendanon never played for England again. The former Bath full-back earned his first cap on a June tour of South Africa 13 years ago and his second at Twickenham against France, but that was all at such a young age. 

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RugbyPass reviews the epic 1997 Lions vs South Africa first Test in the company of Lawrence Dallaglio

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RugbyPass reviews the epic 1997 Lions vs South Africa first Test in the company of Lawrence Dallaglio

For years though he demonstrated what a mesmerising broken field runner he is with skill, pace and balance, but he never earned an England recall. While some players have been given multiple chances over the years in an England shirt, Abendanon was given just two at a very young age and written off thereafter. 

With his England chances all over, he moved to Clermont in 2014 and was named the European player of the year at the end of his first season. 

Honourable mention: Alex Goode

14. Chris Ashton

Like Steffon Armitage, Ashton was another player ineligible to play for England despite scoring a bucketload of tries with Toulon (albeit only for a season). He is a player that has also not been helped by his disciplinary record and was ostracised by Lancaster and Jones for that reason. 

However, there are few players that have a natural try-scoring instinct equal to Ashton’s and after a move back to Sale Sharks in 2018, the former league man found his way back into the England set-up. 


Although he pulled out of contention for the 2019 RWC, he is still open to making a return for his country. He has earned 44 caps, but the 32-year-old was expected to win many more when he first forced his way into the England team in 2010.

13. Henry Trinder

Another player that has never earned an England cap and another that has had a career marred by a litany of injuries. Despite playing for England against the Barbarians in 2014, the Gloucester centre has spent a lot of time on the sidelines, including two ACL surgeries, shoulder surgery and a current achilles injury ruined most of his 2019.

On his day, Trinder is the complete package at outside centre with brilliant hands, footwork and lines to slice through the best defences, but now at 30 years of age he has never been able to stay fit enough to force himself into the national reckoning. 

Honourable mention: Mathew Tait


12. Jordan Turner-Hall

Having made his debut in 2012 for England at the age of 24 in what looked to be a new era under Lancaster, the former Harlequins centre’s career was cut short in 2015 due to a hip injury. Although he only earned two caps, the powerful centre was always in and around England camps, and questions will remain as to whether he would have added more.

11. Christian Wade

It’s no surprise that the former Wasps winger has now left rugby to pursue a career in American football after years of being spurned by England coaches. One lone cap for England against Argentina during a Lions tour is staggering for a player that finished his rugby career at the age of 27 ranked third in the Premiership’s all-time try-scoring chart. 

While his defence was always deemed his weakness and the reason for not being selected, many thought that his ball-carrying prowess negated that. For seven years he made defenders across Europe look foolish with his footwork and unparalleled acceleration. Capable of scoring tries anywhere on the field and in any situation, the American football running back was neglected in rugby, to the dismay of many.

10. Danny Cipriani

The first name on this team sheet, Cipriani has long been the outcast of English rugby. Hailed as a future world beater when he burst onto the scene for Wasps in 2007, but a slew of off-field misdemeanours, a devastating ankle injury in 2008 and a move to the Melbourne Rebels curtailed his Test career somewhat. 

England coaches have toyed with the fly-half over the past decade, with Lancaster calling upon him in both 2014 and 2015, but failing to select him for the RWC. There has also been a seismic campaign over the past four years for Jones to pick the now 32-year-old.

While many fans’ wishes were answered in 2018 when he twice played against South Africa, they would be his only appearances under the Australian despite being named the RPA players’ player of the year in 2018/19. With only 16 caps, Cipriani is one that has always been in the limelight (not always for the right reasons) who could have offered England so much more. 

9. Joe Simpson

Simpson may be the form scrum-half in the Gallagher Premiership since his move to Gloucester last summer, but the 31-year-old has been a force for the past decade in England. 

The former Wasps player’s pace and mazy running style has not only earned him a dazzling highlights reel, but appearances for both England and Britain sevens teams. However, he only has one solitary cap in the XV format (as a substitute against Georgia in the 2011 RWC) and many feel it could have been more. 

1. Alex Corbisiero

Corbisiero’s England career was short and sweet between 2011 and 2015, but he was highly regarded as the ‘new generation’ of mobile props. He had some great moments in his Test career, namely his heroics after being called up to the British and Irish Lions in 2013, but he also struggled with knee, shoulder and back injuries throughout his career, missing the 2015 World Cup with the latter. 

The loosehead took a break from rugby at the age of 27 in 2016 after knee surgery, which eventually became his retirement. One of many careers that were tragically blighted by injury. 

Honourable mention: Alex Waller

2. Dylan Hartley

This may be a strange list for England’s second-most capped player with 97 caps to be on, but it could have been so much more for the recently retired hooker. While his accumulated 60 weeks of bans were his down to his own doing, the former Northampton Saints forward was infamously omitted from Lancaster’s 2015 RWC squad due to his poor discipline. 

Although he did bounce back, becoming England captain in 2016, that exclusion, as well as a knee injury during the last year of his career, deprived him of becoming a centurion. 

3. Henry Thomas

After making his debut for England in 2013 at the age of 21, the Bath prop has only amassed seven more caps, all from the bench, with his last being in 2014. He has made appearances in England training camps since then, but nothing else materialised as he has battled various injuries. The now 28-year-old’s 2019/20 season is already over due to an anterior cruciate ligament injury and he faces yet another fight to regain fitness. 

4. Dave Attwood

In a decade that has had Courtney Lawes, Joe Launchbury, George Kruis and Maro Itoje (for the past four years) vying for places, there have been some very good second rows that have simply fallen short in England’s strongest position. Attwood is in that category. 

An imposing presence in the tight, the Bristol Bears lock did earn 24 caps between 2010 and 2016, but he missed out on more appearances behind a supreme generation of locks. 

5. Ed Slater

While some players have been unlucky that their Test career didn’t blossom in the way that many expected, there are some that have never had the chance to pull on the white jersey. Slater is one of them. 

Now in his third season with Gloucester, it was his time with Leicester at the beginning of the decade where the now 31-year-old made his name, ruling the airwaves for the Tigers and winning a Premiership title in the process. While he has made England squads, he never earned a Test cap, only captaining England in 2014 against the Canterbury Crusaders. 

6. Tom Croft

The former Leicester flanker made his debut at the age of 22 in 2008 but truly announced himself to the world for the Lions in 2009 against the Springboks, earning a place on the world player of the year shortlist. The decade started well for him, going to the 2011 RWC and showing perhaps his best form in the 2012 Six Nations, including a sensational try at the Stade de France. 

However, he would miss almost a year of international rugby due to injury, returning for two matches in the Six Nations. Although he was included for the 2013 Lions tour, he would only play two more games for England, both in the 2015 Six Nations. He retired from professional rugby two years ago and, on reflection, very few careers have been ravaged by injury in such a way. 

7. Steffon Armitage

After moving to Toulon in 2011 from London Irish, Armitage was part of a well-documented standoff with the Rugby Football Union. The flanker tore up trees for four years in the south of France, winning three European Cups and being named the 2014 European player of the year. 

However, as England would not pick foreign-based players, he remained in exile. As the 2015 RWC approached, there was much speculation that exceptions would be made, or that the loose forward would make a move back to England to facilitate his selection. Neither happened and he only ended up with five England caps. 

8. Nick Easter

Banished from the England team after the 2011 RWC by new coach Lancaster, it looked to be the end of Easter’s career. But the No8 was instrumental in a Harlequins team that experienced a lot of success after 2011 and he was eventually recalled to the England team for 2015 Six Nations. 

However, he again missed out on the RWC but he replaced Billy Vunipola midway through and scored a hat-trick in his final appearance against Uruguay at the age of 37.

Honourable mentions: Thomas Waldrom, Jackson Wray


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