This is what most England fans have been craving - Andy Goode
This autumn is the real beginning of the build-up to the 2023 World Cup for England and we should be excited by the 34-man squad Eddie Jones has picked and his change in approach. He is getting stick for leaving out the Vunipola brothers and George Ford and dropping Jamie George until Luke Cowan-Dickie pulled out through injury, but the Australian is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t and we can’t have it both ways as media and fans.
This is what most people have been craving: an England squad picked on Premiership form. Whether he has listened, been told or arrived at it purely on his own, it is packed with players tearing up trees at club level who deserve an opportunity.
The next step, with all the pace and athleticism in the ranks, is for Jones to change the manner in which England have been playing over the past 18 months and that surely has to come. Fly-half is always the position that is going to attract the most attention and Marcus Smith’s inclusion is great news. He has been the form No10 in the top flight for a couple of years now and has to be given the keys to drive this team forward now.
The fact that Owen Farrell is the only other fly-half in the squad and has been named as captain may set alarm bells ringing for some but I’m assuming he will start at inside centre with Manu Tuilagi providing the power outside him. For what it is worth, I’d start Smith with Tuilagi and Henry Slade in the midfield but we know Farrell is going to start with him having been given the captain’s armband.
Scrum-half is an interesting one and all the headlines around this squad announcement have been about the Vunipolas and Ford but Dan Robson is arguably the player we should feel for the most. He has earned 14 caps, all from the bench, and now finds himself behind Raffi Quirke and Harry Randall in the pecking order. He hasn’t ever really been given a proper shot at staking a claim to the England No9 jersey but it’s hard to argue with Quirke or Randall’s inclusion.
It's been a busy England-influenced midweek catch-up with Mark McCall – the exclusion of the Vunipolas, the reprieve for George and the situation regarding last weekend's Itoje shoulder injury#England #Sarries #GallagherPrem #SARvWAS
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 20, 2021
Randall played exceptionally well last weekend in a losing Bristol team and did well for England in the summer against fairly weak opposition, and Alex Sanderson said Quirke was “probably going to be one of the country’s greats” after Sale’s win over Harlequins. Ben Youngs will probably start again and 109 caps worth of experience counts for a lot, but he will be 34 when the World Cup comes around and we have to see someone else given a genuine chance at scrum-half soon.
Jones has spoken about wanting to lower the age of his England side and that is understandable but George’s initial exclusion at hooker is one I find hard to understand. Nic Dolly has started the season like a train for Leicester but he has come from nowhere and Jamie Blamire is behind George McGuigan at Newcastle, coming off the bench in all five of their games so far.
Even 20-year-old Harlequins hooker Sam Riley got into last month’s training squad ahead of George, despite only making his Premiership debut a couple of days earlier but now the Saracens man is back in, I fully expect him to be the one starting against Australia and South Africa.
In terms of the Vunipola brothers, rumours have been circling about them heading to France for a while now. We are never going to know the ins and outs of the conversations Jones has had with them but they have a big decision to make about their futures.
I made the decision to take up a lucrative offer in the Top 14 at the age of 28, the same age Billy is now, before returning to England a couple of years later and it remains to be seen whether they will do the same or stay and fight for an international recall.
Mako is a couple of years older and has Ellis Genge and Joe Marler in fine form ahead of him, with Trevor Davison potentially included because of his ability to cover both sides of the scrum, so it might be more likely to be the end of the road for him but only time will tell.
Either way, it feels like a new dawn and a complete shake-up by Jones after an unacceptable Six Nations earlier in the year. Premiership form has been rewarded and now these exciting young players need to be given a real go and allowed to express themselves.
Jones will have capped over 100 players by the end of this autumn, with almost as many as that having been named in an England squad and never been capped, so we can’t see a load feature against Tonga and then binned off when it comes to the Wallabies and Springboks and I don’t think we will.
We know it’s the end of the road for Jones after the 2023 World Cup and this feels like a tipping point. He has spoken about rugby going through a defensive cycle over the past 18 months but this squad is the opposite of that and it’s really exciting. Now he has to implement an attacking game plan that suits them.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 19, 2021
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