With the remaining Six Nations fixtures looming for England, not to mention the autumn’s ‘Eight Nations’ tournament, Eddie Jones is a busy man assessing exactly where his players are following the Coronavirus lockdown.
The Australian has been in attendance at multiple games since the Gallagher Premiership’s restart and though the overall quality of the rugby, somewhat understandably, has left plenty to be desired, there have been some notable performances from individuals which will have given Jones pause for thought.
Round 15 brought a marked improvement in the quality of rugby across the tournament from the opening weekend, despite the fact many Directors of Rugby opted to heavily rotate their squads ahead of the beginning of midweek matches on Tuesday and Wednesday. Bristol Bears and Wasps maintained their strong form, whilst big spenders Sale Sharks are yet to click as they fell to a home defeat to title favourites Exeter Chiefs.
We have taken a look at who some of the big individual winners were over the course of the weekend, as they attempt to force their way into or consolidate their places within Jones’ plans, as well as those who put down a marker for future involvement in the coming seasons.
Jack Maunder, Exeter Chiefs
Maunder showed in the opening game of the weekend that he is not to be forgotten in the race for the England nine jersey, now that Nic White has returned to Australia. The scrum-half burst on to the scene, winning his first England cap back in 2017 whilst he was still U20 eligible, but the strangleholds that White and Ben Youngs have had on the two jerseys in his sight have yet to see him add to that solitary cap he won against Argentina.
Ben Spencer is the front-runner to usurp Youngs, though Maunder was impressive against Sale, mixing up his passing game and showing good control as a box-kicker, something which is as pivotal for England as it is for Exeter. A few more showings like this, potentially including a Premiership semi-final and final, and Maunder could be right in the mix come November.
Max Malins and Ben Earl, Bristol Bears
The pair looked extremely comfortable as Bristol went through the gears and reaffirmed at Kingsholm that they are a threat to go all the way to Twickenham this year. Two of the more gifted attacking players to come through Saracens’ academy in recent years, they have taken to Pat Lam’s high-tempo Bears side likes ducks to water.
As impressive as Jack Willis has been for Wasps, it still feels externally as though Earl is the man that Jones would break up his vaunted Sam Underhill and Tom Curry partnership for, something which could be to do with the carrying impact the versatile loose forward brings, with turnovers having not been in short supply for England’s incumbent pack in recent seasons. As for Malins, his task was not helped by an impressive outing from George Furbank for Northampton Saints, with the new England full-back indicating that he is here to stay.
Alfie Barbeary, Wasps
It was a try-scoring cameo for Barbeary and though Jamie George, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Tom Dunn aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, it was an indication of what’s to come for the highly-touted youngster. He has previously excelled with his physicality, his motion into contact and his ball-handling at the age-grade levels and, though Friday night was just a small glimpse into his career as a senior player, those traits all look as though they have translated from the junior game.
Nick Isiekwe and Lewis Ludlam, Northampton Saints
If there were any questions over Isiekwe’s ability – a beneficiary of the Saracens system or a foundation of it – they were put to bed on Saturday, as he turned in by and far the most impressive defensive performance at the Stoop. From sacking mauls and stealing lineouts to putting in momentum-shifting tackles in defence, the lock was full value for his man of the match award. If Chris Boyd can get Isiekwe’s refined ball-handling skills on show consistently, too, he will be hard to keep out of an England 23.
If that attacking outpouring was not quite present with Isiekwe on Saturday, it certainly was with Ludlam, as the England flanker once again displayed his violent edge as a ball-carrier. Like Earl, his case to be involved at the senior international level will revolve around his ability to add an attacking dimension to the England back row, in what is arguably the most fiercely contested competition for starting spots in living memory.
First 4??0?? was dire ?https://t.co/RX12ajwj3U
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 22, 2020
Ben Loader and Ollie Hassell-Collins, London Irish
It was a day to forget for London Irish as they struggled to make things happen in the first half, before Northampton began to find their rhythm after the interval. For all their struggles, however, both Loader and Hassell-Collins looked threatening on the wings and almost created something from nothing on multiple occasions. Even on the back foot, the pair were a handful for Saints and they have bedded themselves into the lengthy hierarchy of English wings looking for caps.
Cameron Redpath, Bath
A wonderfully balanced game from Redpath for Bath, as Leicester had to account for his threat as a runner as much as they had to be wary of his ability to put the likes of Jonathan Joseph, Semesa Rokoduguni and Ruaridh McConnochie through holes. With the Bath pack on the front-foot throughout against Leicester, Redpath was able to dissect the youthful Tigers defence and put down a marker about how potent his midfield combination with Joseph could become.
A lack of games at Sale has perhaps seen Redpath fall off the radar a little following his injury-enforced absence on the South Africa tour at just 18 years of age, but with Bath trending the right way, his opportunities with England could soon be rekindled. If Jones wants a balanced centre rather than a sledgehammer outside of Farrell at 10, or a player capable of spelling Farrell at 12, Redpath will throw his hat into the mix with a few more performances like this one.
George Martin, Leicester Tigers
Similar to Barbeary, Martin is not in the England frame right now, though his display this weekend is a tantalising glimpse into what he will bring over the coming years. A powerful lock in the U18s, Martin made his senior bow on the blindside and displayed all of the physicality and mobility that had singled him out at the previous level. If he can keep improving and rounding out the technical side of his game to match the innate physical ability, Tigers could have found a cornerstone of their pack moving forward.
Geordan Murphy has defended the selection of one of their youngest starting line-ups in Premiership history. https://t.co/2Z6ODtjmYM
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 23, 2020
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