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FEATURE For England's dashing debutants, the hard works starts now

For England's dashing debutants, the hard works starts now
4 months ago

One of the most heartwarming aspects of England’s opening win in Rome was the sight of their new caps seeking out family in the stands at the Stadio Olimpico afterwards.

In the blood and thunder of the Six Nations it is easy to overlook the simple beauty for the callow combatants of sharing their special day with those who, with their love, support and petrol, helped make it all possible.

The post-match snapshots of Chandler Cunningham-South and Immanuel Feyi-Waboso waving and smiling was a wholesome nudge as to what playing for your country for the first time means on a personal level.

The debutants were having a ball.

Ethan Roots
Ethan Roots had a fine England debut but will know he has some way to go to replace Courtney Lawes (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

It was a proud and enriching moment for all concerned – a lifetime’s ambition to represent England coming to fruition. Well maybe not an entire lifetime in Ethan Roots’s or Immanuel Femi-Waboso’s case but you get the idea.

“I think they will go on to have brilliant England careers,” he said.

Sorry to be the killjoy here but the odds are that they won’t.

The last time an England coach was so liberal with the new blood was in 2012 at the start of Stuart Lancaster’s reign. Six new caps were thrown on at Murrayfield in an England win.

Owen Farrell did indeed go on to have a brilliant England career – 112 caps and a record 1,237 points for his country – but international rugby did not work out as well for the other five debutants from that day.

A look back at how their Test careers unfolded offers a realistic illustration as to what the fates may have in store for the newly famous five once the vagaries of form, fitness and selection have taken effect.

Owen Farrell did indeed go on to have a brilliant England career – 112 caps and a record 1,237 points for his country – but international rugby did not work out as well for the other five debutants from that day.

Brad Barritt became a mainstay of the Lancaster era as a midfield defensive rock, representing England 26 times, but as soon as Eddie Jones took over that was him done.

The careers of Geoff Parling and Ben Morgan followed a similar trajectory.

Parling made it to 29 caps, Morgan 31 but, like Barritt, the 2015 World Cup marked the end of their three-year England careers.

Lee Dickson did not even make it to the tournament. The scrum-half’s star waned after two seasons. He inched his way up to 18 caps, ten of which were off the bench. These were the success stories.

Owen Farrell
Of the six debutants in 2012, only Owen Farrell went on to have a stellar Test career (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Dickson’s Northampton colleague Phil Dowson was over and done in one season. He managed seven appearances, five as a replacement, before being eased out of the picture.

As for Jordan Turner-Hall he finished on just two caps. A centre of rare attacking gifts, he might have been expected to have pushed on with England but by 27 he had retired because of a hip injury. Cruel.

That’s the thing with sporting careers. There are so many imponderables, so many sliding door moments.

At least Turner-Hall managed two appearances. There are plenty of decent players who never found their way out of the one-cap club.

Ollie Thorley, for instance, who is still scoring scorched-earth tries for Gloucester in the Premiership. Or Christian Wade, back doing his hot-stepping thing for Racing after a dalliance with American Football.

After the elation of a first cap, what follows can be sobering. Reaching the top of the mountain may be difficult but staying there is the really tricky part.

Let’s not be too maudlin – one-cap careers can represent happy endings too.

Jones’s manic tenure saw a staggering 112 players picked to play for England. Borthwick’s steadier personality type – think pensions advisor rather than casino croupier

Prop Darren Crompton was rewarded for his perseverance at the age of 34 with his one and only England appearance in 2007 after returning home uncapped from England’s southern hemisphere tour nine years earlier.

But his experience just serves to make the point of how unpredictable international careers are – especially so when the head coach himself is highly unpredictable.

Jones’s manic tenure saw a staggering 112 players picked to play for England.

Borthwick’s steadier personality type – think pensions advisor rather than casino croupier – plus the new enhanced EPS contracts means Jones’s dizzying rate of churn is unlikely to be repeated on his watch. But the sheer range of options available to an England coach make chopping and changing so tempting.

There may be only ten clubs in the Premiership now but that still offers Borthwick a much wider choice than, say, his rival coach this weekend Warren Gatland.

Borthwick may have his favourites now and be predicting stellar England careers for all but the reality is players can go out of fashion alarmingly quickly.

Fraser Dingwall
Fraser Dingwall fully merited an England debut but you would imagine opportunities would be scarce with Manu Tuilagi and Ollie Lawrence back (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Once Ollie Lawrence or Manu Tuilagi is back, Dingwall is likely to slide down the midfield pecking order. Marcus Smith’s return could mean the same for Fin Smith.

It may not chime with the mood music of the moment but the chances of even one of England’s new boys from last Saturday going on to become a centurion – make that a half-centurion – are slim.

If, on the evidence of the opening 80 minutes of England’s Six Nations, you had to pick one to put down roots it would be Roots.

Having declared for England rather than his native New Zealand, he was the standout against Italy for the impetus he gave Borthwick’s side up front and a deserved man of the match.

His performances made his mum’s long flight from Auckland to be in Rome all worthwhile.

Cunningham-South also looked lively off the bench with his energy and athleticism. At 20, he too looks a promising asset.

Back row is a bruising environment though. Ask Tom Curry who is ruled out of this championship through injury. Or Sam Underhill who has missed more Tests than he has played since his England debut in 2017.

The truth is there are no guarantees. Players can try to control the controllables all they like but they can never really know what lies around the corner. The best policy – the only policy – is to make the absolute most of every moment.

Comments

2 Comments
f
finn 126 days ago

112, 31, 29, 26, 18, 7, 2 are pretty decent caps hauls tbh

If I had to guess I’d say Dingwall will end up with less than 5; Roots will get around 15; Feyi-Waboso 25; Cunningham-South 50; and Fin Smith 70.

The players in the current squad who could be one day aiming for 100 are more likely to be Steward, Freeman, and Chessum, plus of course Care, Ford, Itoje, George, and Genge.

P
Perthstayer 127 days ago

Completely off the mark about Parling.

Missed 2013 6 Nations due to shoulder surgery, but did win 3 BIL caps.

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