England Injuries Mount

England’s training camp earlier this week in Brighton has given Eddie Jones some serious selection headaches.

Three players from three leading clubs have suffered injuries, Sam Jones (broken leg), Anthony Watson (broken jaw) and Jack Nowell (ankle) will be sidelined for some time.

watson

The England winger suffered a broken jaw in Brighton.

It seems all three will miss England’s opening test against South Africa, a team Stuart Lancaster never defeated.

Add to this list the fact Owen Farrell, Dylan Hartley and Ben Te’o have not proved their fitness, Farrell and Hartley are yet to play this season.

Long term injuries to Manu Tuilagi and James Haskell must also be a worry for Eddie Jones.

England have now lost both first choice wingers from the tour to Australia in the shape of Nowell and Watson, discussion turns to replacements, Only two other names were named in the 45-man August squad (Semesa Rokoduguni and Jonny May).

Rokoduguni has to play, he has been sensational for Bath again this season, his raw power and undoubted pace make him a real threat which Todd Blackadder seems to be getting the best out of.

Jonny May, not exactly setting the world alight at Gloucester this season, and although he is frighteningly quick, he can tend to run away from support and get isolated. He also is not the best at creating space something Watson especially is a genius at.

One man that has been in impressive scoring form is Wasps’ Christian Wade. Wade is undeniably quick and he beats defenders at will, his defence though, satisfactory at best. My concern is if he has to face up to a South African running at him would he make the tackle? Maybe.

That once again may force Jones to look at Marland Yarde, quick and powerful, he seemed to do a good job against Australia in the first test.

itoje

Itoje could end up in the back row.

The back row is another conundrum, following Jones’ injury and the lengthy lay-off for Man of the Series James Haskell it may force Jones to experiment.

Maro Itoje could be a key part of this, his athletic ability means he could well be moved the back row, and take up the blindside role. This would also allow Jones to bring in Courtney Lawes or Joe Launchbury to partner George Kruis.

My England 23 to face South Africa (assuming Hartley and Farrell recover):

15 Mike Brown (Harlequins) 14 Semesa Rokoduguni 13 Jonathan Joseph (both Bath) 12 Owen Farrell (Saracens) 11 Marland Yarde (Harlequins) 10 George Ford (Bath) 9 Ben Youngs (Leicester)

1 Mako Vunipola (Saracens) 2 Dylan Hartley (Captain, Northampton) 3 Dan Cole (Leicester) 4 Courtney Lawes (Northampton) 5 George Kruis 6 Maro Itoje (both Saracens) 7 Chris Robshaw (Harlequins) 8 Billy Vunipola (Saracens)

16 Jamie George (Saracens) 17 Joe Marler (Harlequins) 18 Paul Hill (Northampton) 19 Joe Launchbury  20 Nathan Hughes (both Wasps) 21 Danny Care (Harlequins) 22 Henry Slade (Exeter) 23 Alex Goode (Saracens)

England On The Rise

England have done, they’ve won a series in Australia. That game in Melbourne may well be the most significant moment in English rugby since England’s last win in Australia which just happens to be the 2003 World Cup final.

Eddie Jones has taken England from eight in the world rankings to second in a matter of months. Just back in October Australia were competing for the World Cup against the All Blacks whilst England were trying to work out how 2015 had gone so badly wrong, nobody expected this.

Not only has pride been restored to England but they have thumped the Wallabies and are now building a seriously powerful, abrasive, young squad.

One part of the squad that is doing particularly well is England’s back row trio. Following Jones’ appointment there were cries including from myself to drop Robshaw and Haskell, how wrong was I? They are the two best players from the opening two tests by a mile.

hask

Haskell has been standout.

Haskell has been totemic in defence and a handful in attack at the breakdown and around the fringes. The Wasps openside seems to have picked up a slight knock following the test in Melbourne but he has certainly played a significant part in wrapping up the series.

Chris Robshaw, a man reborn, many believed that once the Six Nations was over he would discard the Harlequins man along with Haskell. After the win in Melbourne how can he? Robshaw showed all the heart and dedication we have come to expect from him as a player. He also seemed to be a bit fiery in the game clashing with Australians on more than one occasion.

Joe Marler may well rue his decision to sit out the tour as Mako Vunipola has been superb, his scrummaging greatly improved yet still offering himself up as a crash ball carrier along with his hugely talented brother, Billy.

In the backs a partnership is flourishing between Saracens out half Farrell and Bath fly-half Ford. For a long time the 10-12 channel has been a problem for England but it seems Jones has fixed that problem.

He has adopted a New Zealand like system playing another playmaker at 12 which can be referred to as a second five eighth. Ford and Farrell both playmakers in their own right but offer different things in attack and defence.

Ford looks more relaxed with Farrell on the field, Farrell takes the kicking duties allowing the young fly-half to play his natural attacking game. Farrell can sit deeper with Ford at 10 which suits his style more allowing him time to make decisions bring his big forward runners into the game.

both

Ford and Farrell. friends on and off the field.

This is all down to Eddie Jones, Monday to Friday the week is fine tuned to give England the opportunity to win games every seemingly throw away comment, every training exercise, every selection call is engineered to help the team win the game.

Jones is an expert he manipulates the media, he man manages to perfection, the praise he has heaped on Haskell and Ford has seemed to push both of them to new levels in an England shirt.

He tells others to work harder and that has worked to with players such as Billy Vunipola and Marland Yarde now blossoming.

He has built a core of around 23 or 24 players he knows what they can do and they can rest assured should they continue to perform they will continue to play. Eddie Jones can thank Lancaster for introducing the likes of Watson, Farrell, Ford, Kruis, Vunipola and Nowell to international rugby but let himself make them international superstars.

It will be interesting to see if Jones is willing to take a gamble on any players in the third test. I’d like to see one or two given a go but with the core to remain the same. A whitewash would be truly something.

My England 23 for the final test

1 Mako Vunipola 2 Dylan Hartley (Captain) 3 Dan Cole 4 Maro Itoje 5 Joe Launchbury 6 Chris Robshaw 7 Jack Clifford 8 Billy Vunipola

9 Danny Care 10 George Ford 11 Marland Yarde 12 Owen Farrell 13 Jonathan Joseph 14 Anthony Watson 15 Alex Goode

16 Jamie George 17 Ellis Genge 18 Kyle Sinckler 19 Courtney Lawes 20 Teimana Harrison 21 Ben Youngs 22 Henry Slade 23 Elliot Daly

Seven Debutants for Six Nations

Today Eddie Jones named his squad for the Six Nations and his first squad since he took over following the departure of Lancaster.

Eddie Jones was only permitted to make a small amount of changes to the squad that crashed out of the World Cup after three lacklustre, boring, stodgy performances that left England fans questioning who picks the team?

Eddie Jones’ changes include seven uncapped names Paul Hill, Sam Hill, Ollie Devoto, Maro Itoje, Elliot Daly, Josh Beaumont and Jack Clifford. All young vibrant players but you could certainly question the inclusion of Devoto and Sam Hill, both these players however it is important to note are covering for Tuilagi and Slade both of whom would have been included had they been available or fully fit (in Tuilagi’s case).

Maro-Itoje-579264.jpg

Maro Itoje in action against Clermont Auvergne.

I question why Jones includes a centre that doesn’t even start for his club. Devoto is often left to ponder the wonders of the universe sat on the bench whilst Jonathan Joseph (included in the squad) and Kyle Eastmond start for Bath Rugby. Surely Kyle Eastmond is a better fit, he has at times this season shown the form of last season, his blistering pace and agile feet make him almost impossible to deal with.

Sam Hill, a strong ball carrier possibly so the loss of Tuilagi won’t be felt too hard by England. His kicking game is also something to admire but with the kicking ability of Ford, Farrell, Daly and Goode already in the squad it begs the question what does Sam Hill have to offer? One player I think does merit a go in the England squad is Australian born Ben Jacobs from Wasps.

Ben-Jacobs-of-Wasps-001.jpg

Ben Jacobs in action against Gloucester.

The Wasps centre now qualifies on residency and the centre has been playing well, his crash ball running lines and defensive capabilities have complimented Daly well in the midfield for Wasps this year, he would surely add more to the squad than Sam Hill.

The reintroduction of Chris Ashton is a great move, the Saracens wing is scoring for fun in north London and he is certainly a player that is wonderful to watch. Ashton will be hugely influential in this England team and let’s hope he can rediscover that scoring touch in the white of England.

Another winger back in the squad after some time out is Harlequins flyer Yarde. He is fast and powerful, but look at the other options available, Rokoduguni is in fine form for Bath, Lewington is flying for London Irish and Matt Banahan looks like the man he was a few years ago.

Yarde is no better than those three wingers neither is Nowell, Jack Nowell is slow, he doesn’t possess the pace to be an international winger. His talent stretches to being a high level club player but no more than that. He offers nothing to the squad that suggest flair or finishing ability.

England's wing Jack Nowell scores Englan

Jack Nowell crosses the line for England.

The inclusion of Chris Robshaw is possibly the selection that causes the most confusion in my head. I don’t understand how following not only a poor display as an openside, but a shambolic display as a captain can Chris Robshaw remain in the side.

 

To me he represents all that was wrong with the previous England regime. His inclusion undermines this supposed overhaul we are experiencing.

My final talking point involving the squad is around the much discussed inclusion or exclusion of Danny Cipriani. Eddie Jones opted to leave the Sale playmaker out of the squad, good move or poor decision?

Eddie Jones only selected two fly-halves and looking at the make-up of his squad it is hard to see who he could have dropped to include Cipriani. And to drop either the mercurial George Ford or fiery Owen Farrell would have been a travesty.

Hopefully in the summer on the tour to Australia Eddie Jones will have room for the fly-half but for now he’s best developing his game further and continuing to press the golden boys (Ford and Farrell) of English rugby.

Cipriani_2922206b

Danny Cipriani was unfortunate to not make the cut.

A squad that England can be proud of and hopefully one that can do the nation justice in the upcoming Six Nations.

Follwing today’s announcement my England 23:

1 Mako Vunipola (Saracens) 2 Dylan Hartley (Northampton) 3 Paul Hill (Northampton) 4 Joe Launchbury (Wasps) 5 Courtney Lawes (Northampton) 6 Maro Itoje (Saracens) 7 Matt Kvesic (Gloucester) 8 Billy Vunipola (Saracens)

9 Danny Care (Harlequins) 10 George Ford (Bath) 11 Chris Ashton (Saracens) 12 Owen Farrell (Saracens) 13 Jonathan Joseph (Bath) 14 Anthony Watson (Bath) 15 Mike Brown (Harlequins)

16 Jamie George (Saracens) 17 Joe Marler (Harlequins) 18 Henry Thomas (Bath) 19 Jack Clifford (Harlequins) 20 Josh Beaumont (Sale) 21 Ben Youngs (Leicester) 22 Elliot Daly (Wasps) 23 Alex Goode (Saracens)

Eddie’s New England

The appointment of Eddie Jones and this new revamped idea of England and how this no holds barred, shackles off style of play will be employed echoes the promises of Stuart Lancaster we had four years ago.

eddie-jones

Eddie Jones was appointed following England’s disappointing World Cup.

The same old promises, the same sense of excitement among self proclaimed rugby connoisseurs, this fresh English approach, the supposed way forward. How does this ‘new age’ differ from the corporate, professional, emotionless, jargon loaded monologue we were fed four years ago?

The first big difference is the fact we have a rugby mad coach at the helm. This is no longer the schoolteacher and his pupils. Eddie Jones breathes rugby and has success in the sport running in his veins his teams have dominated headlines in three of the last four World Cups.

In 2003, Australia hosted a great tournament from an English perspective, Australia also made the final. A very tough semi-final encounter against the All Blacks was possibly the best game I had seen Australia play over the course of the tournament. They won at a canter.

2007 saw Eddie Jones with another finalist, this time though he won with Jake White’s Springboks and Eddie Jones had his revenge over England. This was a side that dominated rugby with players like Habana, Du Preez and Smit all now recognised as some of the best players to have graced the game.

habana23.jpg

Bryan Habana in action for South Africa at 2011 World Cup.

This year Jones once again showed what his teams can do on the global stage with Japan. They announced themselves in England in dramatic fashion securing their first World Cup victory over South Africa. Inspired by the likes of Ayumu Goromaru, Fumiaki Tanaka and Michael Leitch saw them go on to also beat Samoa and USA, only losing to Scotland.

Despite this impressive record indeed winning more games than England they failed to qualify for the quarter-finals due to bonus points. That went down to the final game of the pool as Scotland scraped past Samoa to secure a place in the last eight.

These three wins were impressive in themselves, most importantly the win over South Africa a feat England have failed to achieve over the past four years. Eddie Jones had masterminded a win over one of the greatest rugby nations on the planet it was quite some feat for the Brave Blossoms and one that will live long in the memory.

Eddie Jones also elevated national Japanese players to new heights despite former coach John Kirwan’s desire to make it a Japanese Barbarians sort of team with little national identity.

Tanaka is plying his trade with the Highlanders in New Zealand and fullback Goromaru is due to play for the Queensland Reds when the 2016 Super Rugby season begins and his name is being muttered in hushed tones to replace Leigh Halfpenny at Toulon when the Welsh maestro leaves either to return to Wales or to link up with former Cardiff coach Dai Young at Wasps.

ayumu-goromaru-rugby-world-cup-2015-japan-rugby-world-cup_3353314.jpg

Goromaru scored a try against South Africa.

Eddie Jones has been handed arguably the biggest job in world rugby right now to a premature fanfare. So let’s stop the corporate, professional talking and stop the speculation about where England will be in four years. Stop all the reflection on the past and why it didn’t work out for Lancaster. It’s time to see what England can do and that starts with Scotland on 6th February.

England Six Nations Fixtures

06/02/16, Scotland, Murrayfield
14/02.16, Italy, Stadio Olimpico
27/02/16, Ireland, Twickenham
12/03/16, Wales, Twickenham
19/03/16, France, Stade de France

England Out But Hope On Show

England had a tough World Cup campaign and it finished with flattery against Uruguay as a stale performance saw England win 60-3, a flattering scoreline for the host nation.

Jack Nowell crosses the line for one of England's 10 tries.

Jack Nowell crosses the line for one of England’s 10 tries.

The performance though did have some pleasing elements, for one the performance of Exeter’s playmaker Henry Slade who has been unbelievable for his club and it is a mystery as to how he has been overlooked until England’s final ‘dead rubber’ as it were. Slade’s passing and running game was quite something to behold and outside Ford who finally got his chance once again was good with the ball in hand if he did falter off the tee.

Henry Slade scores for Exeter against Harlequins.

Henry Slade scores for Exeter against Harlequins.

Farrell kicked well as he always does, a masterful display of kicking. Joseph’s introduction saw England change, the midfield now looked sharper and an unbelievable piece of inspiration from the Bath centre set up Watson’s 2nd try against the minnows. Joseph’s pace and feet make him a real threat and it is a shame we did not get to see more of his dazzling skill in this World Cup.

Another player who looked good was the Saracens fullback, Alex Goode, he has had no chances in this World Cup despite a stellar season for the Premiership champions. He added a playmaking option to the midfield already laden with Ford, Farrell and Slade.

England showed some sort of attacking intent and hunger which had not been seen against Wales or Australia. Some flair, bravery and guile, a hunger to win and win well. They looked in control with flowing passing, good running lines and a couple of wonderful tries.

The performance had it been against any of the other top teams in the world would have been a horror show but the glimpses we saw of Ford and Slade combining along with the magic from Watson, Joseph and Nowell may well have been the dawn of a new English backline.

Anthony Watson in action for Bath.

Anthony Watson in action for Bath.

Forget the power based game, England need a team that can attack, so Manu Tuilagi and Luther Burrell are good players. But what would you rather England produced a crash up the middle or scything breaks round the outside? I know what I would rather watch, I may be slightly biased but after witnessing some amazing backs interplay last night I think it’s clear which way England must go following this World Cup’s conclusion and the likely resignation of Lancaster.

The forwards need a complete reshuffle and need a nasty streak, something that other teams fear, they need to emulate the fear factor Johnson, Dallaglio, Vickery and Back provided in 2003. England have some of those figures ready to step into the breach.

They need their scavenger, the Toulon exile Armitage, they need to find a way of bringing him into the squad without seeing an exodus from the Premiership. Burgess is a back row and he can be played there England need to address that as well. The back row has been a real point of weakness for the last 4 years.

The coaches all need to go, Lancaster has failed, Rowntree’s scrum has been bullied by Australia, Wales and France, Farrell has been involved in refereeing disputes and there is the obvious nepotism claim (which has been heard loud due to rumours of Ford, Slade and Goode running rings round Barritt and Burgess) and Catt’s bust up with Cipriani leaves him out of the set up.

Rob Andrew and Ian Ritchie also have to call time on their stays at Twickenham, they have to leave and England have to bring in Sir Clive Woodward as a Director of Rugby, he is the only man for the job a sentiment echoed by Dallaglio. England have deep rooted problems that must be sorted out there is a long list of people to shoulder some of the blame but last night we saw a glimpse of a brighter future.

My 33 Man Squad for Six Nations

Props Dan Cole (Leicester), Alex Corbisiero (Northampton), Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), David Wilson (Bath)

Hookers Ross Batty (Bath), Jamie George (Saracens), Dylan Hartley (Captain, Northampton)

Second Rows Dave Attwood (Bath), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Courtney Lawes (Northampton), Geoff Parling (Exeter)

Flankers Steffon Armitage (Toulon), Dave Ewers (Exeter), Will Fraser, Maro Itoje (both Saracens)

Number Eights Nathan Hughes (Wasps), Ben Morgan (Gloucester)

Scrum-Halves Danny Care (Harlequins), Joe Simpson (Wasps)

Fly-Halves Danny Cipriani (Sale), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Bath)

Centres Kyle Eastmond, Jonathan Joseph (both Bath), Henry Slade (Exeter), Manu Tuilagi (Leicester)

Wings Matt Banahan (Bath), Jonny May (Gloucester), Christian Wade (Wasps), Anthony Watson (Bath)

Fullbacks Mike Brown (Harlequins), Alex Goode (Saracens)

That brings both a balance and some excitement along with some nasty forwards, this is of course if form is the same as last season only time will tell.

Why England Need To Look South

The three best opensides in world rugby right now, David Pocock, François Louw and Richie McCaw, all three of which ply their trade in the Super 15. They are what us here in England would class as a ‘classic’ 7 or ‘southern hemisphere’ openside.

We have a ready made man to join the three best in the world that man is the Toulon flanker, Stefan Armitage who has been one of the rouge et noir’s star players over the past few seasons as they have become European powerhouses. Unfortunately England continue not to pick the flanker due to England’s selection policy of only picking players based in England.

You only have to look at the Premiership though to see that we need a southern hemisphere style 7. The top 4 teams at the moment all have a player in that mould, Calum Clark at Saints, Burger for Saracens, Louw at Bath and Julian Salvi at Leicester, while current England captain and opened Chris Robshaw’s Harlequins languish in 8th. At Harlequins they have another option much like Armitage, Luke Wallace who in November made the breakdown a living hell like Michael Hooper and David Pocock can for opposition.

It may be time for Chris Robshaw to move on, the man has had his day, and yes his commitment to the cause in unquestionable, as a leader, captain and role model he is second to none but as a 7?

The World Cup is just around the corner and Lancaster would be foolish not to select the Harlequins flanker as his captain for this World Cup or would he? With 2 of the finest opensides in the world David Pocock and Sam Warburton lying in wait in the group stage it could be tough for Captain Chris. Pocock is not alone as a great Australian 7 they also have Michael Hooper who has been Australia’s choice as of late due to Pocock’s injury nightmare.

It is high time Lancaster used the ‘exceptional circumstances’ clause on selection policy and brought Steffon Armitage into the World Cup squad, he doesn’t have to start the Toulon flanker but if Robshaw is having rings run round him by Pocock or Warburton they will need an alternative and that alternative should be the Toulon openside.

Well Lancaster it’s up to you but England are going to need to adapt and bring in an ‘old school’ 7 at some point whether it’s now or after the World Cup is a question only Lancaster can answer.