Australia despite being in limbo at the moment still have one extremely powerful weapon in there slowly decreasing arsenal. That is the back row double act of Michael Hooper and David Pocock.
Having two specialist openside flankers allows you a certain dominance at the breakdown. Both Pocock and Hooper are very good on the floor.
After years of having searched for a high quality, top class seven two have come along at once for England, Tom Curry and Sam Underhill.
Now in the back row it is fair to say that Billy Vunipola is almost certain to start at number eight for England in the World Cup the starting berth on the blindside is by no means nailed down which could open the door for England to copy the Australian model.
Using both expert pilferer Tom Curry and physical defender Sam Underhill could help lift England’s game to the next level and provide England’s backs with even quicker ball and possibly more chance and when you have the finishing ability of Henry Slade and Jonny May in your team the tries will come.
Tom Curry was England’s best player in the Six Nations. He offered himself up to carry, defended extremely well and was a nuisance at the breakdown, in essence he did the basics of being an openside flanker extremely well. At just 21 years of age the younger of the Curry twins (only be 90 minutes) has the potential to get even better and challenge the very best the game has to offer.
One performance thats sums up what Sam Underhill is all about is the excellent display he put on against New Zealand. Not only was his physical defence on full display, his breakdown expertise was put to good use and he turned Hurricanes star Beauden Barrett inside out (word has it Barrett is still searching for Underhill).
Coupling the insatiable appetite for turnovers of Tom Curry and the physical dominance of Sam Underhill could cause the very best back rows (Australia amongst them) some serious problems.
England fielded a very inexperienced team with just 11 International caps between them as they ran out 51-43 winners at Twickenham against Pat Lam’s star studded Barbarians.
We take a look at the players we think have given Eddie Jones something to think about following a good performance at the weekend.
Marcus Smith (Harlequins)
The 20 year old turned down a chance to play at the under-20 World Championships to play in the Quilter Cup game and he most certainly took his chance. Smith not only kicked flawlessly but picked up a try of his own and the Man of the Match award.
This boy can play. He showed his fast feet and awareness on many occasion to cause opposite number, 31 year old, 21 cap All Black Colin Slade some serious problems.
With Owen Farrell, George Ford and Danny Cipriani all in the mix for England selection it’s probably too soon for the Harlequins starlet but an assured performance at Twickenham is a big step in the right direction for his development as a future England regular.
2. Joe Marchant (Harlequins)
The Harlequins centre has been on the peripheries of the England discussion for years with his skills not dissimilar to those of Bath centre, Jonathan Joseph.
Marchant has some very impressive skills, his one handed pick up in the second half receiving the acknowledgment of the Twickenham crowd who let out a purr of appreciation for such a skill. He was also very keen to attack the outside shoulders.
A few very nice line breaks and good interplay with his centre partner, Johnny Williams, certainly in the mix for England who do look slightly light on centres compared to other positions.
3. Ben Curry (Sale Sharks)
Did much the same as his twin brother Tom was doing for England during the Six Nations. He was a nuisance at the breakdown and even for veterans like Steven Luatua and Francois Louw.
Curry was also a huge physical presence in defence and made some thundering tackles and hits, it was a very good open side flanker’s performance from Curry who goes about his work quietly and efficiently.
Ben Curry could join his brother in the England squad although with Sam Underhill also back playing it will be tough.
4. Alex Mitchell (Northampton Saints)
The young scrum-half has stuck behind a brilliant Cobus Reinach at Franklins Gardens this year but he showed Chris Boyd exactly what he could do against the Barbarians.
He distributed excellently dictating the pace and giving Marcus Smith the perfect platform to play off thanks to a strong performance from the forwards. He kicked well from the breakdown and looked very lively with the ball in hand.
Certainly one for the future, there are lots of good scrum-halves around at the minute an outside bet for the training squad.
5. Alex Dombrandt (Harlequins)
Another Harlequin who stood out for England. Dombrandt has been tearing up the Premiership all season with his surprising pace for a man of his size and his powerful runs.
He showed that against the Barbarians as he notched up a brace of tries with his abrasive powerful running. He was not shy of the ball and the occasion certainly didn’t overwhelm the blindside flanker.
The back row is a very competitive area for England and with experienced operators at six like Chris Robshaw and Mark Wilson will make it very difficult to get Alex Dombrandt anywhere near the squad that eventually flies to Japan.
Both Bath Rugby and Wasps have had disappointing seasons compared with both clubs successful histories and strong squads.
The teams sit in 7th (Wasps) and 8th (Bath) just one point apart and both still hope to qualify for next season’s Champions Cup and could even make the play-offs.
Here are three head-to-head’s we think could decide the contest.
Anthony Watson v Willie le Roux
There’s no doubt about these two are world class. The return of Anthony Watson was one of the very few positives to come out of Bath’s 6-3 loss to Sale Sharks.
Watson’s electric feet would cause any defender problems, not only does he have pace to burn but is an evasive runner, he can step off both feet and he is certainly among England’s best finishers and he needs a big performance over the next couple of weeks to force himself into Eddie Jones’ World Cup plans.
The South African fullback is such a presence for the Coventry based club both on and off the field, like Watson is a very good attacking player. Le Roux is also a very good kicker and can be a vital part of Wasps exit strategy.
2. Dave Attwood v Joe Launchbury
The Bath lock is set to leave the Recreation Ground and head for the Ashton Gate at the end of the season and he is up against one of the most athletic locks in England’s top flight.
Attwood is much more than just a lineout option, he is often among Bath’s top carriers, he makes the hard yards using his pure power and raw aggression to get Bath on the front foot. If Bath win you can guarantee this man will have had a big game.
Joe Launchbury unlucky to be around at the same time as so many other brilliant English second rows. The towering Launchbury is everywhere in a match, he hits rucks, carries hard and tackles effectively. The all-action Wasp is a key part of what is becoming a very settled pack.
3. Ruaridh McConnochie v Marcus Watson
The second Watson on this list will take up his place on the right wing for Wasps, opposite him will be arguably Bath’s form wing in McConnochie.
Marcus Watson has had a good season and will certainly be a man Bath need to keep an eye on. Any loose kicks and Watson much like his brother is more than capable of punishing defenders. If he gets in behind nobody will catch the fleet footed Wasp.
McConnochie has played across the back three for Bath Rugby this season and has been excellent. I can’t recall watching McConnochie have a bad game this season and that has been a saving grace that has had Anthony Watson and Semesa Rokoduguni missing for very large portions of the season.
A key battle in the race for the top half. Will these battles within the war decide the contest? Let us know in the comments section!
Italy have traditionally been the whipping boys of Europe. Football is very much a part of Italian culture and with just two top level clubs the player pool is small compared to the likes of England, Ireland and Wales.
Conor O’Shea has helped over the past few years and brought an identity to the national team, a renaissance for Bennetton in Europe and the Pro14 has also helped build Italy into a more cohesive unit. With a very strong under-20’s side too the future is bright for Italy.
vs. Scotland (BT Murrayfield), Sat 2nd February, 14:15
vs. Wales (Stadio Olimpico), Sat 9th February, 16:45
vs. Ireland (Stadio Olimpico), Sun 24th February, 15:00
vs. England (Twickenham Stadium), Sat 9th March, 16:45
vs. France (Stadio Olimpico), Sat 16th March, 12:30
Italy will feel positive about the upcoming Six Nations with favourites Ireland and a resurgent Wales having to travel to Rome.
They also have the France, arguably Italy’s best chance of a victory making the trip to the Italian capital.
This comes off the back of a very difficult November series for the Azzuri as they suffered heavy defeats to New Zealand in Rome and Ireland in Chicago, as well as a slightly narrower loss to a wounded Wallabies. They did however defeat Georgia in Firenze which silenced the clamours for Georgia to be included in Europe’s premier international competition.
Italy also will have taken confidence from one win over Japan in the summer to draw their summer series 1-1.
Italy have four notable omissions in their squad with Gloucester flanker Jake Polledri and exciting fullback Matteo Minnozi both out injured. Dean Budd and Giulio Bisegni were originally named but have been replaced recently by Marco Fuser and Marco Zanon.
Former Bath back rower, David Sisi and centre Marco Zanon come in as the only uncapped players. Sergio Parisse captains the side and he’ll have experienced hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini alongside him.
The only other overseas based player is powerful centre, Michele Campagnaro, he runs hard and tackles hard too.
1 Andrea LOVOTTI 2 Leonardo GHIRALDINI 3 Simone FERRARI 4 Federico RUZZA 5 Marco FUSER 6 Sebastian NEGRI 7 Maxime MBANDA 8 Sergio PARISSE (Captain)
With Eddie Jones set to announce his latest squad on Thursday it’s time we took a look at who could be in Eddie Jones’ squad for what will be England’s last matches before they begin their warm-ups for the World Cup in August.
Scrum-half is a key position no matter what team you look at and a hotly contested one for England.
Leicester’s Ben Youngs has been in and around the England squad for nearly a decade since his debut against Australia in 2010. Without him in last seasons championship England spluttered against Wales before suffering defeat to Scotland, France and Ireland. A key cog in the England machine.
Ben Youngs’ England rival for a long time has been Danny Care and as an impact substitute he is good. The victory over Australia back in 2017 springs to mind where Danny Care helped England to a 30-3 win. Following Care there are two options, the experienced operator Richard Wigglesworth and the recently returned Dan Robson.
Rugby360’s Picks: Danny Care (Harlequins), Dan Robson (Wasps), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)
The playmaker role for England has one very clear frontrunner, in my mind the best player in the world, Owen Farrell, he also captains the side alongside Dylan Hartley.
With the continued exile of Danny Cipriani, George Ford is the second choice and his form for Leicester has been utterly brilliant. He stands flatter than Farrell and offers something different. Marcus Smith is the heir apparent to Farrell and Ford.
Rugby360’s Picks: Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Leicester Tigers)
One notable omission for England is the Bath centre Jonathan Joseph, he is expected to be back in action next weekend as Bath conclude their European campaign away to Toulouse but it is unlikely there will be enough time for Joseph to get fully fit for test rugby before the opening game.
It must finally be the time for England fans to see the return of the hulking Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi. He is one of those players that can change a game on his own. It would be great to see him back getting a run in the white of England.
Ben Te’o has hardly played for Worcester this season but was key for England in November and certainly performed well alongside Henry Slade. The benefit with Slade is his versatility he can play fly-half as well as both centre positions.
Billy Twelvetrees could make his return following decent form for Gloucester and Alex Lozowksi has been making a name for himself in Saracens’ midfield.
Rugby360’s Picks: Ben Te’o (Worcester Warriors), Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers), Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester Rugby), Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs)
Out wide England are spoilt for choice even without the injured Bath speedster Anthony Watson who is still recovering from an injury suffered in last year’s tournament against Ireland.
His clubmate Joe Cokanasiga was a revelation for England in the autumn and although currently injured he should be fit for the Six Nations. Chris Ashton has started to play for Sale Sharks and he is playing very well.
Another man never in doubt is England’s most consistent winger, Jonny May.
Then there are big choices to make Jack Nowell is the obvious choice but there is of course the brilliant Ollie Thorley who has been scoring some eye catching tries for the Cherry and Whites, Denny Solomona who could have a top 10 tries highlight reel all too himself and Alex Lewington who has put in a number of consistent displays for Saracens.
Rugby360’s Picks: Chris Ashton (Sale Sharks), Joe Cokanasiga (Bath Rugby), Jonny May (Leicester Tigers), Ollie Thorley (Gloucester Rugby)
Last but certainly not least at the back. Utility back Elliot Daly is the man currently in possession of the shirt despite a few shaky displays in November. With Watson absent Mike Brown is amongst it.
It is also about time to once again consider the talents of the wonderful Alex Goode with the World Cup looming.
Rugby360’s Picks: Mike Brown (Harlequins), Elliot Daly (Wasps)
Ireland are clearly the frontrunners heading into the Six Nations as they capped a successful 2018 by beating the All Blacks following their 2-1 tour win in Australia over the summer.
Guided by fly-half Johnny Sexton they have the firepower in the forwards with Tadhg Furlong leading the charge, then they have the lethal finishing ability of Jacob Stockdale out wide.
It will be no walk in the park though, Wales look like a different team to the boring, one dimensional Welsh team we have come to associate with two time Lions boss, Warren Gatland.
Gareth Anscombe has changed the game, his attacking ability makes the talented Wales backline tick.
Ireland and England both face the trip to Cardiff’s cauldron like arena and following an unbeaten autumn Wales will fancy their chances.
England look rejuvenated their excellent win over Australia and bullish victory over South Africa showed that Eddie Jones’ side still have that hard edge. They also ran the mighty New Zealand very close.
Not to mention they did all this without frontline stars like Mako Vunipola, Billy Vunipola, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Nathan Hughes, Joe Launchbury and Dan Cole.
England do arguably face the toughest task in terms of fixtures with both the Ireland and Wales ties away from the fortress of Twickenham. They are also set to bear the burden of injury again with Bath trio Sam Underhill, Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph unlikely to play any part in the competition.
Scotland are still strong, France look to have some rhythm back and Italy seem to have found an identity but it’s unlikely that they’ll challenge the other three this year.
The likelihood of a Grand Slam is low as it will be difficult for Ireland to win in Cardiff, England won’t fancy their chances in Dublin and last time Wales beat England was in the 2015 World Cup.
The countdown to the World Cup is on and with September approaching, this Six Nations is crucial step towards Tokyo and the William Webb Ellis Trophy.
Heading into this year’s Six Nations England are still trying to figure out who their best bak rowers are and with Sam Underhill likely to be missing for at least their opening match against Ireland.
Billy Vunipola does return and he is most certainly nailed on as England’s number eight if he can stay fit. He looked powerful and robust on his return for Saracens and he took his try well.
At six for much of the autumn was former Hurricane, Brad Shields. He was solid but by no means exceptional and he’s barely played for his club Wasps since his move from New Zealand in the summer. England’s number eight from the autumn Mark Wilson is a natural blindside flanker.
Then there is the brilliant Alex Dombrandt who has been in exceptional form for Harlequins, this man has some pace on him and he knows how to use it. He could be a very good addition to Eddie Jones’ squad.
Courtney Lawes is of course an option in the back row and may be able to offset the physicality lost with the absence of Sam Underhill.
Talking of Sam Underhill who fills that void?
One option is Tom Curry from Sale, a very capable flanker and a good scavenger but he lacks the tackling power and all out strength of his Bath rival.
Tom Curry seems to be the only real option to replace Underhill unless England want to switch Wilson to the openside.