England’s Midfield Make-Up

England have an abundance of options for their pivotal 10,12,13 combination in the middle of the park with Eddie Jones selecting two fly-halves and four centres.

Here we look at three potential combinations Jones could pick for England in their tougher games they will face at the World Cup.

Option One: 10 Owen Farrell (Saracens) 12 Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers) 13 Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs)

This was England’s favoured combination during the most recent Six Nations with the captain pulling the strings.

This combination offers a lot of balance in the centres with the power from the Samoan born Tuilagi and the playmaking, attacking play of Henry Slade who has the ability to execute a deft chip or burn his man on the outside.

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Credit: Instagram (sladey10)

It worked incredibly well against Ireland and France as Henry Slade played the best rugby he ever has for England and alongside an in-form Owen Farrell and a fit again Manu Tuilagi this combination is a formidable unit.

Option Two: 10 George Ford (Leicester Tigers) 12 Owen Farrell (Saracens) 13 Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers)

This would reinstate the partnership that Eddie Jones won back-to-back Six Nations titles and a tour to Australia with. Starting both specialist fly-halves George Ford and Owen Farrell.

George Ford is excellent in attack he plays flat to the line and with him playing so flat he can expose any rush defences England may come up against something teams like Wales have mastered and use it to suffocate the opposition.

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Credit: Instagram (george_fordy)

Having Tuilagi at outside centre gives England the powerful carrier in the backs that can get England on the front foot and provide Ben Youngs with the quick ball that is so important in the modern game.

Option Three: 10 Owen Farrell (Saracens) 12 Piers Francis (Northampton Saints) 13 Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby)

Piers Francis has impressed over the summer so far really showing that he is deserving of his place in England’s final 31 man squad ahead of former rugby league star Ben Te’o.

Francis also has played at stand off in the past and offers a kicking option tactically which they used to unleash havoc on Ireland and France in the Six Nations as England cruised to wins.

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Credit: Instagram (piersfrancis)

Jonathan Joseph has real pace and given space can punish defences with his outside arcing run that he has become known for. This combination is by far the most unknown quantity but this trio could be bedded in with England opening their Japan campaign against Tonga followed by a test against the fast improving USA.

How Good Are Saracens?

Saracens claimed a 37-34 comeback victory over Exeter Chiefs in the Premiership final. Jamie George was the star man, backed up by the brilliant Maro Itoje, the masterful Owen Farrell, a committed Alex Lozowksi and the totemic George Kruis.

It was one of the greatest finals any supporter could have wished for, the early try for Exeter Chiefs a sign of what was to come.

Saracens managed to turn the irrepressible tide that had solely been behind the men in white at Twickenham.

Owen Farrell’s inch perfect kick for Liam Williams coupled with two touchline conversions following two first half misses was the mark of man that has come to personify the wolfpack, warrior spirit of Saracens.

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By Clément Bucco-Lechat – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46847556

Saracens bench with the likes of veteran scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth, hat-trick hero from the semi-final Nick Tompkins, fast developing Nick Isiekwe and South African flanker Michael Rhodes further reinforcing the red machine.

This is not to take anything away from Exeter who know how they want to play and have become incredibly successful at it, their pick and go gameplan the blueprint for their first half barrage of tries.

This final was a mark of just how high intensity the Premiership is. The perceived notion that Super Rugby or the Top 14 is a higher quality competition can be scoffed at by anyone who witnessed the display put on by England’s two greatest sides on one of Saracens’ greatest days.

This club match was reminiscent of any test match with the level of commitment, physicality and pace on show. Club rugby is well and truly alive and kicking.

It will take something special to dethrone the English and European champions, they are now synonymous with success, the benchmark to which all others aspire to.

This was a show of what Saracens can do and the worrying part is their stars are still some way off leaving this dynasty that has dominated the domestic scene.

Two Teams Setting Pace in Premiership

England’s domestic competition is among the toughest in the world, it’s so competitive. There are two runaway leaders at the moment though, Saracens and Exeter Chiefs are leading the way and both are unbeaten so far eight games into the season.

The last three finals have been between the two sides, Saracens have won twice sandwiching Exeter’s solo win in the 2016/17 season.

Both teams sit on 38 points, third placed Wasps are trailing the two table toppers by 14 points. Both teams have scored a remarkable 36 tries in their opening eight games, averaging four and a half tries a game which has seen the remarkable teams both pick up six try scoring bonus points each.

Even with a large number of internationals these teams continue to lead the way. The depth of both teams is frightening, for example Saracens have the luxury of Owen Farrell, Alex Lozowski and the potentially great Max Malins to choose from. Exeter’s power game is famed and with good reason with all four of their best props recently playing for their respective countries in the November internationals Alec Hepburn, Harry Williams, Ben Moon (all England) and Tomas Francis (Wales).

There is no doubt the talent these squads possess and they also have absolutely brilliant coaches, Rob Baxter has taken Exeter from the middle of the Championship to the summit of English rugby in remarkable fashion and continues to develop his squad into one of the most enviable in Europe.

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Mark McCall at Saracens took the reigns from Brendan Venter and made the squad his own bringing in academy stars like Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell into a team led by South African and Namibian expats notably Schalk Brits, Jacques Burger and Ernst Joubert.

These teams look set to battle it out for supremacy yet again and their first meeting of the season just before Christmas at Sandy Park could well be the game of the season in what is already shaping up to be an enthralling two horse race for the Premiership.

 

World Cup Countdown: State of Play

We’ve seen a great autumn of rugby so far including the dramatic ending to England’s victory over South Africa, Wales’ 74 point rout of Tonga and Ireland defeating New Zealand for the second time in three games.

With one week left and just under a year before the World Cup we take a look at the contenders for next year’s showpiece event.

New Zealand are still top of the tree despite their loss to Ireland but their position looks less stable than it has in recent years. South Africa and Ireland have beaten them, England ran them extremely close as did South Africa in the second leg of their Rugby Championship tie.

Steven Hansen was quick to label Ireland favourites for the World Cup but I think it’s safe to say New Zealand will still be fancied by the bookmakers to claim their fourth World Cup title.

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Rassie Erasmus is doing a terrific job with South Africa, they defeated England 2-1 in the June test series which is a massive boost. Siya Kolisi is magnificent captain and with the dangerous duo on the wings of Sbu Nkosi and Aphiwe Dyantyi have emerged as two of the most in-form wings in the world maybe just behind Jacob Stockdale and Rieko Ioane.

Their narrow loss to England showed they do have some weaknesses, despite Malcolm Marx’s work in the loose he is still unreliable at the set piece, his lineout issues at Twickenham handed the second half initiative to England as they trusted in Owen Farrell’s boot to guide them to victory.

Ireland, all conquering in the 2018 Six Nations which was followed up by a series win over a very disappointing Australia outfit before swiftly dispatching of Argentina and then dismantling New Zealand. Johnny Sexton is a remarkable player, he directs play, Beuaden Barrett got taught a real lesson in Dublin.

Peter O’Mahony he stops at nothing to deliver the win, tenacious, hard working and physical. Tadhg Furlong is the best tighthead prop going, you can argue all you want it won’t change fact that he is tremendous. Joe Schmidt has taken his time moulding Ireland into the team he wants them to be.

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By Warwick Gastinger – Rugby World Cup 2015 DSCN4929, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43622816

Schmidt has built a group that knows what it feel like to win, they know how to win, they certainly have the credentials to be crowned champions in Japan. That is if they get past New Zealand.

Their Celtic cousins Wales have had a great November series, they started it off with a free flowing, open win over Scotland in Cardiff. They then scraped past Australia before expertly punishing Tonga by scoring loads of tries.

Warren Gatland now has a group of players from the Scarlets that love to attack, gone are the days of ‘Warrenball’, Gareth Anscombe is transforming the backline, he’s fast, skilful and can expertly manage a game.

Then there Is England. People may laugh after the year they’ve had but the world should be wary of Eddie Jones’ charges. The writing seemed to be on the wall this autumn, but England roared back into life despite it taking them 40 minutes to get into the South Africa test.

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They gave New Zealand one hell of a game, make no mistake they rattled Hansen’s cage, the Six Nations opener against Ireland is going to be an amazing game. Owen Farrell is leading the charge and they’ve finally found an openside in Sam Underhill and Tom Curry isn’t far behind.

There we have it the five frontrunners just under a year out from the World Cup. New Zealand leading the charge but the others aren’t far behind.