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.
This weekend presents us with one of the most enticing Super Rugby clashes as the champions, Crusaders take on the exciting Hurricanes.
Crusaders are favourites playing at home and with the Hurricanes missing star All Black, Beauden Barrett who only returned to training on Monday.
Jordan Taufua v Reed Prinsep
Two very talented players match up in this crunch tie. Jordan Taufua is set to be New Zealand’s next import to England with Leicester Tigers snapping up the flanker.
Taufua’s most high profile appearance to date was when the Barbarians played South Africa at Wembley in 2016, the game ending in a 31-31 draw.
For Reed Prinsep this will be somewhat a homecoming considering he played his NPC rugby for Canterbury. Prinsep is less experienced than Taufua at Super Rugby level but certainly has the pace and physicality to match the rampaging Crusader.
2. Richie Mo’unga v Fletcher Smith
The Crusaders fly-half was the in-form player at the end of last season as he guided his team to a second successive title under Scott Robertson. Mo’unga’s kicking skills and game management earned him his first All Black call-up.
For Fletcher Smith this will be a tough one, the 23 year old has just one Super Rugby appearance to his name and Beuaden Barrett’s boots are big ones to fill for the youngster.
It will be interesting to see if the young ten can hold his own against one of the best players in the league in this high pressure, high stakes game.
3. Matt Todd v Dane Coles
Not a positional battle but the two captains will be going head to head. Matt Todd is one of the less celebrated Crusaders players who has been pivotal for his franchises success. He is a traditional open side, strong at the breakdown and a master on the floor. Todd leads by example and he’ll need to inspire his team to beat a very competent Hurricanes outfit.
This is some test of Coles leadership, the hooker is brilliant. Just exceptional at his best, he runs well, tackles physically and leads exceptionally.
It will be interesting to see which captain plays to the referee early on as that could effect how the game is played.
This will be a close one and definitely one of the biggest games this season. Two franchises that are sure to have play-off ambitions for the end of the season.
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.
At the front end of the squad the Saracens prop Mako Vunipola is back fit following an injury that ruled him out of the Quilter Internationals back in November. Vunipola is among the best loosehead props in the world and walks in to Eddie Jones’ squad.
Behind him is undoubtedly the outspoken Ellis Genge who has put a good run of performances together, he is another who missed the November tests through injury. That leaves England’s starters in November, the Exeter duo of Alec Hepburn and Ben Moon battling it out for what may be the last place at prop.
On the other side if the scrum there is a clear frontrunner in British & Irish Lion, Kyle Sinckler. His abrasive style and work around the park make him a real asset.
With Eddie Jones only likely to take five props it could be a straight fight between veteran Dan Cole and Harry Williams.
Rugby360’s Picks: Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers), Ben Moon (Exeter Chiefs), Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Harry Williams (Exeter Chiefs)
In between there is one player that has to start following a strong showing in the autumn and with him being one of Jones’ co-captains. That is of course the physical, New Zealand born Dylan Hartley. He starts.
Behind him the options are also fairly straightforward, Saracens Jamie George is very good around the field and his link with mainstays Maro Itoje and George Kruis at lineout time is an advantage. And for back-up there are two main options in Exeter’s Luke Cowan-Dickie or Worcester’s Jack Singleton. Both would be fine choices as back-up for England.
Rugby360’s Picks: Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs), Jamie George (Saracens), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints)
Saracens’ Maro Itoje is a shoo-in for England, he’s powerful and master of line speed. We saw him pile the pressure on Handre Pollard and Beauden Barrett in November. Alongisde him there is his teammate George Kruis, a lineout specialist.
Wasps are welcoming Joe Launchbury at the moment and he adds his considerable talent to what is a well stocked second row division for England.
With Dave Attwood consistently overlooked his Bath teammate Charlie Ewels is in the running to complete the options at lock, he’ll have stiff competition from a resurgent Ed Slater, Leicester’s promising Will Spencer and another Bath player in Elliot Stooke who was in the squad last year.
There are of course the looming presences of Courtney Lawes and Nick Isiekwe but currently they are more suited to England’s back row.
Rugby360’s Picks: Maro Itoje, George Kruis (both Saracens), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Ed Slater (Gloucester Rugby)
One notable absentee from England’s back row is Sam Underhill who announced himself to the world with a barnstorming performance against New Zealand, a personal highlight was watching the flanker turn Beauden Barrett inside out for the try that was ruled out by TMO Marius Jonker.
However his absence will be offset by the return of Saracens’ Billy Vunipola. Vunipola is a monster and along with his brother is regarded as one of the finest in his position, he will be key piece of Eddie Jones’ World Cup puzzle if he can stay fit.
The back-up number eight options are outstanding even with Sam Simmonds out of action with an ACL injury. Nathan Hughes has returned to fitness recently and Zach Mercer continues to impress when he plays for Bath.
To replace the crocked Underhill the frontrunner is clearly Sale’s Tom Curry, a breakdown specialist but he lacks the raw power of his Bath counterpart. Chris Robshaw would be an option but his strengths lie at blindside rather than openside in my mind and he’s still not quite fit but should be ready for England’s opener with Ireland.
Former Hurricane Brad Shields is the man currently in possession of the six shirt but there is stiff competition from versatile second row Courtney Lawes who would offer the physicality England lose without Underhill and he provides a third lineout option.
The same could be said of Saracens youngster Nick Isiekwe. The star of the autumn was undoubtedly Mark Wilson and his ability to play across the back row make him a crucial part of England’s squad. Saracens Michael Rhodes is also in the mix.
Then there’s Harlequins’ current superstar, Alex Dombrandt, he’s fast and he knows how to link play. Dombrandt could be a very good addition for England at the World Cup but he needs to get that experience under his belt if he is going to be anywhere near Eddie Jones’ thoughts.
Rugby360’s Picks: Tom Curry (Sale Sharks), Alex Dombrandt (Harlequins), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Brad Shields (Wasps), Billy Vunipola (Saracens), Mark Wilson (NewcastleFalcons)
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.