Wales Warm-Up Could Give England Outsiders a Chance to Prove a Point

England’s first test of the summer against Wales is a golden opportunity for England to try out their fringe players and give the outsiders a chance to press a claim for inclusion in Eddie’s final squad of 31 that will play in Japan.

  1. Joe Marler

The Harlequins man returns from international retirement and the match against Wales is the perfect place to start staking a claim for that starting berth in Japan whilst current holder Mako Vunipola is out injured. It will also be interesting to see how long Marler lasts playing at test match level intensity.

2. Jack Singleton

England are likely to take three hookers to Japan and with Dylan Hartley not considered Singleton is likely to travel, he will need some minutes under his belt before arriving in Japan. Playing at a stadium like Twickenham against a team like Wales is the perfect audition.

3. Kyle Sinckler

More of a first choice name. He has been very good for England since the Lions tour but there are still questions over his temperament, if he can keep his cool in the red hot atmosphere of an England v Wales fixture he can probably keep a cool head anywhere.

4. Joe Launchbury

The athletic lock will need to lay down a marker to the other three established locks of the group (Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Courtney Lawes). If he can play some of his best rugby combining his relentless work with the athleticism that sets him apart he will be on that plane.

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Credit: Instagram (@joe_launch)

5. Charlie Ewels

An outside bet for this position. Ewels is a talented man and his opportunities for England have been few and far between but definitely a player that could prove a point. He is a strong leader and a very good lineout technician.

6. Alex Dombrandt

The young back row had an excellent season for the London based Harlequins, he also played really well in England’s annual runout against the Barbarians. He showed his pace and power in a typical all-action blindside flanker’s performance.

7. Lewis Ludlam

The openside has been involved in all the World Cup camps and is the dark horse to make the final cut. Northampton have really got the best out of him this season and for him to be pushing standout players like Tom Curry and Sam Underhill for a place is a real testament to the form he was in.

8. Mark Wilson

Whilst Wilson is preferred at six with just one specialist number eight in the squad it makes sense to try out another option there and Mark Wilson is the only other player than Billy Vunipola that has played there at international level. It’s good to have all bases covered heading into a World Cup.

9. Ben Spencer

The Saracens man is still extremely light on international minutes and with Spencer and Heinz both likely to be deputising for Ben Youngs in Japan much like Jack Singleton, being part of the squad and playing in these high intensity matches are so important.

10. Danny Cipriani

It’s about time. Danny is back in the England squad. Everyone wants to see him start, we all know what Owen Farrell and George Ford can do. Now let’s sit back and enjoy watching Danny Cipriani wearing the white of England.

11. Ruaridh McConnochie

One of the signings of the season for Bath Rugby. The former sevens man has certainly made his mark even edging out another international in Semesa Rokoduguni in starting for his club. McConnochie’s pace is one thing, he also is good in the air and is explosively powerful.

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Credit: Instagram (@ruaridhmcc)

12. Manu Tuilagi

It will be exciting to see what havoc this man can cause playing off Cipriani. England have a few options in the centre but Tuilagi is by far the most powerful. This is game where power will be important.

13. Jonathan Joseph

He hasn’t played much for Bath so it would be good to see if he is test match ready. If he is ready he offers a different approach to both of England’s leading men Tuilagi and Slade. He has electric pace and is one of the best in his position defensively.

14. Anthony Watson

Like his club mate Joseph has had very little game time this season and hasn’t played for England since the 2018 Six Nations. Watson is equally at home at fullback but if Watson is up to the levels Eddie Jones expects then England’s back three can add this Lion into the mix.

15. Mike Brown

Leapfrogged by Elliot Daly as England’s leading fullback but still has so much to offer and could be key for England’s chances. A safe pair of hands in the air and his cannon of a boot make him England’s Mr Reliable which is far more complimentary than the Mr Angry tag he has been lumbers with in the past.

 

Potential XV for Gatland’s 2021 Tour

The British & Irish Lions will be coached by Warren Gatland for a third successive time when they tour South Africa. The tour is still two years away and there is a lot of rugby to be played between then and now including the Rugby World Cup and two Six Nations championships and both Ireland and Wales will definitely have new head coaches after the World Cup and Eddie Jones’ future following the World Cup is unclear.

We take a very early look at who could start the first test in South Africa two years from now.

  1. Mako Vunipola (England)

Arguably the best loosehead prop in the world and a key part of the extremely successful Saracens side. Works hard in the loose and over the last couple of seasons has greatly improved his set piece. He will be 30 when the tour rolls around.

2. Jamie George (England)

He has taken full advantage of Dylan Hartley’s absence this season and cemented himself as England’s first choice and will probably retain the shirt for the World Cup. Another powerhouse in the loose. He will also be 30 for the next tour.

3. Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)

A very good prop. Excellent in the set piece and useful in the loose. Ireland and Leinster rely so heavily on him and he performed well in New Zealand two years ago. He is the youngest of this front row and will be 28 with his best prop years ahead of him for 2021.

4. Maro Itoje (England)

This man still has the chants of “Oh Maro Itoje” ringing in his ears from that famous night in Wellington. Undoubtedly world class and a potential captain for both his country, England and he is still improving all the time. He will be in his prime at 26 for the next tour.

USO - Saracens - 20151213 - Maro Itoje
USO – Saracens – 20151213 – Maro Itoje

5. James Ryan (Ireland)

He has been the standout performer in the Champions Cup and greatly impressed on the international stage having emerged as a key man for Ireland. His age gives him the edge over the older Alun Wyn Jones. He will be just 24.

6. Peter O’Mahony (Captain, Ireland)

Our pick to captain our potential side. A key cog in Munster’s excellent European campaign as they went all the way to the semi-final before being knocked out by Saracens. Physical and inspirational. He will be the other side of 30, at 31 years of age in two years time.

7. Tom Curry (England)

England’s standout man during the Six Nations and he has continued that form for his club, Sale Sharks. Very good at the breakdown both winning turnovers for his side and slowing the ball down for the opposition. And he certainly has age on his side, the youngest pick so far he will be just 22.

8. Billy Vunipola (England)

A fourth Saracen in Anglo-Irish pack. Vunipola carries very well using his powerful leg drive and big frame. A competent defender and an explosive force from the base of the scrum. He will be two years younger than his brother and 28 for the South Africa tour.

9. Conor Murray (Ireland)

An all court scrum-half, the best box kicking scrum-half in the world and has the height and strength that Gatland values. He has become a leader for Munster and should be a valuable deputy to his fellow Munsterman O’Mahony in South Africa. He will be 32.

10. Owen Farrell (England)

It’s no contest, Farrell has proved over the past few years that he is a class act. A metronome off the tee, a good defensive leader and has the big game experience with both Saracens and England to make him world class. He will still be under 30 at 29 years of age in South Africa.

USO - Saracens - 20151213 - Owen Farrell
By Clément Bucco-Lechat – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46847661

11. Liam Williams (Wales)

The first Welshman on the list. Liam Williams has come on leaps and bounds since joining Saracens (are you starting to spot a theme?) unflappable in the air and quick enough to trouble defenders when he counter attacks. He will be 30 when Warren Gatland names his team.

12. Huw Jones (Scotland)

The Scottish centre is more of a natural 13 but could definitely slot in at 12. He’s a powerful runner and has the upper body strength to beat any weak, high tackles. Having that power and explosiveness allow him to open holes in midfield. He will be 27 for the next tournament and therefore gets in ahead of that will be a 31 year old Hadleigh Parkes.

13. Jonathan Davies (Wales)

One of Wales’ best players during their current 14 match unbeaten run, he was also key for the Lions in New Zealand. No doubt one of the British Isles most potent, attacking threats, he has the pace and defends well enough to fill the 13 jersey. He will be 33.

14. Jonny May (England)

Out and out pace. He has matured greatly over the past two to three years and his finishing ability make him a match winner. May has become better in the air and improved his positioning. He would be given plenty of opportunities with the Jones-Davies combination inside him. He will be 31.

15. Stuart Hogg (Scotland)

Injury robbed the brilliant Scot from playing on the 2017 tour. Still very much one of Scotland’s biggest stars and most exciting players. Pace and a wicked step make him a pushing attacker and he competes out lethal back three. He has been around a while but will be just 28 for the 2021 tour.

There we have it England lead the way with seven players, five of them being Saracens. Ireland have four players and Scotland and Wales have two each.

Who would you have in your team? Let us know in the comments section.

Six Nations Preview: Wales

Wales’ classic style under Warren Gatland has been based on power with big ball carriers crashing into the line and using brute force to win games which for a time was successful in the northern hemisphere.

There’s been a shift in style recently with a new fly-half pulling the strings Wales have very much become a far more diverse and threatening opponent as shown by a clean sweep in the autumn.

Fixtures

vs. France (Stade de France), Fri 1st February, 20:00

vs. Italy (Stadio Olimpico), Sat 9th February, 16:45

vs. England (Principality Stadium), Sat 23rd February, 16:45

vs. Scotland (BT Murrayfield), Sat 9th March, 14:15

vs. Ireland (Principality Stadium), Sat 16th March, 14:45

Despite having only two fixtures at home Wales arguably have the best chance of completing a Grand Slam. The favourites Ireland and World Rugby’s 4th ranked team England both face a trip to the cauldron of Cardiff.

If Wales can win their first game away to France they will be confident of toppling Italy and Scotland away and they will always back themselves at home.

Wales have not lost a game since round there of last years Six Nations. Their autumn was very impressive as they swept aside Scotland, Tonga and Australia as well as claiming an impressive 20-11 win over South Africa.

This followed their win over South Africa in Washington DC just five months before which they followed up with two comprehensive wins over Argentina.

Wales have injuries aplenty especially in their back row. Taulupe Faletau is a notable absentee and despite being named in the squad Ross Moriarty is unlikely to play against France, as well as Adam Beard a doubt for the first game.

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By Salman Javed – Flickr: Wales vs Australia, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17129655

Add into that injuries to Aaron Shingler, Ellis Jenkins and James Davies and Wales look very light indeed in the back row even with cover provided by Wasps Thomas Young and Cardiff’s Josh Turnbull.

Leigh Halfpenny will miss Wales’ opening two matches but should be fit in time to face England.

Wales have no uncapped players in the squad but one cap duo Jarrod Evans and Jonah Holmes feature. Lions star Alun Wyn Jones will captain from the engine room.

Jarrod Evans is among four fly-halves, Dan Bigger, Gareth Anscombe and Rhys Patchell are all also in the squad. Gatland will have a selection headache there.

Rugby360’s 23

1 Rob EVANS 2 Ken OWENS 3 Tomas FRANCIS 4 Alun Wyn JONES (Captain) 5 Jake BALL 6 Aaron WAINWRIGHT 7 Justin TIPURIC 8 Josh NAVIDI

9 Gareth DAVIES 10 Gareth ANSCOMBE 11 George NORTH 12 Hadleigh PARKES 13 Jonathan DAVIES 14 Jonah HOLMES 15 Liam WILLIAMS

16 Elliot DEE 17 Nicky SMITH 18 Samson LEE 19 Cory HILL 20 Thomas YOUNG 21 Aled DAVIES 22 Dan BIGGAR 23 Josh ADAMS

Should England Centrally Contract Their Stars?

Central contracts seem to be a hot topic at the moment in Ireland and for some of Wales’ top performers the central contracts have made huge differences.

Central contracts mean stars in Ireland like Johnny Sexton, Tadhg Furlong and Peter O’Mahony have their contract controlled by the IRFU. The IRFU then loan these players to the provincial sides.

This has a massive effect on player welfare, as we saw following the 2017 Lions tour, Ireland’s biggest stars were given time off from club duties when they returned, this allowed Ireland and Wales to have their best players fighting fit in European competitions and more importantly for the international sides the Six Nations and Autumn Internationals.

This was not the case for England’s Lions contingent who were straight back into action for their clubs. It’s been the same this season, England players racking up far more minutes than their Celtic cousins.

With player welfare being such a huge issue is it time the RFU should look to centrally contract some of their most prized assets and loan them back to their clubs?

The problem with that is that England’s clubs are rich and powerful, super rich owners like Bruce Craig (Bath), Nigel Wray (Saracens) and Steve Lansdown (Bristol) are pumping money into their clubs and they want to see a return on their investments by having their best players available each week.

There could also be an argument that the central contracts allow Ireland in particular to build depth. This was seen last summer, the young fly-half/ fullback Joey Carbery was struggling for game time at Leinster with two seasoned internationals, Johnny Sexton and Rob Kearney ahead of him in the pecking order despite him being the obvious successor to Sexton.

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The IRFU took the decision to move Carbery to Munster where he is first choice and has become a key part of the Cork based provinces assault on the Pro14 this season.

It is unlikely we will see the RFU centrally contracting their players anytime soon as there is still a less than perfect relationship between them and Premiership Rugby’s stakeholders. If it does happen it could be a move that benefits the national team in the future.

Are Gloucester Genuine Contenders?

For years Gloucester struggled finding themselves in the bottom half of the table, this year is different. In their second season under former Lions boss Johan Ackermann they are in the top four and seem to be in with a chance of making the play-offs.

The squad is stronger now than it was, that is partly down to the arrival of fly-half, Danny Cipriani. He has been the in-form stand-off in the Premiership. His attacking play and playmaking ability make him one of the most exciting players to watch.

With his ability to create space and their pace out wide make the Gloucester backline and extremely potent weapon. They also have the luxury to employ a second playmaker in a reinvigorated Billy Twelvetrees which as we have seen with England and the Lions can reap enormous benefits.

The South African head coach has also looked at his home country to bolster the ranks in the pack. Ruan Dreyer, Franco Mostert, Ruan Ackermann, Franco Marais, Gerbrandt Grobler, Jaco Kriel and Jaco Visagie all joining over last two seasons making a previously shaky forward pack into an altogether more fearsome unit.

Gloucester have also benefitted from not having loads of international stars, that is the double edged sword of having internationals, the benefit of having the best talent in the world at your disposal but losing that talent for large portions of the season.

Not having the core of their squad leave has allowed them to build combinations and consistency within their squad. This builds a settled squad that understand each other and understand the systems that Ackermann is implementing.

They are contenders. They are dangerous and the league would do well to be wary of what Ackermann is building in the deepest, darkest corner of the west country.

Three Ways England Can Beat New Zealand

This weekend Eddie Jones faces arguably one of his toughest challenges yet, as New Zealand face England at Twickenham.

England’s victory over South Africa last week will be a massive confidence boost following a disappointing Six Nations and tour to South Africa.

Eddie Jones is not naïve, he knows there are ways to beat the All Blacks, Ireland did it, the Lions did it, South Africa did it. Is it England’s turn to topple the world’s number one side?

  1. Pile the pressure on Beauden Barrett

The Hurricanes playmaker is exceptionally talented, but much like this new breed of all out attacking fly-halves, Barrett, Ford, Russell, the Kiwi is no use if he is going backwards.

On the back foot, the first thing he loses is his composure, and then his kicks start to wayward. One of Barrett’s biggest weaknesses. Under pressure Barrett also struggles to control the game. Unlike Farrell Barrett needs front foot ball to manage the game.

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By http://www.davidmolloyphotography.com from Sydney, Australia – 2017.08.19.20.17.44-Barrett chased by Rona, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61951911

If England can slow the ball down and get Sam Underhill and Brad Shields harassing the fly-half England can win this game.

2. Stay switched on

New Zealand have a knack of pulling away from teams in the final quarter, their win over South Africa in the most recent Rugby Championship was a fine example that they are the undisputed comeback kings.

If England want to beat them they have to remain calm and keep the pressure on, this game will be a battle of fitness in the dying stages. It will be draining but if England can stand up and match New Zealand pound for pound in those decisive final moments they have every chance of upsetting the odds.

3. Kick well

If you kick loosely you will get punished. Fullback, Damian McKenzie is one of the best broken field runners in the world and he will be backed up by Rieko Ioane and Ben Smith.

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By http://www.davidmolloyphotography.com from Sydney, Australia – 2017.08.19.20.23.01-Damian McKenzie, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61951950

Kicking ball away to these three without any sort of chase will be inviting trouble, if Ben Youngs is going to kick there needs to be a serious chase and not just from Jonny May as was the case against South Africa.

England can control the air if they want to, it’s the one part of McKenzie’s game that could use some work. If May, Chris Ashton and Elliot Daly can cover their own space well and smother the young fullback. England have a chance.

England play New Zealand this Saturday. It is sure to be a thrilling contest.

England XV to face New Zealand

1 Ben Moon 2 Dylan Hartley (cc) 3 Kyle Sinckler 4 Maro Itoje 5 George Kruis 6 Brad Shields 7 Sam Underhill 8 Mark Wilson

9 Ben Youngs 10 Owen Farrell (cc) 11 Jonny May 12 Ben Te’o 13 Henry Slade 14 Chris Ashton 15 Elliot Daly

New Zealand XV to face England

1 Karl Tu’inukuafe 2 Codie Taylor 3 Owen Franks 4 Sam Whitelock 5 Brodie Retallick 6 Liam Squire 7 Ardie Savea 8 Kieran Read ©

9 Aaron Smith 10 Beauden Barrett 11 Rieko Ioane 12 Sonny Bill Williams 13 Jack Goodhue 14 Ben Smith 15 Damian McKenzie

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World XV: Part One

We at Rugby360 are passionate about rugby. Here is our Dream Team. Think you could do better, let us know in the comments.

1 Cian Healy (Ireland)

The Ireland prop was resurgent last season. At 31 he is in his prime for a prop, expect him to wrestle with Leinster teammate Jack McGrath for the starting berth in the green of Ireland. A monster in the scrum.

2 Malcolm Marx (South Africa)

The most dynamic hooker in world rugby. This season he has also improved his set piece game one hundred times over. One to watch this autumn.

3 Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)

Massive for the Lions and he is continuing to improve. Furlong is redefining the role of a tighthead prop. Nobody can match the Irish prop for all round ability.

4 Brodie Retallick (New Zealand)

This man could probably play lock, flanker, centre or out on the wing. He’s quick, powerful, dominant in the lineout. The best second row in the world, a formidable partner to Sam Whitelock.

5 Maro Itoje (England)

Too good to leave out. He was a bit lacklustre for England last term but in his early season games for Saracens he certainly looks to have his swagger back. A future England captain in the making.

USO - Saracens - 20151213 - Maro Itoje attacking
By Clément Bucco-Lechat – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46847620

6 Peter O’Mahony (Ireland)

Hugely influential for both his province and country. O’Mahony is great on the floor almost like a second openside but works so hard in the loose too. A real leader.

7 David Pocock (Australia)

The greatest openside in the game. Unrivalled at the breakdown, the turnover king. Pocock has all the attributes needed to be one of the best opensides of all time. Not as quick as Hooper, Todd or Kolisi but so much better in every other department.

8 Kieran Read (New Zealand)

Lucky that Billy Vunipola has had his share of injuries. Read is the quintessential All Black. Gives his all on the field, never settles for second best, a testament to the longevity of the All Blacks and an asset to any team.

There are our forwards picks! Stay tuned for our backs tomorrow!