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.
With the sun having set on a great European season as Saracens downed Leinster and with awards season already upon us and the World Cup just up ahead this is the time to stake your claim for a spot in your international team’s colours.
For England a settled core group of players will already be packing their bags for Japan but with Eddie Jones being Eddie Jones there are bound to be a few surprises when he names his squad for England’s summer exploits against Wales (twice), Ireland and Italy.
Here are three surprises we would love to see on Eddie’s team sheet.
What a season this man has had for Johan Ackermann’s Gloucester as they have found their way into the play-offs. His excellent form has seen him bag himself the RPA Player of the Year award.
Cipriani is one of those players that tries things other players wouldn’t dare, he’s not just on a different page but a different planet to England’s incumbent fly-half, Owen Farrell. That’s not to say he should start ahead of the Saracens playmaker but Cipriani would make a good game breaker off the bench.
The ability to see things others don’t set him apart and his outrageous talent mean he’s more than capable of executing the improbable at the most unlikely of times. Surely after the season he’s had he will have George Ford looking over his shoulder.
2. Alex Goode
The Saracens fullback has done it again. He’s won European Player of the Year and another Champions Cup with Mark McCall’s Saracens. Alex Goode is one of the Premiership’s best fullbacks but not England’s apparently.
It’s true he’s had his chances in the past and not made the most of them but with his brilliant kicking game, defensive stability and counter attacking vision he is everything you could want in a fullback and far more experienced there than Elliot Daly and if his Champions Cup form is anything to go by more than capable of competing at the highest level he will have stiff competition at 15 though with a fit again Anthony Watson firing and Mike Brown still very much in the mix.
3. Don Armand
England seem to have finally found an openside flanker in Tom Curry and a very worthy deputy in Sam Underhill but blindside is yet to be nailed down, Brad Shields, Chris Robshaw, Mark Wilson have all donned the shirt but none of them have made it their own.
Armand has once again been one of Exeter’s most consistent performers over the course of another table topping season. It is a crime that he is stuck on just one appearance for England in the 2018 Six Nations he could be a real asset for England out in Japan if he is offered that all important recall.
Armand has the ability to make the six shirt his own and offer some balance to a back row that is likely to include Tom Curry and Billy Vunipola.
We think with these three stars Eddie Jones could definitely have a shot in Japan later this year. Who do you think deserves an England recall? Let us know in the comments!
England’s win over Ireland was by some way the best performance of the weekend. Ferocious line speed, ruthless attack and brutal physicality whilst executing the perfectly formulated gameplay was enough for England win 32-20 and take the full five points in Dublin.
England have long been searching for their best team. The centre has been a particular area of concern even with Owen Farrell being the first choice twelve for Eddie Jones at the start of his tenure it was only ever meant to be a stop gap until something better came along or in Manu Tuilagi’s case regain fitness.
The axis of the powerful Manu Tuilagi and the playmaker Henry Slade worked perfectly. Tuilagi’s power was enough to keep the duo of Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose occupied defensively, and Henry Slade’s two try performance including the interception of Jonny Sexton’s pass to wrap up the bonus point was the best he’s ever played in the white of England.
In the back row Tom Curry came in for the injured Sam Underhill and there is a debate to be had about who offers more. Both are young, traditional open side flankers, they will likely be battling it out to be England’s first choice for years to come but the Ireland performance would suggest it’s advantage Curry.
Alongside Curry was the return of Saracens number eight Billy Vunipola. The rampaging back rower makes such a difference to England he’s on another level to Nathan Hughes and Mark Wilson who took up the mantle for England’s autumn campaign.
Vunipola adds that carrying ability that is so important for forwards in the modern game. You would not want to be the player having to drag down 130 kilo behemoth.
On the blindside was Mark Wilson who was the standout for England against South Africa and Australia in the autumn. His hard work and tireless effort make him the player every team needs. He offers much more than Wasps New Zealand import Brad Shields who has barely got out of second gear since arriving in Coventry.
The final position there was doubt over was Elliot Daly, many including us here at Rugby360 were expecting to see Mike Brown start against Ireland to diffuse the expected aerial bombardment of the half backs Conor Murray and Sexton.
Daly was exceptional. He was excellent in the air. Daly did miss one important catch in the second half but other than that he was masterful.
Daly is quick, has good footballing ability and there is no other kicker in world rugby that you would want stepping up to nail a long range penalty.
Eddie Jones may have finally found his best XV with just months until World Cup, have England timed their run to 2019 to perfection? Jones will certainly hope so and a win over France at Twickenham on Sunday would be a massive step towards the Grand Slam in a World Cup year and the last time that happened well….a certain Jonny Wilkinson wrote himself in English rugby folklore.
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)
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.