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.
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.
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.
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.
Ireland have announced their 44 man training group ahead of their World Cup preparations with two debutants, former Sale Sharks fullback Mike Haley and Munster’s South African import Jean Kleyn also included amongst the more familiar names such as the retiring Rory Best and 2018 World Player of the Year Jonny Sexton.
Rory Best will captain the team from hooker and he is joined by Niall Scannell, Rob Herring and long time deputy Sean Cronin. With Best and Cronin likely to go Joe Schmidt will have a tough time choosing between the two hookers the other side of 30, Niall Scannell, 27 and Rob Herring, 29.
Scannell has the advantage in caps with his 14 doubling the seven earned by Rob Herring and he is highly regarded by Munster head coach Johan Van Graan.
By the side of Best we expect there to be five options. Tadhg Furlong is arguably the best tighthead prop in the world. His Leinster teammate Cian Healy is also excellent and one of the best scrummagers going. Munster pair David Kilcoyne and John Ryan are the form back-ups to provide extra power late on. Then there is a debate to be had about where they will need the extra option.
Jack McGrath is heavily experienced with 54 Ireland caps but with he has to contend with the highly rated 23 year old Andrew Porter and the less fancied Finlay Bealham. Porter would benefit from the high octane environment of a World Cup.
If we are totally honest in the engine room there is one man above all others, James Ryan. Just 22 years old but by far the best lock that Ireland have.
To offset the youthful exuberance is the totem pole-like Leinster second row, Devin Toner. He is closely followed by the in-form lock, Tadhg Beirne who has impressed at Thomond Park this season putting in some massive performances in the Champions Cup.
Jean Kleyn has done well to make the squad but he’s not in the same class as supposed Ireland mainstay Iain Henderson and Ultan Dillane. Henderson has 30 more caps than Dillane and provides a very safe pair of hands at the lineout similar to Dillane in many ways.
In the back row Ireland have plenty of options, the main one being Munster’s, Peter O’Mahony. CJ Stander is also a key component to the back row with his carrying a very important part of Ireland’s attacking game, with that in mind Jack Conan is also fast becoming indispensable to Joe Schmidt’s side.
Josh van der Flier is the natural successor to Sean O’Brien and he has that natural openside feel to his game as he has shown countless times not just for Ireland but also his province, Leinster.
Tommy O’Donnell, Rhys Ruddock and Jordi Murphy have all had some great performances in the green of Ireland, O’Donnell’s long range try over Italy in the Six Nations a fond memory for the Munster back row. Murphy has the most caps with 27, just six more than Ruddock and 15 more than his fellow clubman.
On the Plane: Rory Best (Ulster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), James Ryan (Leinster)
In the Departure Lounge: Cian Healy (Leinster), CJ Stander (Munster), Devin Toner (Leinster)
Checking In: Jack Conan, Sean Cronin (both Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), David Kilcoyne, John Ryan (both Munster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The world’s best team and reigning World Champions are definitely the frontrunners for the showpiece event in Japan and have a plethora of options across the park as the excellent domestic and youth structure continues to churn out All Blacks in the making.
Once again the Christchurch based Crusaders sit atop the Super Rugby ladder and their forwards continue to dominate opposition packs.
New Zealand have a very good set of test props in Karl Tu’inukuafe and Owen Franks, they will both be in the squad along with their understudies Joe Moody and Nepo Laulala. Steve Hansen will want at least one more prop in his World Cup squad.
Chiefs Angus Ta’avao and Ofa Tu’ungafisi both worthy contenders for us the more experienced Blues prop takes this one.
Props: Owen Franks (Crusaders), Nepo Laulala (Chiefs), Joe Moody (Crusaders), Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tu’ungafisi (both Blues)
In between them Codie Taylor, Dane Coles and Nathan Harris are the established trio. If you had to bet on an outsider upsetting the established order you would bet on Liam Coltman but with New Zealand limited to just 31 players for a World Cup it looks as though he will miss out.
Hookers: Dane Coles (Hurricanes), Nathan Harris (Chiefs), Codie Taylor (Crusaders)
New Zealand have arguably the best second row pairing in the world with the caveman from New Zealand, Sam Whitelock and the athletic Brodie Retallick. Another certainty for New Zealand’s second row is the largest of the Barrett brothers, Scott.
Jackson Hemopo has impressed in recent times and will definitely be in Hansen’s mind when he names his squad and he will fight it out with Blues captain, Patrick Tuipulotu for what will most likely be the final spot in the squad. Hemopo gets in due to form.
Locks: Scott Barrett (Crusaders), Jackson Hemopo (Highlanders), Brodie Retallick (Chiefs), Sam Whitelock (Crusaders)
In the back row with space again limited I would expect New Zealand to go with five players here.
Here there is one player that gets in without question and that is the departing captain, Kieran Read.
New Zealand are blessed at openside flanker, Sam Cane, Ardie Savea and Matt Todd all very strong at international level but with space limited one will miss out. Sam Cane is the leader and starts for New Zealand. Savea’s ability to slot in at eight makes him the winner in a shootout with Todd,
At blindside there is the obvious first choice Liam Squire who is looking more and more like an All Black with every test he plays, like Savea has the versatility to cover eight allowing Hansen to give the final spot to another six.
There is of course Vaea Fifita and Dalton Papalii both of whom were part of the squad that toured Europe in November but our pick is the outstanding, breakout player of last season Shannon Frizell.
Back Row: Sam Cane (Chiefs), Shannon Frizell (Highlanders) Kieran Read (Captain, Crusaders), Ardie Savea (Hurricanes), Liam Squire (Highlanders)
As England set off for their week in the Algarve, there are some questions hanging over England.
Some of England’s positions are locked down Owen Farrell at fly-half, Billy Vunipola at number eight, Maro Itoje at lock, the back three however is more complex.
England are missing Anthony Watson and they have a wealth of talent, Ollie Thorley the latest man to earn a place in England’s squad.
One thing that did let down England in the autumn was a failure to boss the aerial battle, Elliot Daly is a fantastically talented player but he was far from his best in the 15 shirt.
Against Ireland defusing high balls and bossing the aerial space will be key, Jonny Sexton is a good kicker and Conor Murray is arguably the best box kicking scrum-half in the world.
Whoever lines up at fullback for England will have plenty of high balls to deal with.
This is why England have to pick Mike Brown. Brown is a master of the high ball, he gets up well and more often than not comes down with the ball.
His abrasive, aggressive nature give him the edge in the contest and make him the safest option to limit Ireland attacking England from above.
Brown does not have the fast feet to match his Wasps counterpart and he lacks the playmaking ability but against Ireland his safe hands and unquestionable passion make him England’s best shot at gaining an all important win in Dublin.
Eddie Jones faces a tough few weeks ahead as his England side face four games against South Africa, New Zealand, Japan and Australia.
This will be England’s final chance to test themselves against the southern hemisphere before the World Cup in Japan. This year more than the previous years feels particularly important for Eddie Jones’ England.
With a lengthy injury list and only one win in their last six tests (excluding Barbarians match) re-establishing a winning mentality is key.
England are missing Billy Vunipola, Mako Vunipola, Ellis Genge, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Dan Robson, Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson, Nathan Hughes, Sam Simmonds, Alex Lozowski, Marland Yarde, Matt Mullan, Beno Obano, Jack Clifford, Nick Isiekwe, Chris Robshaw, Jake Cooper-Wooley, Dan Cole, Jack Willis and Harry Mallinder are all unavailable for at least England’s opener against South Africa.
This puts a lot of pressure on some of England’s experienced stars and this is something that co-captains Dylan Hartley and Owen Farrell will have to manage on the field in what is sure to be a physical battle against a reinvigorated South Africa.
England’s back row is of particular concern with the uncapped Zach Mercer expected to make his first start on Saturday alongside the inexperienced Tom Curry, Brad Shields or Mark Wilson.
Not only will this be an experience issue, whilst Zach Mercer is an enthusiastic and entertaining player his frame is far smaller than that of the giant Billy Vunipola, so tactics may have to be adjusted to best utilise the pace and handling of the Bath number eight.
On top of that England are pretty bare in the prop departments down to their fifth choice at loosehead with Exeter duo Alec Hepburn and Ben Moon the options for Saturday. England will also have to make do without Leicester Tigers veteran Dan Cole which will be a considerable hurdle for England as South Africa’s front row will be licking their lips at the prospect of facing an undercooked, less experienced front row in the scrum.
There are some positives for Eddie Jones, Ben Te’o has come through what limited rugby he has played unscathed as has Manu Tuilagi which will provide some much needed size to the midfield.
Chris Ashton is also back in the mix, and no matter what you think about this man’s behaviour off the field he is England’s best finisher even if his celebratory Ash Splash can be infuriating to watch.
England need at least three wins this autumn to be considered a contender a year away from the World Cup Eddie Jones so desperately wants. South Africa at Twickenham is going to a blockbuster test to get England started on the road to Tokyo.
Rugby360’s England XV based on 25-man squad named earlier this week
1 Alec HEPBURN(2) 2 Dylan HARTLEY (CC) (93) 3 Harry WILLIAMS(11)4 Maro ITOJE(28) 5 George KRUIS(25) 6 Brad SHIELDS (2) 7 Tom CURRY(4) 8 Zach MERCER (Uncapped)
9 Ben YOUNGS (77) 10 Owen FARRELL (CC) (61) 11 Jonny MAY (37) 12 Ben TE’O(13) 13 Manu TUILAGI(26) 14 Chris ASHTON(39) 15 Elliot DALY (21)
Italic number in (brackets) denotes caps. Lions tests not included.