Should England Copy Wallaby Blueprint?

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.

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Credit: Instagram (@thomascurry_7)

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).

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Credit: Instagram (@samunderhill)

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

Three Players That Deserve an England Recall

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.

  1. Danny Cipriani

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.

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By Clément Bucco-Lechat – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46847541

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!

Have England Finally Found Their First XV?

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.

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By George Olcott – Flickr: Seeing The Gap, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16995621

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.

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By Charlie from UK – IMG_4726Uploaded by stemoc, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28727588

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.

Six Nations Preview: England Squad

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.

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By Charlie from UK – Kyle Sinckler, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35386171

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.

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By Blackcat – Derived from Diliff’s Dylan Hartley, Twickenham – May 2012.jpg, released with same licence, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24066490

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.

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By Charlie from UK – IMG_4726Uploaded by stemoc, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28727588

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)

England’s Back Row Conundrum

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.