Exciting Times for Eddie’s England

Eddie Jones cut his squad sending Mike Brown, Alex Dombrandt, Ben Spencer and Ben Te’o home ahead of England’s first warm-up against Wales and also the final match for England players to stake a claim to be named in the final 31 man group on Monday 12th August.

This England team is young, exciting and hungry for success. Although the Six Nations was mixed bag for England, from the immense high of the bonus point win at the Aviva Stadium to the hammer blow of losing to Wales after having held the lead at half-time, this team are going to pose some serious problems at the World Cup.

England have that warrior spirit embodied by captain, Owen Farrell along with Exeter livewire Jack Nowell and workhorse blindside flanker Mark Wilson.

23734433_1734670753218577_1445089231897624576_n
Credit: Instagram (@owenfaz)

England have powerful, bruising carriers in the Saracens trio of Mako Vunipola, Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola and of course the scintillating centre, Manu Tuilagi.

England have incisive runners and deadly finishers with the playmaking Henry Slade, explosive Jonny May and exciting Elliot Daly.

In short England have it all. They can mount a serious challenge even with the challenges of France and Argentina in their pool.

They have the attacking prowess, their impressive 24 try haul in the Six Nations is testament to that, what we also saw in the Six Nations was England show us they have cohesive attacking moves in place. The kicking game that bamboozled Ireland’s makeshift fullback Robbie Henshaw and France’s stand in at 15 Yoann Huget.

44209754_1005657909620323_3198080415955389411_n
Credit: Instagram (@robhenshaw)

Then there was the startling power game exhibited against Italy where England unleashed a centre partnership of Te’o and Tuilagi tipping the scales at about 220 kilos (485 lbs) along with Bath Rugby’s X Factor winger, Joe Cokanasiga.

This coupled with an incredibly effective rush defence implemented by John Mitchell makes England strong. The rush defence of England suffocated Ireland into submission, it blew France away and snuffed out Italy’s probing attack at Twickenham.

Wales may have won the Six Nations and Ireland may have beaten New Zealand and be ranked second and third respectively but to regard this England side as anything other than possible champions would be foolish.

52895395_126774321778542_8953429870697000796_n
Credit: Instagram (@walesrugbyunion)

This Sunday England’s stars get their last chance to impress against Wales in front of 82,000, and make no mistake England will be going full throttle and that pedal will be well and truly pushed to the floor right up until the end of their World Cup journey.

Possible 23 to face Wales

1 Joe Marler (Harlequins) 2 Jack Singleton (Worcester) 3 Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins) 4 Courtney Lawes (Northampton) 5 Charlie Ewels (Bath) 6 Maro Itoje (Saracens) 7 Lewis Ludlam (Northampton) 8 Billy Vunipola (Saracens)

9 Willi Heinz (Gloucester) 10 Owen Farrell (Captain, Saracens) 11 Ruaridh McConnochie (Bath) 12 Manu Tuilagi (Leicester) 13 Jonathan Joseph 14 Anthony Watson (both Bath) 15 Elliot Daly (Saracens)

16 Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter) 17 Ellis Genge (Leicester) 18 Harry Williams (Exeter) 19 Joe Launchbury (Wasps) 20 Sam Underhill (Bath) 21 Ben Youngs (Leicester) 22 Piers Francis (Northampton) 23 Joe Marchant (Harlequins)

England: Five Players Who May Have Played Their Way Into World Cup Contention

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.

  1. 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.

Opinion: The Six Nations Posed More Questions Than Answers for ‘Invincible’ Wales

Wales are in rude health. They have 14 wins on the spin and this culminated in a Grand Slam as Warren Gatland announced that the World Cup will be his last as Wales head coach.

Wales were simply brilliant against Ireland in their final game and led by Alun Wyn Jones Wales swept aside the pre-tournament favourites. Wales also showed great character against England coming back from 10-3 down to bring England back down to earth following their first two games.

On the road Wales seemed to leave their fire breathing dragon at home. For the first half against France Wales simply didn’t turn up and France ran rings round Wales racking up a 19-0 lead before in the most French way possible capitulating and gift wrapping a brace of tries for the totem pole of a wing George North.

George_North
By Liamwarrender at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24426555

Wales would be hard pressed to find any other tier one international side be quite as forgiving as the unpredictable France.

Italy posed a serious challenge to Wales, Rome was alive as Italy dragged Wales to hell and back for the vast majority of the match before the superhero Scarlets centre Hadleigh Parkes popped up with a match winning try.

These away performances are of a concern as the World Cup is many miles away from the infamous ‘Wall of Noise’ and hymns and arias of the Principality Stadium. There won’t be in excess of 70,000 fans baying for English or Irish blood. Wales’ performances in Cardiff are far better than their away games which is why Wales may struggle in the far east.

Secondly Wales have a frankly awful record against the big three away from home. Under Warren Gatland this Wales side have always been there or thereabouts when it comes to the Six Nations but there is suggestion of mental frailty when it comes to travelling to the traditional ‘Big Three’ of the southern hemisphere.

Wales will face Australia in Japan. Wales are the only home nation not to have beaten Australia on Australia soil since the last World Cup. England won a series 3-0 there in 2016, Ireland won a series 2-1 there in 2017 and Scotland beat Australia 24-19 last time they were in down under last summer.

To find the last time Wales beat Australia outside Cardiff you have to go back to the 1987 World Cup and Rotorua when Wales beat Australia 22-21 to claim third place in the inaugural showpiece event.

This mental frailty could see them finish second in their group and a high pressure quarter-final game against the winner of Pool C which contains the likes of England, France and Argentina, all three experts at World Cup runs with 12 semi-final appearances between them, five finals and one World Cup.

A group runner-up has also never won the World Cup, a position Wales would fill if they fail to find their first win over Australia away from home in 32 years.

2011_Rugby_World_Cup_Australia_vs_New_Zealand_(7296136612)
By jeanfrancois beausejour from cannes, france – blacks australia 035CN6P5138 internet, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30851908

The final reason I believe Wales will struggle is the fact they have failed to score tries. Their defence was excellent in the Six Nations as they only conceded seven tries in their five games but they only scored ten the joint lowest scoring the same amount as Italy.

In comparison England scored 24 tries, Ireland were the next best with 14 and Scotland and France both conjured up 12 five-pointers. To beat the best you need to score tries and Wales are simply not scoring enough.

Tries win games. It is a well known fact you have to score five tries on average to beat New Zealand. Does a team that averaged two a game in the Six Nations really have the capacity to score five against the most successful team of the last decade?

These are the reasons despite Wales’ recent success they will not be successful at the World Cup.

The Fight for Fourth Place

The Premiership has been enthralling, pulsating and at times mightily frustrating, ruling the roost Exeter Chiefs and Saracens have raced away and have booked themselves play-off spots. Below them Gloucester took a giant leap to the play-offs as they staged a second half fightback to beat local rivals Bath at Kingsholm last weekend.

Below that there is still a fight going on to grab that all important fourth place and the final spot in the play-offs. Just six points separate Harlequins who currently occupy fourth place and the eighth placed Sale Sharks, sandwiched in between them are Wasps, Northampton Saints and Bath Rugby.

We take a look at the play-off chasing quintet below.

Harlequins

Currently: 50 points

Run-In: Difficult

Harlequins face a difficult run-in with a game against runaway leaders Exeter Chiefs first up after the European semi-finals. This is followed by a home game against the struggling Leicester Tigers before facing what could be a pivotal game against their closest followers Wasps away at the Ricoh Arena.

Harlequins certainly have the quality to stay and reach the play-offs but the run-in will do them no favours. Can Paul Gustard’s team hang on? We think they may just be the wrong side of the line.

Prediction: 55 points

Wasps

Currently: 47 points

Run-In: Difficult

The most difficult run-in having to play Saracens at home before what is shaping up to be a hugely important match against Bath Rugby before finishing up their campaign at home to Harlequins to try and scupper their hopes.

Wasps have not fired as much as would expect looking at their electric backs and power packed forward unit. Their unfavourable run-in and crucially an away trip to play-off chasing Bath could be their undoing.

Prediction: 53 points

Northampton Saints

Currently: 46 points

Run-In: Moderate

Northampton have a fairly straightforward run-in if there is such a thing as they’ll play bottom two Newcastle (away) and Worcester (home) before the most difficult of tests with a trip to Sandy Park. Whilst we believe they have more than enough to blow Worcester away and claim the full five points we can’t see Saints getting the win at Kingston Park as Newcastle scrap for survival.

Munster_vs_Northampton_Saints,_Thomond_Park_-_10th_April_2010_(4612815231)
By Bob Bob from L o n d o n – Munster vs Northampton Saints, Thomond Park – 10th April 2010, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32150033

Plenty of grit and passion from Northampton and Chris Boyd has the makings of a very good side, the play-offs though look to be a bridge too far this season.

Prediction: 52 points

Bath Rugby

Currently: 45 points

Run-In: Moderate

Bath have been specialist of grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory of many occasions. Worcester, Gloucester (twice) and Harlequins spring to mind in the league not to mention that loss to Toulouse (nobody needs to remind Freddie Burns). The trip north to Sale has claimed many victims in the past but a home game against Wasps and a final day trip to Welford Road should work in Bath’s favour.

I don’t think Bath will make the play-offs, too many mistakes and inaccuracy has plagued their season. They need to improve if they want to make the play-offs next season.

Prediction: 54 points

Sale Sharks

Currently: 44 points

Run-In: Moderate

The home advantage against Bath in a couple of weeks time is a key game for them as is the trip to ninth placed Bristol Bears. Sale Sharks finish up with a home tie against the resurgent Gloucester. We believe Sale could finish strongly and fly past all challengers picking up three all important wins.

Sale Sharks Denny Solomona
By Johnmarfleet – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61544801

Sale have not been the strongest of teams over the years but they look to have rediscovered some stardust with South African Faf de Klerk and the Curry twins they are a force to be reckoned with.

Prediction: 56 points

So there you have it Sale are our pick to make the play-offs. Whatever happens it will be close with so many pivotal match-ups the last three week is sure to provide more enthralling, pulsating rugby and definitely an infinite amount of frustration.

Two Teams Setting Pace in Premiership

England’s domestic competition is among the toughest in the world, it’s so competitive. There are two runaway leaders at the moment though, Saracens and Exeter Chiefs are leading the way and both are unbeaten so far eight games into the season.

The last three finals have been between the two sides, Saracens have won twice sandwiching Exeter’s solo win in the 2016/17 season.

Both teams sit on 38 points, third placed Wasps are trailing the two table toppers by 14 points. Both teams have scored a remarkable 36 tries in their opening eight games, averaging four and a half tries a game which has seen the remarkable teams both pick up six try scoring bonus points each.

Even with a large number of internationals these teams continue to lead the way. The depth of both teams is frightening, for example Saracens have the luxury of Owen Farrell, Alex Lozowski and the potentially great Max Malins to choose from. Exeter’s power game is famed and with good reason with all four of their best props recently playing for their respective countries in the November internationals Alec Hepburn, Harry Williams, Ben Moon (all England) and Tomas Francis (Wales).

There is no doubt the talent these squads possess and they also have absolutely brilliant coaches, Rob Baxter has taken Exeter from the middle of the Championship to the summit of English rugby in remarkable fashion and continues to develop his squad into one of the most enviable in Europe.

jack-nowell-711803_1920

Mark McCall at Saracens took the reigns from Brendan Venter and made the squad his own bringing in academy stars like Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell into a team led by South African and Namibian expats notably Schalk Brits, Jacques Burger and Ernst Joubert.

These teams look set to battle it out for supremacy yet again and their first meeting of the season just before Christmas at Sandy Park could well be the game of the season in what is already shaping up to be an enthralling two horse race for the Premiership.