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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
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.
The Rugby World Cup is just months away and the pools have long been public knowledge. With more teams set to be chasing the favourites New Zealand than usual we take a look at which pool could be dubbed the perilous Group of Death.
Pool A contains hosts Japan as well as form team of last year Ireland, a vastly improved Scotland, a competitive Samoa and minnows Russia.
Japan’s heroics from 2015 are still very much in the mind and they pushed England hard at Twickenham back in November. They have some very good players in workhorse, Michael Leitch, veteran scrum-half Fumiaki Tanaka and skilful centre Ryoto Nakamura.
Samoa are always physical and they possess their own array of international stars. Samoa will bring power and pace but much like their Pacific neighbours Fiji and Tonga they lack the finesse and poise to challenge the bigger boys of international rugby.
Russia are there for the ride, it’s taken a valiant effort to get there but realistically they aren’t going to trouble the runaway favourite two from this group, Ireland and Scotland.
There is just too much class from Ireland and Scotland for this to be called the Group of Death. Japan and Samoa might provide the odd moment of magic or a scare but unlikely to qualify for the last eight.
Pool B has favourites New Zealand, a very strong South Africa, a competitive Italy, Canada who have really struggled recently and African also rans, Namibia.
New Zealand and South Africa are the clear frontrunners. Canada may have been a challenging prospect two years ago but not now and Namibia aren’t going to beat them.
Italy have beaten South Africa before but if we are honest even at full strength Sergio Parisse and co. Aren’t likely to have enough to qualify for the quarter-finals.
Now here it’s a little more complex, it has the ridiculously inconsistent France, highly competitive Argentina, a rebooted England, sleeping giant USA and Pacific juggernaut Tonga.
USA did have their moment in the sun last summer as they beat Scotland. They are still far more of a force in sevens, their time in the expanded version of the game is yet to come but that result in June certainly suggests they could trouble England and Argentina and with the temperamental France we all know anything can happen.
Tonga, a good team. However Wales’ 74-24 win over them in November proved just how big the gap is between the Pacific island nations and the Six Nations giants. Like USA if they copy their cousins Fiji they could beat France.
France, they are among the three most likely to emerge from the group the question is will they have enough to beat England or Argentina? You never know.
England are favourites for the group and rightly so. They should come out of this relatively unscathed.
Argentina was much better in the Rugby Championship last time out and building into the World Cup they will be confident. They have reached the knockout stages in the last three World Cups, their game against France could decide who qualifies for the last eight with England.
Definitely a competitive pool.
Six Nations winners Wales, an Australia in disarray, the Flying Fijians, the rising force in Europe, Georgia are joined by South American minnows Uruguay.
Again this is complex. Fiji are exciting they have some real stars Nemani Nadolo, Viliame Mata, Leone Nakarawa, Semi Radradra and Peceli Yato are household names and tearing it up in Europe. They produce some breathtaking stuff and they knocked out Wales previously way back in 2007.
There is a clamouring for Georgia to join the premier international tier by being inducted into the Six Nations. They are known for their terrifying forwards and their famed scrum has seen having a Georgian prop as almost a requirement to win the Top 14 in France. Wales and Australia who are the two obvious leaders should brace themselves.
Uruguay like Namibia and Russia have done really well to get to the World Cup and they are much stronger than they once were gone are they days where New Zealand beat Namibia 142-0 or England beat Uruguay 111-13. They deserve to be there.
Will Fiji or Georgia beat Wales or Australia? It’s unlikely but Fiji definitely could beat Australia the mess they’re in and with Wales not the same prospect outside the cauldron of Cardiff could hand Fiji the chance and Georgia’s scrum could cause both problems. It’s unlikely though.
A competitive pool no doubt but unlike Pool C two clear frontrunners.
So there’s our verdict, Pool C as they have three teams that have the know how to reach the latter stages of the competition.
Australia managed just four wins last year as well as suffering a humiliating defeat to Argentina on the Gold Coast, England thrashing them at Twickenham and Ireland claiming a history making 2-1 series win. They only won one game in November and that was against a very underpowered Italy in Padua.
If that wasn’t bad enough the media storm created by Israel Folau and his contract being revoked following homophobic comments will not have made life any easier for head coach Michael Cheika.
Despite all this Australia are still definitely capable of winning the World Cup.
One significant advantage are their pool opponents, now Georgia, Fiji and Uruguay should not pose a real threat to Australia and despite the abilities of these teams the biggest threat Australia will face is Wales.
Now Wales are in good form, 14 wins on the bounce including Ireland, England, South Africa and Australia but the last time Wales beat Australia away from home was way back in 1987 at the very first World Cup.
Now looking at Wales away form recently they aren’t quite the same team on the road, Wales struggled against France and Italy in the Six Nations, both times escaping by the skin of their teeth. Australia will fancy their chances there.
Australia will also have the chance to unleash arguably the best half back combination of recent Australian history in Will Genia and Quade Cooper both of whom have been in excellent form for the Melbourne Rebels.
Australia are so much better when Genia is playing, his speed from the base and tactical play is better than any other Australian scrum-half. Cooper is a genius, he attacks well and has a good mix to his play with clever kicks, an elusive turn of pace and an outrageous step. His game has also developed to incorporate him in link plays.
This half back mix could cause any team problems, that is Cooper can get his head in the right place and work hard.
One of the most celebrated part of Australia’s current team is the back row and that devilish mixture of Michael Hooper and David Pocock. Both world class openside operators deployed together to not just dominate but monopolise control of the breakdown.
The breakdown will be a key area at the World Cup no matter what team you play. If Australia get quick ball there will be hell to pay for the opposition Marika Koroibete, Jack Maddocks and Jordan Petaia are dangerous players and getting the ball in space crafted by a creative Wallabies midfield is what these players dream of.
If Australia can top their pool there is every chance they can win the World Cup. Dark horse is not the traditional Australian tag but one they will definitely be happy with after the horror show of 2018.
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.
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!