With Eddie Jones naming the 34 players to take him through the first of five separate England campaigns before the 2023 Rugby World Cup, we take a look at the key talking points of the selection.
For some, this squad is revolution over evolution. No Vunipola brothers and no George Ford seems to be a punchy reaction to England’s poor Six Nations campaign last season and the introduction of some leftfield selections such as Nic Dolly and Trevor Davison is sure to set the typewriters of Fleet Street rattling.
But dig down into the team and you’ll find you can make a XV from the players used at the last Rugby World Cup squad and you’ll see that Jones’ selection is a reaction to both form and the changing demands of the game. It’s littered with pace, it has players that are capable of succeeding under the new law introductions and above all, it has a blend of youth and experience that should be commended.
But the biggest takeout is, with those five campaigns only before another World Cup, that this was Jones’ last chance to really shake things up before the real preparation begins, and the final opportunity to test talented options at the highest level unencumbered by the presence of some big influences around the team.
Jones described his selection as a “line in the sand”. That it might be, but there’s still a concern that those very sands of time are running out and this squad is a reflection of a need to test some very promising players. You can bet your bottom dollar a few of those dropped will be back, and it’s more a case of ‘when’ than ‘if’.
The importance of being Courtney
There’s no doubt that Courtney Lawes has matured into a wonderful flanker, a passable lock and an impressive leader. However, his importance to England in this new era is absolutely pivotal.
ENG v AUS Rugby Planet Rugby asked Jones directly on Monday regarding his plans for Lawes’ role and were advised that he would be in contention for a starting lock if required, with Jones adding the caveat that whilst George Martin could cover the engine room off the bench, he’d not be considered as one of the second-row starters.
With only Charlie Ewels and Jonny Hill in the squad available to partner Maro Itoje, there’s a question if this selection is short of another big specialist lock such as Northampton’s David Ribbans, a man Jones worked with during their time together with the Stormers, where it’s rumoured Jones was less than impressed with Ribbans’ style of play.
This lock conundrum provides England with a real reliance on keeping their three specialists fit to maintain consistent positional play within the pack. Both Hill and Ewels scrummage on the tighthead side with England whereas Lawes, due to his long and relatively (by Test rugby standards) slender frame, will prefer the loosehead side. Him playing as a lock also depowers the scrummaging force coming from the flankers, where Lawes provides enormous heft into his prop’s rump.