Rugby Thoughts – England’s squad to tour Australia

Eddie Jones has selected his squad to go on tour to Australia with some extras called in for the Wales game as it clashes with the Aviva Premiership Final. Here is my look at his choices.

Looking at the number of changes Jones has made it looks like the rules restricting the changes to the EPS (Elite Player Squad) are no longer a restriction. This means we don’t have to consider if there are players included just because Lancaster chose them. For reference here is a link to my review of Eddie Jones’ 6 Nations squad.

I have listed the players by position listing those that are included in the tour to Australia with the new players in italics. Also the additional players for the Wales test are included after a +.

Props

In: Dan Cole, Paul Hill, Matt Mullan, Mako Vunipola, Ellis Genge, Kyle Sinckler 

Out: Joe Marler, Kieran Brookes, Henry Thomas (Injury replacement for Kieran Brookes)

Joe Marler has pulled out of the tour due to him needing time to sort things out with his psychologist and get his head in the right place. I have said previously I think that this is a courageous decision. The dropping of Henry Thomas now that Kieran Brookes is fit is a logical move. The exclusion of Brookes though I find surprising. He was injured during the 6 Nations and so didn’t get that much of an opportunity to make an impression.

The four players who were retained fells like an obvious choice. I’m not an expert in the front row but Genge with only 1 start and 4 appearances off the bench for Tigers is a surprise. That’s very little experience and I know that Jones has tried to make the 3rd choice player a youngster but that it very little experience. Sinker on the other hand has been constantly in the match day squad for Quins over the last couple of seasons.

So I’m surprised with the selection of Genge and I’d be surprised if he gets much game time. The rest I’m comfortable with even if I think Brookes has been unlucky.

Hookers

In: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jamie George, Dylan Hartley + Tommy Taylor

Out: None

The same three players from the 6 Nations are retained. Tommy Taylor has been called in for cover during the Wales test as George and Cowan-Dickie are playing in the Aviva Premiership final. I’m happy with this selection as I don’t think that there was any need for change. The only question really is around the fitness of Hartley after he missed so many games after the 6 Nations with concussion. As he is back though this was a routine selection.

Locks

In: George Kruis, Maro Itoje, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes + Dave Attwood

Out: None

Another position that is steady as she goes. Kruis and Itoje proved during the 6 Nations that they are the first choice lock pairing. If you had asked anyone in January who it would be then most would have said Launchbury and Lawes so they are obvious choices. Attwood has been brought in to cover the Wales test as Kruis and Itoje are playing for Saracens in eh Aviva Premiership final.

Back-rows

In: Jack Clifford, James Haskell, Chris Robshaw, Billy Vunipola, Teimana Harrison + Matt Kvesic

Out: Josh Beaumont, Dave Ewers

The back row was one of the two areas that were a problem before Jones took over and for me he didn’t really answer it during the 6 Nations. By just changing the numbers on the backs of the incumbent back row it looked like a stop gap measure. The four players that have been retained did play well in the 6 Nations to be fair to them. Maybe the long term solution that Jones is going to go for is no out and out 7 and for the team to do the work.

Beaumont and especially Ewers who didn’t get to play in the 6 Nations due to injury, I feel have been really unlucky to get dropped. Harrison has been playing well and I have no problem with his call up. You can’t take everybody on tour and it’s just that some players will be unlucky.

I think that Matt Kvesic is a really strange call up just for the Wales test. It’s not his quality that I’m questioning but how he can be the replacement for Vunipola. An out and out 7 called up as cover for an out and out 8. Maybe this is because Jones wants another look at him and also that he goes and gets game time in South Africa with the long term view being considered.

Scrum-halves

In: Danny Care, Ben Youngs

Out: None

No change and the only thing that does surprise me is that a third 9 hasn’t been added to the squad. This is a great battle between these two and we could be seeing a horses for courses selection over the next few years.

Fly-halves

In: Owen Farrell, George Ford + Ollie Devoto

Out: None

Again another that was a no brainer to continue with the same. Here I don’t think that there is the need for a third option as both Henry Slade and Alex Goode can offer cover as well. It’s going to be interesting to see who Jones goes for or if he tries to shoehorn both in again.

Devoto as a replacement for Farrell is a strange selection as Cipriani would be the more obvious choice. Clearly Devoto impressed during the 6 Nations training sessions. It will be interesting to see how he goes, if he gets time off the bench.

Centres

In: Elliot Daly, Manu Tuilagi, Jonathan Joseph, Henry Slade, Ben Te’o + Luther Burrell

Out: Sam Hill (injury replacement for Henry Slade)

Sam Hill getting dropped as Slade is back from injury isn’t a surprise. It will be interesting who out of Devoto, Burrell and Hill gets called up if Tuilagi’s injury does rule him out of the tour.

This is the second area that was a problem when Jones took over. By putting Farrell into the 12 shirt was another situation that looked like a short term measure. With 5 centres going on tour it will be interesting to see what Jones wants from his centre combination. Is 12 to be a second playmaker or someone who can bash it up? Is 13 the basher or quick to get round the corner?

The four retained players picked themselves as Jones didn’t get the chance to sort out the centre combination due to injury. Now that Tuilagi is injured again he might not get the opportunity on this tour either. Te’o’s (or how ever the grammatical correct way of typing that is) inclusion is interesting as he has been playing in Ireland and just moved to Warriors. Clearly Jones has seen something that he likes and had words to smooth the move. Most of us see him as coming into the squad and not straight into the side but maybe we are wrong. What is certain is that whilst the back row answer might be a continuation with different coaching, the centre combination needs changing and settling.

NOTE – Since this was written, it’s been confirmed that Tuilagi won’t tour.

Back threes

In: Mike Brown, Alex Goode, Jack Nowell, Anthony Watson, Marland Yarde

Out: Chris Ashton

The 4 players who were in the match day squads for the 6 Nations picked themselves as they did the job. The interesting one is the dropping of Ashton who has been scoring tries for Saracens. It’s the change in the squad that has caused the most talk and probably because of comments/rumours around attitude. Due to the way Ashton carries himself and the “Ash Splash” he has always wound people up the wrong way. So they are all ready to pile into him. Personally I think he is a really good player but who suits a certain style. If you want your team to play differently to that, he becomes a round peg in a square hole. I think that is why he is missing out.

Yarde has been playing better and clearly impressed Jones during the 6 Nations window. Personally I think that Rokoduguni has been unlucky not to get a call up as he has been playing well in a poor team.

Themes

Overall I’m happy with the squad even if I still have outstanding questions about the back row and centres. The theme of this squad has been continuity with a little tinkering. It’s one player smaller and with a small rebalancing of an extra centre instead of back four player. It did feel too heavy with 6 back four players but clearly it was an area that Jones wanted to look at certain players. 5 centres would normally feel too heavy but as Slade is also the third flyhalf, 7 players across those positions is ok.

 

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