Rugby Thoughts – England’s EPS & November International Squad

Eddie Jones has announced the EPS (Elite Player Squad) and squad for the November Internationals. You’d think that they were the same but this is English rugby and so it has to be made more complicated than that. I’ll run through who’s been included and also look at who’s been added or dropped from the enlarged training squad earlier this season.

The reason that it’s not simple is that the EPS is supposed to cover the whole season. The problem with that is that some players are injured at the moment. That means some players will be named in the EPS with thoughts of the 6 Nations and players will be name as their injury replacements for the November games. The new players will be in italics.

If you want to remind yourself who was in the earlier training squad and the changes the Eddie made there then you can read my piece from back in August here.

Props

Training Squad: Dan Cole, Paul Hill, Mako Vunipola, Joe Marler

EPS not training: Matt Mullan, Ellis Genge, Kyle Sinckler

Out: None

My first thought was that there are only 4 props going to the training squad and that feels thin. Prop is an attritional position and when you see that there are 6 centres and 6 back three players then it really looks thin. The flip side is that it’s a settled position that Eddie is confident in his choices unlike some others where we still don’t know the longterm solution.

Hookers

Training Squad: Jamie George, Dylan Hartley, Tommy Taylor

EPS not training: Luke Cowan-Dickie

Out: Tom Youngs

Tommy Taylor comes back in to the squad in the place of Tom Youngs. I think that this confirms that Hartley and George are the top 2 hookers. I think that Eddie is taking the opportunity to look at the other 3 in turn to know what depth he has in the position. With Cowan-Dickie being 23, Tommy Taylor 24 and Jamie George 25 these could easily be the hookers for England for the next decade.

Locks

Training Squad: George Kruis, Maro Itoje, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Mike Williams

EPS not training: Charlie Ewels

Out: None

2nd row is the strongest position for England with 4 world class players. So it’s unsurprising that they have all be retained. Williams is there to learn how the squad works and for Eddie to have a closer look at him.

Back-rows

Training Squad: Chris Robshaw, Billy Vunipola, Teimana Harrison (injury replacement for Haskell), Josh Beaumont, Nathan Hughes, Sam Jones, Mike Williams, Ben Morgan (injury replacement for Clifford)

EPS not training: Jack Clifford, James Haskell, Will Evans

Out: None

 

The area of discussion for many years and probably for many to come. It looked like the back-row combination was set and was going to be tested/strengthened by the eligibility of Hughes. Injuries to Haskell and Clifford though have thrown a spanner in the works. The remaining incumbents are all 6s and 8s it means we have new faces being brought in compete for the 7 jersey. Kvesic clearly isn’t the player Eddie is looking for as he has said he’s looking for someone to provide the same style as Haskell. It’s going to be an interesting fight between Harrison, Jones and Williams.

Scrum-halves

Training Squad: Danny Care, Ben Youngs, Dan Robson

EPS not training: Ben Spencer

Out: Joe Simpson

Care and Youngs are the incumbents and the others are really waiting for an injury to get a chance to prove their ability. Robson appears to have bested his Wasps team-mate to be the first man off the rank. Spencer’s inclusion is a sign that if you perform, you will get a chance and that it’s not a closed shop.

Fly-halves

Training Squad: Owen Farrell, George Ford

EPS not training: Alex Lozowski

Out: None

Fly-halves is a similar story as scrum-halves but I’m surprised by Lozowski’s inclusion. He’s not had many starts at Premiership level and is still learning his trade. But if you look through the squad you’ll see that most positions have a young inexperienced player there gaining experience on the edge of the squad. This is something that New Zealand have been doing for years and if Eddie is doing what I think then it shows good longterm planning. Is Lozowski the true third place option here or is it Slade or Goode? Until there is an injury we won’t know.

Centres

Training Squad: Elliot Daly, Jonathan Joseph, Henry Slade, Ben Te’o, Joe Marchant, Ollie Devoto (injury replacement for Tuilagi)

EPS not training: Manu Tuilagi

Out: None

The other big question area for England is the centres and that’s reflected in the number of players selected. 6 players for 2 positions that are much more interchangeable than props, suggests that Eddie figured out his answer yet. He’s said he won’t wait for Tuilagi who is injured again so this is another interesting area. Will Eddie stick with Farrell at 12 which has worked so well or are we going to see his longterm vision for the centre answer?

If Eddie doesn’t go with Farrell, I think we will see his longterm vision in style not necessarily players. Only JJ out of all those selected has any amount of international experience. That means there might be several players given a chance and we don’t know which 1 will be settled upon.

Back threes

Training Squad: Mike Brown, Alex Goode, Jack Nowell, Anthony Watson, Marland Yarde (injury replacement for May), Semesa Rokoduguni

EPS not training: Jonny May, Mike Haley

Out: None

 

May’s poor luck with injury continues and it means that Roko gets added to those that toured Australia. 6 players for 3 places might not seem over kill but with most of the players able to cover the 3 positions I’d rather have had extra props available. Being in England and not on tour it’s not such an issue and all these players deserve a place. Roko was unlucky with injury and has been in great form for Bath so I’d like to see him given a chance.

Themes

Unsurprisingly the themes are similar to those when Eddie named the training squad a couple of months back. First up is that we are seeing consistency of selection with most of the change being driven by injury. That doesn’t mean that once you are in you can’t be dropped. There is the suggestion of a couple of players being close to getting dropped such as Harrison and Yarde who are “only” named as injury replacements.

There are changes on the fringes showing that if players perform they will be selected even if they aren’t earlier squads as shown by Spencer and Lozowski for example. Finally  these changes have also shown that dropped players can come back, as we have seen with Tommy Taylor.

Overall a good squad but we are still waiting to see what Eddie’s answers are for the 2 big questions of back-row and centres.

#RugbyChat

Join the #RugbyChat on twitter for an hour of discussion about the action this weekend. If you can’t make the hour then you can still give your view as the conversation keeps going over the following day.

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