By Jack Vavasour
World Cup Finalists and only getting better. England have the World at their feet and Eddie Jones needs to maintain momentum. Jones wants England to play the greatest rugby ever, having seen them in action against Ireland and more recently New Zealand this isn’t impossible. The problem has been consistency, Jones needs to find a way to win whilst playing outstanding rugby. Last year Wales were not playing the best rugby yet they were unbeatable, Gatland didn’t care how he won as long as he did win. Jones won and has now refreshed the squad and England are playing beautiful rugby and what they need now is to have the sheer hunger to grind out wins at any cost. Jones also is struggling with a few players injured, he consistently refuses to use this as an excuse and can use the Six Nations to prove England’s strength in depth and highlight why they can become the best side in the world and dominate on a similar plain to how the All Blacks have.
Looking at the squad selection the key has been continuity. This has allowed for the core players to retain their places whilst providing renewal in weaker positions. Most disappointment to fans will come in the positions of number 8 and Scrum-Half.
Ben Youngs is a class player, yet England cannot rely on him forever and Willi Heinz is even older and only has a handful of caps under his belt. It seems crazy that young players such as Jack Maunder and Harry Randall have been overlooked and whilst Alex Mitchell is included as an apprentice player, he doesn’t offer the same form that the former two do.
The situation at number 8 is far more drastic as there are no specialist 8s named in the squad. Ben Earl has the most top class experience at 8 with Lewis Ludlam also having featured there a few times. Jones apparently likes the idea of Tom Curry at 8, yet all these options seem far too lightweight to follow on from Billy Vunipola. In 2018 Jones was so desperate for a big unit at the back of the scrum that he recalled Ben Morgan, so it seems difficult to see why Alex Dombrandt has been overlooked. I can name 5 or 6 players who are big units on form in the premiership and whilst size isn’t everything, having a bruising number 8 not only intimidates your opposition but always puts you on the front foot. Jones has even criticised Sam Simmonds in the past for not being big enough to play 8 internationally, hence his bulking, so it is certainly interesting to see the lack of a unit at the back.
Full-back is the position that looks set to change the most with Jones reportedly wanting to move Elliot Daly back to the wing, which would leave George Furbank as the likely name to take the 15 shirt. Furbank, and Northampton, have been in phenomenal form and this has been reflected in the sheer number of Saints players selected. If England can establish an out and out full-back the difference will be amazing. Daly has done a good job, yet at International level you need more solidity at the back, Furbank is exciting and can offer something different than Daly. Daly has a big problem in the sense that he can play too many positions. He is a born and bred centre, yet he has spent the majority of his international career on the wing and at full-back. He is too talented to leave out of a side yet with the quality of this England side he has often found himself being the paper over cracks.
Regardless, England shall look to play attractive rugby and in my book look favourites to win a grand slam with Wales and Ireland under new management and Scotland without Finn Russell, their talisman. France are a scary prospect, yet Jones will have his plan down to a tee.