With just 2 rounds of the Premiership and the playoffs left following this weekend and the European cups down to the finals, there is not much time left for a player to push themselves into contention for a place in his nation’s World Cup squad.
This close to the tournament, you must imagine that Eddie Jones will not be making drastic changes from the squads he has used in the last couple of international windows, but there is always a chance that someone could be a late bolter and make the plane.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to try creating an England 23 using players who have not recently played for England. My initial plan was to include anyone eligible (playing in England) who had not played for the team during this season’s internationals (the Autumn Tests and Six Nations) but as I was looking at the number of players available, I chose to also rule out anybody who featured in the 2018 Summer Tests so that I am looking at players who have gone at least a season without being capped.
- Beno Obano: Someone who made it into my Uncapped XV 13 months ago and was unlucky not to be capped over the last year, Obano was called up to an England camp last May, where he picked up sever damage to his knee ligaments that saw him out of the game until March this year. A strong scrummager, Obano became a huge part of the Bath defence last season with a series of huge tackles. With the depth England have at loosehead, it will be interesting to see how long he has to wait for another chance in the national team.
- Jack Singleton: The Worcester hooker has been unfortunate to find himself behind Jamie George, Dylan Hartley and Luke Cowan-Dickie in a position where Eddie Jones rarely rotates his players, but did get a start in the 45-63 loss to the Barbarians last May. Part of the new breed of hookers coming through that are equally adept in the loose and at the set piece, it will be interesting to see how his England chances are affected by going from the starter at Worcester to competing with George at Saracens next season.
- Will Collier: The tighthead spot does not appear to be as deep as loosehead at the moment, but Collier gets the nod here. Collier is Kyle Sinckler’s deputy at Harlequins but impressed on his 2 appearances against Argentina in the 2017 Summer Tests, where he proved himself capable of holding his own against a strong Pumas scrum.
- Dave Attwood: I honestly don’t understand why Dave Attwood appears so far down the pecking order. A strong all-rounder in the set piece, he is also a strong ball-carrier who comes to life when given a bit of space. Injuries appeared to drop him down the pecking order at Bath, but he excelled when on loan at Toulon and I’m sure he will star at Bristol next season. Unfortunately at 32 years old and with so much depth in the England second row, I find it unlikely we’ll see him add to his 24 caps.
- Ed Slater: I remember being very disappointed when it was announced that Ed Slater and Jonny May would be swapping teams given his injury history, but almost 2 years on I cannot imagine him not being part of the Gloucester squad. Another who plays a big role in the set piece, he has been a key part of a Gloucester pack that has got back to its best under Johan Ackermann. Slater captained England against the Crusaders in 2014 but considers that the day his international career faltered as he injured his ACL in that game.
- Sam Simmonds: A player who missed his chance to play in the Six Nations due to a ruptured ACL, it is unclear if the Exeter back rower would have featured anyway due to Eddie Jones seeing him as too small to viably play number 8 unless both Billy Vunipola and Nathan Hughes are unavailable. However, Simmonds is deceptively strong for his “small” size and also very good in space. Capable of playing at 8 or flanker, and with 20 tries from 28 Premiership games, his versatility may help him with the limited squad size in a World Cup.
- Don Armand: One of the players that it could be argued has been done dirty by Eddie Jones, it’s crazy that Don Armand has only appearances off the bench to his name (June 2017 in Argentina and the 2018 Six Nations match against Ireland). He has been one of the stars of the Exeter squad in recent seasons and would bring extra physicality to the back row.
- Ben Morgan: Matt Kvesic has performed so well in Sam Simmonds’ absence this season and was so close to making it an all-Exeter back row, but there was no way I could leave out Ben Morgan. The Gloucester 8 went off the boil a little bit following England’s RWC2015 nightmare (his last appearance for England came in that tournament against Australia), but he has been rejuvenated under Johan Ackermann and been one of Gloucester’s biggest stars this season.
- Willi Heinz: Scrum half was one of the harder positions to pick due to the heavy reliance on Ben Youngs and Danny Care recently being broken with appearances from Dan Robson, Ben Spencer and Richard Wigglesworth all making appearances for England this season. My Gloucester bias may have come to the fore a little here as I picked Willi Heinz. The kiwi was invited to train with England in 2017 but was never capped. Heinz has great experience of both the Premiership and Super Rugby now and has a great all-round game.
- Freddie Burns: Danny Cipriani was set to wear the 10 shirt until I chose to leave out players who featured on the 2018 Summer Tour to South Africa, which left me with a difficult choice. Billy Burns’ move to Ulster took him out of the running and Joe Simmonds has not pushed on as much as I expected after breaking out last season, which left me picking between Freddie Burns and Marcus Smith. Burns eventually got the nod here for his experience and his recent performances, where he has been keeping Rhys Priestland on the Bath bench. He may not be such a “maverick” as in his younger days but is now a great game manager with the ability to still beat an opponent with a moment of magic. Plus his chip and chase over a defensive line is still one of the best in the league.
- Ollie Thorley: What a season Thorley has been having. November’s Premiership Rugby Player of the Month was called into the England squad during the 2019 Six Nations but did not make it into any of the matchday squads. Injury saw him unavailable from February 2018 to November 2018 and he is currently out again, but he has still amassed 16 tries in 30 appearances in all competitions over the last 2 seasons with a number of teams struggling to deal with his combination of strength and speed.
- Brad Barritt: Another player who hasn’t featured for England since the World Cup disaster against Australia, Brad Barritt has continued to be a star for Saracens. A great defensive option at inside centre, he is someone you always know will put his body on the line and give everything for his team. A former British and Irish Lion, it could be argued that at 32 years old he could still do a job for England.
- Billy Twelvetrees: Another British and Irish Lion, Twelvetrees has not played for England since August 2015. Another Gloucester player who saw a drop in form, he has looked back to his best this season and has formed a great partnership with Danny Cipriani and Mark Atkinson in the Gloucester midfield. A strong runner and good defender, Twelvetrees also has the ability to fill in at the stand-off position and is also an accurate kicker off the tee.
- Anthony Watson: The Bath speedster looked like he could be the person to replace Mike Brown in the England 15 shirt, an Achilles injury picked up in the 2018 Six Nations match against Ireland has kept him out until this weekend’s match against Sale. Capable of playing wing or fullback, I was not sold on his defence before his injury but his speed and elusiveness is a huge positive and he has managed 15 tries from 33 England Test appearances. He is the player I think has the best chance of making it into this year’s World Cup squad.
- Alex Goode: Another who has been ignored by Eddie Jones in recent seasons, Goode’s last cap came against Fiji in November 2016. A talented playmaker and another who would be able to feature at 1st receiver, Goode has been arguably one of the best fullbacks in the Premiership over recent seasons but does not appear to have the style of play that Jones is looking for at 15.
- Harry Thacker: I don’t understand how Thacker fell out of favour at Leicester and was allowed to leave for Bristol! There are very few hookers I would rather have in my team when we are attacking in open play than Thacker. He came back to haunt the Tigers yesterday with a late try to down his former club – his 7ᵗʰ of the season in the league.
- Val Rapava-Ruskin: A player who recently featured in my Premiership Rugby XV Challenge, Tbilisi-born Rapava-Ruskin is also eligible for England. He is an incredible talent who comes to life in open play, while at the breakdown he is like an extra back row. If he can put his injuries behind him, I can imagine him moving up the England pecking order in the coming years.
- Nick Schonert: The South Africa-born prop came off the bench for Kyle Sinckler against the Barbarians but is yet to receive a Test cap. A regular for Worcester, he is probably one of the most under the radar players on this list, but a couple of injuries at tighthead could see him pushing for his first cap.
- Jonny Hill: A player who has become a regular for Exeter, Jonny Hill is probably the second row on the list most likely to play for England again due to his age and his team’s continued success. A good ball-carrier and a key part of the lineout, Hill has 6 tries from 45 Premiership appearances.
- Guy Thompson: I was so close to picking Alex Dombrandt for this role, but at 21 years old and in his breakout season, I decided to go instead for a more experienced player. Such have been the performances of Guy Thomson over the years for both Wasps and Leicester, it is crazy to think that he has never received any international recognition. Able to play across the back row, he is so dangerous at the breakdown and can make a team pay if they give him too much space with ball in hand.
- Joe Simpson: Simpson has 1 cap to his name – coming off the bench in the 2011 World Cup against Georgia – but has found himself unfortunate not to feature more recently due to some badly timed injuries. A player who was always regarded as one of the pacier 9s back in the day, Simpson has amassed 181 Premiership appearances for Wasps, scoring 26 tries. He may have lost a step but he has replaced that with experience and his battle with Dan Robson for the starting spot over recent seasons has brought out the best in both of them.
- Marcus Smith: He may not have been capped but he has been called up to train with England on a couple of occasions. He’s only 20 year old but has already clocked up 316 points in 40 Premiership appearances following his Harlequins debut in September 2017. A star for Quins in his debut season, he’s not been as impressive this year but I would still guess that it is a matter of “when” not “if” he gets his first cap.
- Jason Woodward: Woodward gets the final spot in the squad courtesy of his versatility, being able to play fullback, wing and outside centre. A player I have rated for years, he scored 11 tries in 44 Super Rugby appearances for Melbourne Rebels and the Hurricanes and even kept Julian Savea out of the ‘Canes’ starting XV for their 2016 final victory against the Lions. He’s continued those great performances with Bristol and Gloucester, scoring 13 tries in 46 Premiership games despite arriving in England after the 2016/17 season had already started.
Do you think any of these players will make it on the plane to Japan? Who would make your squad if you had been picking this list?