Ever since the Premiership finished for another season, thoughts have started to turn towards the World Cup and who Eddie Jones would be selecting to represent England in Japan. Having played a squad for the future against the Barbarians, Eddie Jones has spent the last couple of weeks bringing players in for training once 5 weeks had played since their last game of rugby, so was today able to name an official training squad with everyone available.
With England and the Premiership being one of my stronger areas of knowledge, it was no shock that this squad announcement saw me quickly starting to predict the 31-man World Cup squad as part of this ongoing series. Like the original article looking at the Wales squad, I have brought in the talents of a close friend and fellow rugby nut in the form of my colleague Phil. We will each pick our squads separately and I will then compare our selections to see how familiar they are. As a reminder, these are not the squads that we would be selecting (which I can imagine would look very different to this), but instead the squad that we think Eddie Jones will select.
Journey to RWC2019 series:
- Predicting the Wales squad
- Predicting the Scotland squad
- Predicting the Italy squad
- Predicting the Ireland squad
- Predicting the Fiji squad
So without further ado, Phil and I think that Eddie Jones’ squad for the World Cup will contain:
With Dylan Hartley confirmed to be missing the World Cup though injury, Jamie George becomes the clear starter. Luke Cowan-Dickie has been the next up of late and while Jack Singleton has made a strong push, both Phil and I feel that the Exeter hooker will take the second spot.
When it comes to Jack Singleton however, our opinions vary. I think that the former Worcester hooker will also travel to Japan to provide depth and competition for Cowan-Dickie, however Phil thinks that Jones will choose to take only 2 hookers, freeing up a spot elsewhere in the squad.
Mako Vunipola is one of the best props in the world, so it is no surprise that Phil and I both expect him to make the squad, provided he recovers in time. Joe Marler has come out of international retirement and we both feel that Jones will take him for his experience and scrummaging ability, while we also both feel that Ellis Genge will travel as either 2nd or 3rd choice loosehead depending on Vunipola’s fitness. On the other side of the front row, we both feel that Kyle Sinckler and Harry Williams have got ahead of Dan Cole on the pecking order, despite him being vastly more experienced at international level.
Given the state of Vunipola’s injury, I instructed Phil to also pick a player who would replace him in the squad should he fail to recover in time. On this we differed, as Phil went for a like-for-like swap by bringing in Ben Moon, whereas I felt that Jones would be happy with the combination of Genge and Marler, so choose to bring in Dan Cole as a more experienced presence in the squad.
No massive surprises at lock, where both of us expect the usual 4 of Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Joe Launchbury and George Kruis – who has really come back to form this season – to all make their way onto the plane.
Due to Eddie Jones’ history of utilising Itoje and Lawes at 6, I think that he will also include Charlie Ewels in the squad as another specialist lock, whereas Phil has stuck to the big 4.
It looks like Phil and I are in agreement over who Jones will take in the back row, though I’m also pretty certain we would see some different players if we were picking our own squads. Billy Vunipola at full fitness is one of the best number 8s in the world, so was an easy pick, while Tom Curry has all-but cemented the 7 jersey. Sam Underhill will keep the pressure on Curry, while he could also be used as a 6 and will also likely find himself competing with Mark Wilson for that starting spot. Lewis Ludlam and Alex Dombrandt (who missed out on selection for the most recent training squad) have had great seasons but come on too late for this tournament, though they should start featuring straight after with a view to 2023. Ben Morgan & Matt Kvesic haven’t even featured in the training squads despite stellar seasons, nor have Zach Mercer, Don Armand or Nathan Hughes, who has really fallen down the pecking order. Chris Robshaw is another who has found himself out of the loop after other players took advantage of the space his injury created. The 5th and final back row we each selected was Brad Shields, who has the versatility to cover multiple positions and also has experience of southern Hemisphere rugby.
Though he has brought 3 scrum halves into recent squads, Eddie Jones generally prefers to have just 2 in his squads as otherwise it becomes difficult to spread reps. As such, Phil and I both found ourselves selecting just 2 players at the position when predicting the squad. Ben Youngs was the obvious option as he has remained Jones’ first choice despite times of poor form and also Leicester’s struggles this season. The 2nd place looked difficult, until the most recent training squad was announced. The way that Danny Care has dropped down the pecking order over the last 12 months is incredible, but it looks like the Quins 9 is no longer in the hunt, while Dan Robson appears to have missed out after a season that has been severely hampered by injury and illness. This left Ben Spencer and Willi Heinz fighting for the second spot. While Heinz has more experience, Saracens’ success and the high number of representatives in the squad led to both of us giving the advantage to Ben Spencer, who has a great all-round game, can kick off the tee if needed and is also young enough to push for the starting spot over the next 4-year cycle.
Going on the last season, Owen Farrell is now seen specifically as a fly half and looks bolted on to start, while he could push out to 12 if needed to make room for George Ford, who we both felt makes the squad almost by default given he is the only other experienced fly half Eddie Jones has regularly had with the squad during recent international windows.
Beyond this, there were not really many other options, with Danny Cipriani the other name in the current training squad and Marcus Smith having come into training camps instead of Cipriani during the Six Nations. Perhaps it is Phil’s Gloucester bias coming through, but he managed to find a spot for Danny Cipriani in the squad, however I can’t see it happening given how little Jones has included him since the Summer Tour to South Africa and instead feel that Jones will take just 2 specialised 10s and rely on players elsewhere to cover the position in an emergency.
Henry Slade has become the constant in recent England squads and we both felt that his performances for England and Exeter solidified his seat on the plane. Ben Te’o gets picked by Jones regardless of how little rugby he has played, so will surely make the squad despite being currently unattached, while we also both agree that Manu Tuilagi makes the squad (if fit) as when he is on form he is a game changer who can cover either 12 or 13.
Both of us felt that Jones would go for 4 specialist centres (we have both counted Daly as part of the back 3 but he will also give some depth here), but we have varied in our final pick. Phil has gone for Bath’s Jonathan Joseph, who has been defensively solid at 13 and can also cover the wing if needed. However, given all the back 3 options in the training squad are able to cover wing and also 13 at a push, I instead picked Piers Francis, who has come off a strong finish to the season for Northampton and provides a playmaker option at 12, while he can also cover fly half in an emergency.
Our thoughts surrounding the back 3 were very similar, the one difference being that Phil had 6 spaces left to fill, whereas I only had 5. Jonny May and super-versatile Elliot Daly have become ever-presents in this squad, while we both think that Anthony Watson’s speed and ability in the air have brought him back into the squad after a lengthy injury layoff. All 3 of these players are relatively lightweight, pacy individuals, but Joe Cokanasiga and Jack Nowell add a more physical attribute to the position group, while Nowell is able to cover 13 and 15 as well.
With Chris Ashton having pulled out for personal reasons, Ollie Thorley untested at international level and Denny Solomona & Nathan Earle having dropped down the pecking order of late – let’s not even get into Alex Goode! – I felt that there was nobody else that Jones would choose to include at this position, which led to me using the 31st pick on Charlie Ewels, however Phil has chosen to include a bolter in Bath and former England 7s star Ruaridh McConnochie, who took advantage of injuries in the Bath back line to have a great season.
So on the whole, we had largely the same squad, with just the last couple of positions on the fringes of the squad differing. This doesn’t surprise me too much considering how much we talk about rugby, we have probably converged our opinions over the last 6 years. Interestingly, I found myself putting more numbers into the pack to boost the chances of taking control of the game, whereas Phil included some very exciting backs to take advantage of the possession the forwards win.
Who do you think makes it onto the plane?