While the attention of many Home Nations fans will be focused on the British & Irish Lions Tour to South Africa this summer, it should not be forgotten that the Home Nations are also still playing Tests of their own.
With a large number of players set to tour with the Lions, England clearly expected to be missing some key players, so will spend this summer facing the USA and Canada, while the England A (no longer called the Saxons) will also play a match against Scotland A.
Now no offense to the lads from across the pond, but I think that if England picked their ideal available squad, it would probably be a pretty easy summer for the men in white, so I feel that—after a Six Nations that saw Eddie Jones’ tried and tested failed miserably—this is a chance to also give some regulars a summer off to recover, while giving a shot to form players who continually miss out on the squad.
So, with that in mind, I’m going to talk through the squad that I would be selecting this summer.
With both Luke Cowan-Dickie and Jamie George on the plane to South Africa, we’re guaranteed to see some different faces here. This would have been the perfect chance for Harry Thacker to have shown his quality at international level, but unfortunately he has been out since having neck surgery in October and is still not back playing. This chance probably comes a little early for Alfie Barbeary, who has also had some injury issues of late, so I can see him featuring for England A if available while Jack Singleton and Tom Dunn get the spots in the squad.
With Mako Vunipola the only England prop in the initial Lions squad, England have plenty of options here. After missing out on a Lions spot, Kyle Sinckler will be desperate to prove himself in a Test match and will likely be the first-choice injury replacement for the Lions at tighthead, so I keep him in the squad to keep him match-ready. This will also be a perfect opportunity for Ellis Genge to show his quality against slightly weaker set pieces, while hopefully also showing a bit more carrying ability in what should be some fine open games of rugby. Behind them, Will Stuart is the obvious second choice at tight head, who probably gets the starts here to show his quality, while his Bath teammate Beno Obano provides a solid back-up option behind Genge. With 1 spot remaining, the final selection goes to Tom West, who has been around the England squad after a strong season for Wasps.
This is an area where England’s depth will be tested, with Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes in the Lions squad, George Kruis ruled out by his move to Japan and Joe Lunchbury missing through injury. As such, Charlie Ewels is probably the next man up, providing a solid and reliable option with a fair degree of experience. Despite having spent the last season in the Championship, this could be a chance for Joel Kpoku—who will surely be a regular post-RWC2023—to show what he can do, while Nick Isiekwe could make his long-awaited return to the national team. The final spot would then go to Wasps-bound Elliott Stooke, who has found himself in and around the England squad in recent years.
This would have been an ideal opportunity for Zach Mercer and Sam Simmonds to show their quality, but Mercer will be out of contention following his move to Montpellier and Simmonds has deservedly found himself on the plane to South Africa. We all know what Billy Vunipola can do, but England’s struggle has often been in his absence, so I would give him a summer off and use these 2 matches as a chance to look at other options. To me, the answer is obvious, with a thunderous ball carrier, who can also hurt you if given too much clear air: Alex Dombrandt. Ben Earl has found himself as somewhat of a regular on the bench recently and this should be his chance to start, with Mark Wilson or Sam Underhill taking the final starting spot to provide some experience. Filling out the back row spots would be Ted Hill and Lewis Ludlam.
As if the potential of that back row wasn’t enough for you, here’s where things get fun. Ben Youngs ruled him out of selection for the Lions and I see him being given the summer off, while Willi Heinz has missed much of the season through injury. Harry Randall finds himself missing out by the decision to only pick 2 scrum halves for the 2 Tests, but as a result would likely start for England A, while Danny Care unfortunately misses out as the team looks to the future with the 1-2 punch that I have been arguing that England should have used for the last couple of years: Ben Spencer and Dan Robson.
Due to some of the selections elsewhere in the backs, I see England only going for 2 specialist fly halves in this squad. With Owen Farrell out of the picture, I also have George Ford being given the summer off, while the reins of the team are given to Joe Simmonds and Marcus Smith. This then allows for a look at other youngsters in the England A squad, with Jacob Umaga the likely starter and Gloucester’s George Barton backing him up.
Owen Farrell could have appeared here to give some extra playmaking support to the young 10s, but he going to be on Lions duty, while Manu Tuilagi is given the summer off to get fully ready for next season and both Henry Slade and Jonathan Joseph are given a break to test the depth at the position. And what incredible depth there is. Ollie Lawrence will be an obvious pick at 12 as he looks to prove himself at this level, while Joe Marchant and Paolo Odogwu can fight it out for the 13 shirt. Finally, it was hard not to reward Mark Atkinson for his efforts over recent years with Gloucester, but I instead see Piers O’Conor taking the spot due to his versatility.
With both Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly on the Lions Tour, the fullback position seems to be open for Max Malins, who would also be an emergency option at fly half should the worst happen. While he did not have the best of times when previously called up, George Furbank has earned another chance in the squad. With very few caps in the backs, Jonny May retains his place to provide some experience, while Joe Cokanasiga also looks to rekindle his international career. The final spot is taken by May’s Gloucester teammate Ollie Thorley, who has found himself on the fringe of the England squad of late.
How do you think this squad would perform against the USA and Canada? Who would you select if you had the chance?
Thanks for reading! Until next time!