England rugby: one eye on the future

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The Autumn international series kicks off on Saturday 30th October as Scotland play Tonga, Ireland face the USA and Wales entertain the All Blacks.

England will have to wait until the following weekend to kick off their Autumn campaign as they play Tonga at Twickenham at 3:15 on Saturday 6th November.

The Autumn Nations series offers international sides an opportunity for development ahead of the 2023 World Cup in France. After a disappointing end to the recent Lions series in South Africa, all the home nations will be looking to strengthen their squads to compete with the Southern Hemisphere sides

Eddie Jones has therefore named a squad full of exciting and unheralded young players in the hopes of improving on their second place finish in the 2019 World Cup.

All the home nations will be looking to strengthen their squads to compete with the Southern Hemisphere sides.

Four players are set to make their debut under Eddie Jones: Leicester Hooker Nic Dolly, Sale scrum-half Raffie Quirke, Northampton full-back Tommy Freeman and Gloucester Centre Mark Atkinson.

The performances of these players in the Premiership have earned them consideration for the England squad for rugby union’s biggest tournament and Jones has given them the chance to assert themselves this Autumn.

As well as the four players set to make their debuts, young England players who have been on the peripheries are expected to earn some valuable game time on the international stage. 

Marcus Smith, the exciting Harlequins fly-half is set to start for England in the Autumn, a move that many England fans have been calling for since he burst onto the scene.

Smith’s Harlequins team-mate, Alex Dombrandt, will be hoping to capitalise on his great domestic performances and challenge for a spot in England’s competitive back-row line-up.

Returning 23-year-old scrum-half, Harry Randall, will be aware of the opportunity to become England’s first choice number nine as Ben Youngs and Willie Heinz may struggle to make it into the 2023 world cup squad. Randall will be looking over his shoulder at Raffie Quirke on his debut who will also be trying to fill the starting position.

On his squad selection, Jones said, “This is a young but very good, talented squad who have all earned their places. It is one of the most competitive squads I have ever picked.”

Jones followed this statement with a thought for those who did not make the cut for this Autumn reassuring the England players who will be staying at home this Autumn that, “no door is closed to any player.”

Jones will have one eye on retribution for the 32-12 loss in their last meeting.

Notable absentees from the squad are Billy and Mako Vunipola, as well as Fly Half George Ford. 

George Ford’s absence leaves the door open for Marcus Smith and suggests a change of style within the English team to allow for more free-flowing rugby as Smith has proven to be a more explosive player than Ford.

Billy Vunipola has struggled to regain the form from his barnstorming heyday and may have been replaced for good in the England squad. When considering the strength in depth that England has at the number eight position, it is difficult to see Vunipola making a return.

England’s sternest test this Autumn will come as they play the current world and Lions series champions, South Africa, on 20th November. Jones will have one eye on retribution for the 32-12 loss in their last meeting and another on getting his young players up to full speed internationally.

The squad would suggest that Jones is primarily concerned with performance and development for the future, rather than the result in the present. 

Victory may be of secondary importance to Jones and to England as they fix their sights on the greater prize of the 2023 world cup. Instilling confidence and structure in a young England side will be the key to future success.

Image: SouthEastern Star via Creative Commons

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