By Will Tweedy
The future of England’s rugby looks undeniably exciting. There was uncertainty in the team following the 2019 World Cup Final. But Jones’ side proved their capability in an unbeaten Autumn Internationals series, climaxing with a heroic 27-26 victory over world-champions South Africa.
Throughout their international trilogy, England triumphed: 69-3 against Tonga; 32-15 against Australia and 27-26 against South Africa. The team showcased a masterclass of young talent, enthusiasm, and a collection of marvellous Movember efforts.
Spectators and fans, whether watching avidly at home, or lucky enough to part of the 80,000 back in Twickenham, may have seen some unfamiliar faces on the pitch. In particular, Jones’ line-up against South Africa attracted a lot of attention, with Jones putting all his trust in a very young English side.
With Farrell out through injury, all eyes were on Marcus ‘the hair goes one way, the body goes the other’ Smith. Other newcomers to the team include Freddie Steward (getting his fourth cap); Raffi Quirke (1 cap); Joe Marchant (6 caps); Bevan Rodd (1 cap); Jamie Blamire (4 caps); Alex Dombrandt (3 caps) and Nic Dolly (uncapped).
Jones’ side stood up to the Springbok challenge well: Smith (22 years old) continued his 100% kick–conversion rate, whilst Steward (20 years old) was undeniably lethal under the high ball, bragging a 90% catch rate throughout the series. The each member of the duo has individually been nominated for ‘Player of the Series’ – fighting for the title alongside rugby titans like Eben Etzebeth of South Africa and France’s Atoine Dupont. It seems they are definitely fighting for their place in England’s first XV for next year’s Six Nations.
Moving into 2022, Jones has an incredible depth of squad to choose his 15 from. Whilst fans were excited to see old-time favourite Tuilagi return to the wing, and the likes of Sinckler, Marler, and Lawes weighing down the scrums once more, it appears that Jones is tempted to experiment with the magical flair of the youngsters.
Farrell’s time as captain could be coming to an end, and the golden age of Jonny May’s miraculous solo tries is perhaps dying out. We need something new.
However, there needs to be a balance. Whilst the future of the squad does appear to be secure with the youngsters, Jones will be looking to the more experienced players to offer guidance and act as role models.
Against South Africa, Jones seemed to be experimenting with this balance well. The reliable hands of Ben Youngs (111 caps) provided an underlying grounding and security for the backs.
Youngs’ reliability and constancy took a huge weight off Smith’s shoulders at fly-half, allowing Smith to perform with such energy and flair. Whilst England may not have a half-time ‘bomb-squad’ (like South Africa) they do, however, have the anchorage of Joe Marler. With over 60 caps, Marler’s impact on the team is colossal; his leadership is vital for the younger players as the likes of Rodd and Stuart start looking to fill his boots.
The two sides of England’s team, the old and the new, worked well throughout the game. England oldie, Manu Tuilagi, bagged himself a try in the sixth minute of the South Africa game. However, it was only because of the creativity and vision of Smith that gave him the opportunity to score.
Likewise, Raffi Quirke’s 65th minute try was a combination of the seasoned hands of Henry Slade, with the new insight offered by Joe Marchant and the energetic support run of Quirke himself.
The future of England Rugby rests in finding the balance between the traditional ‘old’ playing style of England, with the creative and rapid speed of the next generation. The Six Nations, as ever, will provide an excellent platform for Jones to see what works, or rather who works: finding the perfect formula for the team to continue their quest to become world champions.
Image: Alasdair Massie via flickr