England’s Six Nations squad announcement: Our thoughts

Awaiting the announcement of England’s Six Nations squad is always an exciting time.

But Wednesday’s press conference carried with it a media furore and sense of anticipation that hadn’t been felt in the hallowed corridors of Twickenham since before England embarked on their ill-fated WRC campaign last September.

The reason? A new man in the driving seat: England’s first ever foreign coach, Australian Eddie Jones.

And with a new boss comes a new culture, coaching team, and most crucially, personnel.

There were a lot of talking points raised by England’s Six Nations squad, so we thought we’d chip in with a few of our own thoughts too.

Giving youth a chance – one eye on Japan

There are seven uncapped players in England’s Six Nations squad – with the eldest, Elliot Daly, only 23 years old.

All seven have played big roles in the successful England age-group sides of late, with both Jack Clifford and Mario Itoje captaining England to Junior World Championship titles in 2013 and 2014.

Will the new faces go straight into the side? Jerry Guscott thinks so, stating: “I would not be surprised if he puts a lot of these young guys straight in to face Scotland.”

Indeed, now does seem the time to make a clean break from the World Cup debacle, and give fresh blood a chance.

Former England fly-half Stuart Barnes has singled out Jack Clifford as the key new man in the squad – regarding him as a potential solution to the persistent questions that have surrounded England’s open-side since the retirement of Neil Back.

Jack Clifford in action for Harlequins
Jack Clifford in action for Harlequins

Six foot four, and well over 17 stone, Clifford has demonstrated sheer power in his performances for Harlequins this season.

However, we still expect to see the more familiar faces playing centre stage when England line up on 6 February.

As Guscott notes: “Joe Launchbury, Dan Cole, Courtney Lawes, James Haskell and Billy Vunipola will have 60, 70, 80 caps by then [Japan 2019].”

England massively underachieved at the World Cup, but that doesn’t mean they were lacking good players – even the most critical fan must admit that.

Expect a reaction from many of them in this Six Nations. And expect the likes of Launchbury, Lawes and Watson to be among the world-leading internationals by 2019.

An expansive, free-flowing strategy and side?

In the weeks before the announcement of England’s Six Nations squad Jones told the media that he was looking to “increase the tempo” of English rugby, and would favour players who “express themselves”.

Recalls for Chris Ashton and Marlon Yarde show a keenness to add alternative pace options, while Elliot Daly’s all round game at 13 for Wasps has gained him plaudits across Europe.

england's six nations squad
Elliot Daly

Mixed with deft hands of new-kid Ollie Devoto at centre, and Josh (son of Bill) Beaumont in the pack, England do look to have the potential to build a ball-playing side.

However, it seems unlikely that Daly, Devoto or Beaumont will be in the starting 15, and will all be fighting to make the 23.

Jones’ decision to leave out the maverick stand-off Danny Cipriani has irked many of his fans. Even if most would agree that Cipriani is third in the pecking order at ten, he symbolises boldness and expansionism in the English game.

Furthermore, at the squad announcement, Jones hinted that he wanted to focus on the more basic elements of the game – principally the set piece – possibly one reason for the omission of Tom Youngs, a somewhat suspect lineout thrower.

Jones has warned fans not to expect “some radical new-age rugby”. Certainly, he’s correct in his assessment that “no-one plays lovely rugby and comes third”.

Our thoughts? Don’t expect too much in terms of playing style too soon – but there is definite potential for scintillating attacking play in the future.

Hard done by? Some big omissions

England’s Six Nations squad is missing a number of names we grew accustomed to seeing on a regular basis in the Lancaster-era.

Gone are the stalwarts Tom Youngs, Tom Wood, Geoff Parling and Brad Barritt, as well as the usual squad players of Wigglesworth, Wilson, Webber, Easter and the aforementioned Cipriani.

Other queried missing names are Joe Simpson, the in-form Wasps scrum-half, and Kyle Eastmond – the preferred man outside George Ford at Bath.

Many pundits have been surprised at the extent of Jones’ cull. Given the length of England’s injury list, most conceded the overhaul to the squad would likely be less than the Australian might have hoped to implement.

However, this doesn’t seem to have been the case.

The likes of Barritt and Wood will feel they haven’t done much wrong other than perhaps be synonymous with the failure of Lancaster’s regime.

Barritt in particular might feel hard done by. He’s at the core of the all-conquering Saracens side, and with England tipped to shift Owen Farrell to 12 in Tuilagi’s absence, may feel he deserved a shot as a specialist inside-centre.

Youngs and Parling have suffered to increased competition. The rise of Jamie George and George Kruis at Saracens raised the stakes at both hooker and lock respectively – and the pair are well deserving of their places in the squad.

Time will tell if Jones lives to rue his selection decisions, but while you can make a case for a number of the omitted players, the increase in competition across the squad can only be a good thing looking ahead to Japan 2019.

As Jones puts it, those missing from the squad “know what they need to do… The door is not shut for anyone.”

A shrewd decision to not announce captain

Dylan Hartley alongside former captain Chris Robshaw
Dylan Hartley alongside former captain Chris Robshaw

No captain has yet been named.

Jones has elected to bide his time, saying: “We’ve got 33 players. That goes down to 23 players, that goes down to 15 players. When we’ve got 15 players, then we’ll worry about the captain.”

The decision looks to be a wise one. Without any one candidate standing far above the others, Jones’ admission that the captain will initially only be in place for the tournament seems sensible.

Given that selection is up for grabs from prop through to full-back “England must not be caught… selecting the second best player in their position just because they are captain” says Stuart Barnes.

While Dylan Hartley has been the bookies’ favourite for the role, his recent injury worries and the excellent form of Jamie George has prompted questioning whether he is necessarily an automatic pick for the entire tournament.

Joe Launchbury has been tipped in some quarters as a potential captain – and his place in the side does seem more assured.

More left field tips come in the form of Itoje and full-back Mike Brown.

By downgrading the significance of his captain Jones will be going someway to alleviating the pressure that crippled Robshaw against Wales in the World Cup, as well as avoiding setting anything in stone – offering flux and development over the coming years as England build towards another World Cup.

England’s Six Nations squad – a summary

The presence of the likes of Beaumont, Itoje and Daly will have caught the imagination of rugby fans across the country.

However, it is how Jones blends them with the more experienced players that will decide England’s Six Nations fate.

Whatever 15 run out at Murrayfield next month, we can all be excited to witness the birth of a new era of English rugby.

If you’re keen to attend any of England’s Six Nations fixtures including clashes against Ireland and France in Paris, or want to know about any of our other sports tours then do get in touch.

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