England squad to face Australia:
Forwards: Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs), Jack Clifford (Harlequins), Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers), Jamie George (Saracens), Teimana Harrison (Northampton Saints), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), James Haskell (Wasps), Paul Hill (Northampton Saints), Maro Itoje (Saracens), George Kruis (Saracens), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Matt Mullan (Wasps), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins), Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins), Billy Vunipola (Saracens), Mako Vunipola (Saracens)
Backs: Mike Brown (Harlequins), Danny Care (Harlequins), Elliot Daly (Wasps), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Bath Rugby), Alex Goode (Saracens), Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby), Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs), Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs), Ben Te’o (Worcester Warriors), Luther Burrell (Northampton Saints), Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby), Marland Yarde (Harlequins), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers).
The memories of English rugby’s most disastrous showing in their history, the early exit of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, appear to be a thing of the past – well mostly. The title of ‘Grand Slam Champions’ can now be attributed to England, following 13 years without it, and with their impressive 27-13 win over Wales on Sunday further adding to the successful start of 2016, they head into the tour of Australia with a real belief they can make their mark on the Southern Hemisphere and come away with a series win.
The core of England’s World Cup team still remain; the likes of Chris Robshaw, Owen Farrell and Dan Cole still at the heart of the squad, but this new look England brings with it exuberant youth and a new-found desire to be the best. Dylan Hartley has reinvented himself as a dependable and smart player, illustrated throughout his short but very successful captaincy thus far, and as England look to regain the mantle of being the world’s best they face a rejuvenated Australia who, under Michael Cheika, are playing better than they have for years.
I have a good idea of the team I’d love to see play the first test in Brisbane; it would be a young side that lacks experience in certain areas but makes up for it with high skill levels, bags of potential and unrelenting professionalism:
Fullback: Mike Brown Wing (L): Anthony Watson Wing (R): Marland Yarde Outside Centre: Jonathan Joseph Inside Centre: Henry Slade Fly Half: Owen Farrell Scrum Half: Ben Youngs Loosehead Prop: Mako Vunipola Tighthead Prop: Dan Cole Hooker: Dylan Hartley Locks: Joe Launchbury/Maro Itoje Blindside Flanker: Teimana Harrison Openside Flanker: Jack Clifford Number 8: Billy Vunipola
I think the 9-10-12 combination of Youngs, Farrell and Slade would help complement each other’s game and would be the focal point for England in both their attack and defence.
Slade is equally adept at playing fly half and with his ball carrying prowess he makes a fantastic partner to Jonathan Joseph who, when given the space, is as clinical as anyone in world rugby. Farrell has come off the back of an extremely successful season with Saracens and will deservedly wear the number 10 jersey. The choice between scrum half’s is a tough one; Ben Youngs & Danny Care have both had successful seasons but Care has become somewhat of a super sub in recent years for England and plays the role very effectively.
Whilst in the back row, my choice of Clifford and Harrison is based off their performance against Wales on Sunday and their domestic seasons where they both excelled in their roles. I am fully aware that removing Chris Robshaw and James Haskell from the starting lineup, given their impact during England’s Six Nations Grand Slam campaign, would be controversial but Clifford and Harrison bring an injection of pace and raw rugby playing ability that I believe England lacks in that department.
This line up for me, although bold, is the direction that England need to be heading in if they really want to compete in the next World Cup in Japan. Realistically though, Jones is likely to select a team that resembles that of the Grand Slam winners:
Fullback: Mike Brown Wing (L): Anthony Watson Wing (R): Jack Nowell Outside Centre: Jonathan Joseph Inside Centre: Luther Burrell Fly Half: Owen Farrell Scrum Half: Ben Youngs Loosehead Prop: Mako Vunipola Tighthead Prop: Dan Cole Hooker: Dylan Hartley Locks: George Kruis/Maro Itoje Blindside Flanker: Chris Robshaw Openside Flanker: James Haskell Number 8: Billy Vunipola
I do believe that whatever the team selection, Eddie Jones knows his players and will pick a team he feels is capable of getting a result against Australia.
In the World Cup 2015, although that seems like a lifetime ago and England have made massive strides as a team, there were key areas that crippled their chances of winning, thus making them the most important areas to focus on for this tour:
Power of the set-piece: The impact of Dylan Hartley, as well as George Kruis and Maro Itoje, has tightened up an England lineout that was repeatedly found wanting in the World Cup and now allows them to genuinely threaten the opposition from the set-piece, as illustrated in the Six Nations. If England wants to be in with a chance of claiming a series win they must be clinical in winning their own possession at the set-piece and disrupting the opposition’s, both in the lineout and scrum.
Ball retention: An area that really stood out for me during the Six Nations was England’s ability to retain possession for several phases and consequently starve the opposition of the ball. Against Australia in the World Cup England were on the receiving end of this, directly attributable to both Michael Hooper and David Pocock, and weren’t able to create any momentum because they didn’t hold onto the ball long enough. If England stands any chance they have to sort the breakdown out and in doing so nullify the impact of the Wallaby duo in the back row; inevitably the two men will play a pivotal role throughout the series but by denying them easy opportunities England will profit in the long run.
Clinical play: When England plays they often create several point scoring chances throughout the match; where they have fallen down in the past, however, is being clinical about these opportunities and ensuring pressure is turned into points. England were more clinical during the Six Nations than they have been for some time, and if they’re to challenge Australia this month then they need to replicate it throughout the tour and make sure Australia aren’t given room to breathe.
The series itself is going to offer up some great rugby, I have no doubt, and hopefully it will give a chance for some of the younger members of England’s squad to express themselves against a well-established Wallaby team. England will be going over with one mentality, to win, but they must make sure that the basics are executed well and the foundations for England’s future are set in terms of their style. England possesses ample talent in their squad and hopefully this tour will provide the perfect base to nurture and progress it.
Betting Tips: If we look at the home Nations on their respective tours, England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland, there is certainly money to be made in terms of series head-to-head scores.
England: I genuinely believe England has what it takes to go to Australia and win the series, but it will be close. I would have England to win 2-1.
Ireland: Ireland has been plagued by injuries from the Pro-12 final on the weekend, and coming up against a formidable South African team they are going to struggle. The matches will be close but I feel that it’s going to be a 3-0 series win for the Springboks.
Wales: Wales had an indifferent Six Nations and after their somewhat plateaued performance against Wales on Saturday a tour of New Zealand is potentially the last thing they need. New Zealand will win the series 3-0 and for me it will be with relative comfort.
Scotland: Scotland have two tests against Japan this June, and with the Cherry Blossoms having come off their best World Cup showing, and as newly crowned Asian Champions, Vern Cotter’s men will have their work cut out. I believe that ultimately, given the talent Scotland have at their disposal, Scotland will win both the tests, 2-0. It wouldn’t surprise me, however, if both teams shared the spoils and the series was drawn.
(Images sourced from The Express, The Telegraph)