As Stuart Lancaster’s side gear up for the empty exercise of a dead-rubber against Uruguay, we select an England team that could launch an assault on Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan

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15. Mat Protheroe
Current number of caps: 0
Age at start of Rugby World Cup 2019: 22
A left-field pick to headline the team-sheet, but if Protheroe’s jaw-dropping progress in age-group rugby continues – and England can keep him away from the clutches of Wales, his country of birth – he could be impossible to ignore. Blessed with electric pace, kicking accuracy and the skilful awareness of a natural first-receiver, the prodigy was signed up by Gloucester this spring amid a number of circling suitors.

Big future: Mat Protheroe breaks during the Singha Premiership Rugby 7s

Big future: Mat Protheroe breaks during the Singha Premiership Rugby 7s

14. Anthony Watson
Current number of caps:
14
Age at start of RWC 2019:
25
Fleeting moments of indecision this tournament were comprehensively overshadowed by Watson’s finishing and he also looked close to Israel Folau in terms of aerial prowess. Those two gifts are forged from rare athleticism. The Bath tyro is going nowhere.

13. Manu Tuilagi
Current number of caps:
25
Age at start of RWC 2019: 28
Jonathan Joseph is extremely unlucky to miss out here, but a fully-firing, injury-free Tuilagi amid a phalanx of pacey distributors makes for a mouth-watering backline blend. It is easy to forget how young he is and, at his destructive best, the Leicester Tiger can obliterate any gain-line defence.

Runaway train: The Manu Tuilagi Express gathers pace against New Zealand

Runaway train: The Manu Tuilagi Express gathers pace against New Zealand

12. Henry Slade 
Current number of caps: 1
Age at start of RWC 2019: 26
Without wishing to elevate expectations unduly before he wins his second cap at the weekend, it would be a significant surprise if Slade has not hit at least 30 Tests before the next World Cup. On Saturday, Australia and Matt Giteau demonstrated the value of a classy, left-footed playmaker at inside centre. Slade is good enough to perform a similar role.

11. Jack Nowell
Current number of caps:
9
Age at start of RWC 2019: 26
Deceptively strong and positionally astute, Nowell was unfortunate not to see a minute of game-time while England were alive in Pool A. Even so, he will have taken a great deal from in-camp life. Now, expect him to kick on at Sandy Park. Ever-improving Jonny May and lightning youngster Nathan Earle are sure to be in the shake-up as well.

10. George Ford
Current number of caps: 16
Age at start of RWC 2019: 26
As England desperately attempted to claw their way back into contention against the Wallabies, Ford appeared close to the levels that wowed us during the Six Nations. Owen Farrell’s tenacious traits are certainly important – the Saracen was outstanding in defeat to Wales – but the Bath man must assume the driving seat for the next four years.

Matador: George ford evades the tackle of Tevita Kuridrani

Matador: George ford evades the tackle of Tevita Kuridrani

9. Ben Youngs
Current number of caps:
52
Age at start of RWC 2019: 30
Turning 30 the day before proceedings get underway in Japan, Youngs should have plenty in the tank for a third World Cup – by which time he and Ford will have a decade behind them as a half-back partnership.  With a burly pack of solid set-piece operators in front of him, his matured attacking instincts should come to the fore.

1. Joe Marler
Current number of caps: 36
Age at start of RWC 2019: 29
Well-publicised struggles over the past two months do not change the fact that Marler is, at peak form, one of the premier scrummaging looseheads on the planet. A scything cover tackle on Matt Giteau last weekend underlined open-play value too. Before the Six Nations, he should be encouraged to rediscover the spiky streak that characterised his initial rise to senior international honours. With 36 Tests to his name now, Marler should be a gnarled 60-capper by the next global tournament.

2. Jamie George
Current number of caps: 2
Age at start of RWC 2019: 28
Specialist throwing coach Simon Hardy rates George’s core skills among the best of the hookers he has worked with over the past decade. His ballast and technique in the scrum make for an all-round set-piece package without compromising on mobility or work-rate. A calm head might see him assume a leadership role as well.

Dead-eye darts: Jamie George prepares to throw in

Dead-eye darts: Jamie George prepares to throw in

3. Paul Hill
Current number of caps:
0
Age at start of RWC 2019: 24
It will take something special to oust Dan Cole, who is only 28 now and easily capable of making it a hat-trick of World Cups. Hill is a sufficiently extraordinary talent to do so. A stand-out of last season’s England Under 20 crop and the cornerstone of a 28-20 victory over South Africa, the ex-Yorkshire Carnegie prop moved to Northampton Saints in the summer. His reputation will only rocket from here.

4. Joe Launchbury
Current number of caps: 27
Age at start of RWC 2019: 28
Effervescent during the loss to the Wallabies, Launchbury laid a foundation from which to move on into the next four-year cycle. Though some have mooted captaincy, it would be more beneficial for England were he left free to concentrate on hitting the world-class bracket in as many matches as possible.

5. Maro Itoje (captain)
Current number of caps: 
0
Age at start of RWC 2019: 24
Having excelled in every challenge thrown his way over a short career to date, it would be a waste to hold Itoje back any longer. Authority seeps from the lock’s every pore and he has spent pre-season captaining Saracens – following on from a silverware-drenched campaign in 2014/5. Itoje did not even reach the Denver phase of England’s preparations for the World Cup, which will only have fuelled his determination. By 2019, he should have a couple of years in the top job behind him.

Rising star: Maro Itoje makes a tackle on England Saxons duty

Rising star: Maro Itoje makes a tackle on England Saxons duty

6. Dave Ewers
Current number of caps:
0
Age at start of RWC 2019: 28
This bloke is a phenomenon in terms of power and natural ability, who contributes in every facet – carrying, offloading, destructive defence and rock-solid breakdown work. The Zimbabwe-born Exeter Chief mixed it with a very strong Ireland Wolfhounds back-row boasting Sean O’Brien in January and was an odd omission from Lancaster’s initial party of 50. Expect him to make up for lost time rather quickly.

7. Jack Clifford
Current number of caps:
0
Age at start of RWC 2019: 26
Will Fraser has already made waves in pre-season since returning from injury and is certain to figure in England’s auditions for a fetcher to rival David Pocock, as is Matt Kvesic. The sheer speed of Clifford – with a short spell in Simon Amor’s sevens set-up behind him – is a perfect foil for the two burlier specimens either side. He brings impressive strength in contact from his time as an age-group No 8 and will build on decent pilfering by learning of nuances from Harlequins colleagues Luke Wallace, Chris Robshaw and Nick Easter.

Livewire: Jack Clifford scores against the Barbarians

Livewire: Jack Clifford scores against the Barbarians

8. Billy Vunipola
Current number of caps: 21
Age at start of RWC 2019: 26
Addressing the press last week, shortly after Billy Vunipola’s knee injury had ruled the No 8 out of the current World Cup, Mike Catt said the Saracen had “another two or three World Cups left in him.” It was no exaggeration. If the younger Vunipola can consistently reproduce his 2015 Six Nations efforts, he will be spoken about in the same conversations as Sergio Parisse and Kieran Read by the time his career is done. More responsibility – maybe even vice-captaincy – could help him hit those levels.

Replacements

16. Luke Cowan-Dickie
Current number of caps:
1
Age at start of RWC 2019: 26
A rough diamond that will thrive with a bit of polishing, and some guidance from Dylan Hartley and Tom Youngs – either of whom could contest the third hooker berth with young Jack Walker.

17. Mako Vunipola
Current number of caps:
26
Age at start of RWC 2019: 28
You only need to look at his club displays, both domestically and in big European clashes, to gauge his star quality.

18. Kieran Brookes
Current number of caps:
15
Age at start of RW 2019: 29
Another tighthead joining Northampton, Brookes is on the verge of a career-defining period.

19. Courtney Lawes
Current number of caps:
42
Age at start of RWC 2019: 30
If he wants it enough, he will be a big part of England’s next chapter. It is as simple as that.

20. Nathan Hughes
Current number of caps: 0
Age at start of RWC 2019: 28
June 2016 is the month Fiji-born Hughes qualifies on residency. The rangy offloader will bring a game-breaking edge to England not long after that.

Incoming: Nathan Hughes qualifies for England in June 2016

Incoming: Nathan Hughes qualifies for England in June 2016

21. Dan Robson
Current number of caps:
0
Age at start of RWC 2019: 27
A sniping scrum-half ambitious enough to take on Joe Simpson for a first-team spot at Wasps from this coming season, Robson has all the tools.

22. Owen Farrell
Current number of caps:
35
Age at start of RWC 2019: 27
He cops ridiculous flak from armchair supporters, but is an invaluable lieutenant offering charisma and experience.

23. Jonathan Joseph
Currrent number of caps:
15
Age at start of RWC 2019: 28
All bases are covered in the starting backline, so Joseph’s guile is a great option to unlock stubborn opponents. Of course, if Tuilagi heads to Toulouse, Joseph will be ensconced in the number 13 shirt. Elliot Daly is another, possibly more versatile, candidate.

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  • James Batchelor

    Replace Ben Youngs for Joe Simpson, Drop Joe Marler. Replace Jack Nowell with Charlie Sharples, replace Jack Clifford with Matt Kvesic. god knows why you have 2 centres on the bench and nothing for the back 3! Put Wade on the bench instead of Owen Farrell.

  • the_fighting_temeraire

    Joe Simpson at Scrum Half?

  • John Stanbury

    Not bad but Protheroe is a quantum leap! I could see Watson eventually at 15, Clifford has mostly played 6 for Quins. Mahler is not a good enough scrumager at the highest level. You heard it here first, NICK AUTERAC! is who I’d have at LH and I’d have a fit Corbisiero ahead of Marler! George was the form hooker in the premiership last year and has the best all round skill-set of any English hooker. Should have started ahead of Tom Youngs in RWC, who is a great player to come of the bench if England are behind. You cant completely rejig the entire England pack, Parling in for Lawes Attwood or Kruis and Wood for Haskell just to improve our lineout and compensate for Tom Youngs’ vagaries!

  • Alex

    I can’t believe JJ is replaced by Manu at 13. He is world class in my opinion and I think many people will agree. England play much better attacking rugby, which is why I watch the sport at the end of the day and attracts new rugby fans, not just running into people and putting big hits in. Every time he touches the ball something good happens! He’s got great hands, an unbelievable step and he’s quick too. I think Slade and Manu will be competing for the 12 jersey, not the 13.

  • andy

    Shout out for Christian Wade, who has improved massively in the past couple of years, if he keeps his pace he can be a real weapon in 4 years…