There are plenty of talking points in the 31-man England squad Eddie Jones has picked to tour Argentina in June
Fifteen uncapped players. Four teenagers. A dozen players 22 or under. Seven players aged 30 or over, including only two backs (Mike Brown and Danny Care). Six players with 50 or more caps. Fourteen years between the youngest and oldest members of the squad – the Curry twins, Ben and Tom, at 18 and James Haskell at 32.
Those are a few standout stats from the 31-man England squad Eddie Jones has picked to tour Argentina this summer. The phrase ‘a mix of youth and experience’ is often bandied about in sport and Jones has delivered that here. There are those players who have been around the squad for nigh-on a decade – Haskell, Care, Brown and captain Dylan Hartley – and those who would have been expecting to travel to Georgia for the U20 World Cup this summer – the Curry brothers, lock Nick Isiekwe and Joe Cokanasiga, the London Irish wing.
Jones has long talked about his desire to increase the depth of talent at his disposal and have three quality players in every position. With 16 England players in Warren Gatland’s Lions squad, England’s two June Tests against the Pumas give Jones the chance to cast an eye over fresh faces.
“This is a great opportunity to test the depth of English rugby,” says the head coach. “We know it’s a tough tour and it’s a great testing ground. We’ve got a combination of experienced players and bright young talent which we’re extremely excited by. We’ve put a particular focus on youth and want to find players who are better than the 16 players on the Lions tour. We’re looking to discover the best young talent in England. To win the World Cup you need to have the best talent.”
Jones’s aims are clear. First, he wants to win the series 2-0. Second, he wants these young players to add an extra impetus to training and drive standards, so that when he has a full complement of players to choose from in November there is huge competition for places, with some Lions struggling to get back into the Test 23.
“We’re looking to improve the squad and feel these younger guys can take the squad to another level,” says Jones. “It’s an opportunity to really take the side forward. We don’t want these young guys to wait for senior players to ask them to do things, we want the to come in and push the envelope. We want them to come in and raise the intensity of training. The only thing the senior players should be asking them to do is to tone it down.”
Looking ahead to Japan 2019, Jones still expects 65-75% of his Six Nations-winning squad to be involved – but it’s the other 25% he’s excited about and believes they could come through on this tour.
As for those players to miss out who have been around the squad in the past 12 months – Marland Yarde, Semesa Rokoduguni, Tommy Taylor and Dan Robson to name just four – Jones has a simple message: “Work harder and get more desperate, get obsessed with being better.”
So what do we know about the uncapped players in the squad? Here’s a look at a few of them. With only two scrum-halves in the squad, Exeter’s Jack Maunder will win his first cap in Argentina. Described as “cheeky” by Jones, the 20-year-old started the season on loan at Plymouth Albion but has quickly become a Chiefs regular.
Cokanasiga has achieved that rare feat of being picked in an England squad despite not playing in the Aviva Premiership – he’s trying to help London Irish win promotion back to the top flight from the Greene King IPA Championship. He stood out for England U20 in their Grand Slam-winning campaign and when asked why he picked the teenager, Jones replied succinctly: “He’s big and he’s fast.”
Piers Francis and Sam Underhill are another two who aren’t currently playing in the Premiership – but they will be at Northampton and Bath respectively next season.
Francis, a fly-half/centre, has featured in Super Rugby for the Blues in the past couple of years having previously appeared for Doncaster and Edinburgh, but he faces plenty of competition to get a Test cap with the likes of Alex Lozowski, Henry Slade, Harry Mallinder and Sam James also covering those positions.
Underhill has been on the radar for a while but has only become available for selection since confirming his move from the Ospreys to Bath and is likely to get a go at openside flanker in June.
There’s a fresh and exciting feel to this England squad, and there’s certainly plenty of attacking threats in the back division. The one area Argentina will look to capitalise is the scrum, where the Pumas are known for their power and skill.
England are without their four best props – looseheads Mako Vunipola and Joe Marler and tightheads Dan Cole and Kyle Sinckler – and Matt Mullan, with 15 caps, is the most experienced prop going on this tour. The other four options have only six caps between them, with two of the tightheads, Will Collier and Harry Williams, uncapped and the third, Paul Hill, yet to start a Test.
Hartley will need to show his leadership up front because if England can’t get decent set-piece ball, they won’t be able to utilise those dangerous options out wide.
Overall, though, what this squad underlines is the sheer amount of talent in English rugby. There are 16 players with the Lions, just as many players who would make other Test sides but will be sitting on the beach this summer, and yet this 31-man squad that is crammed with quality. Jones is in an enviable position.
ENGLAND SQUAD TO TOUR ARGENTINA
Will Collier (25, Harlequins, uncapped)
Luke Cowan-Dickie (23, Exeter, 4 caps)
Ben Curry (18, Sale, uncapped)
Tom Curry (18, Sale, uncapped)
Charlie Ewels (21, Bath, 3 caps)
Ellis Genge (22, Leicester, 1 cap)
Dylan Hartley (31, Northampton, 84 caps)
James Haskell (32, Wasps, 75 caps)
Paul Hill (22, Northampton, 5 caps)
Nathan Hughes (25, Wasps, 8 caps)
Nick Isiekwe (19, Saracens, uncapped)
Joe Launchbury (26, Wasps, 42 caps)
Matt Mullan (30, Wasps, 15 caps)
Chris Robshaw (30, Harlequins, 55 caps)
Sam Underhill (20, Ospreys/Bath, uncapped)
Harry Williams (25, Exeter, uncapped)
Tom Wood (30, Northampton, 50 caps)
Mike Brown (31, Harlequins, 60 caps)
Danny Care (30, Harlequins, 71 caps)
Joe Cokanasiga (19, London Irish, uncapped)
Nathan Earle (22, Saracens, uncapped)
George Ford (24, Bath Rugby, 35 caps)
Piers Francis (26, Auckland Blues/Northampton, uncapped)
Sam James (22, Sale, uncapped)
Alex Lozowski (23, Saracens, uncapped)
Harry Mallinder (20, Northampton, uncapped)
Joe Marchant (20, Harlequins, uncapped)
Jack Maunder (20, Exeter, uncapped)
Jonny May (27, Gloucester, 25 caps)
Henry Slade (24, Exeter, 4 caps)
Denny Solomona (23, Sale, uncapped)
Sat 10 June Argentina v England, San Juan (8.15pm)
Sat 17 June Argentina v England, Santa Fe (8.15pm)
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