Find out which players Eddie Jones has picked to take on the Springboks in a three-Test series in June
A 32-man England squad to face South Africa
Ali Stokes selects his squad o face the Springboks in June – picked a week before Eddie Jones’s official announcement…
As we approach the final weekend of the regular Aviva Premiership, minds begin to wander with increasing interest towards England’s summer tour to South Africa. Eddie Jones’s men will do battle with a rejuvenated Springbok side now guided by former Munster head coach Rassie Erasmus.
Jones has hinted that he will rest several Lions players for the three-Test series, although the growing list of injury-forced absentees may change his plans, so the squad is likely to feature a few fresh faces.
Ahead of Jones’s squad announcement next week, I’ve picked 32 players to touch down in South Africa in June. This is a squad I believe has the perfect mixture of youth and experience.
While many will be expecting a touring party overflowing with uncapped Premiership stars, we must temper this with the reality of the side Jones is building and the challenge the Springboks tender. England must earn the right to experiment with selection, ensuring two convincing victories before we see anything that resembles a new-look starting XV.
First a look at those players ruled out by injury: Dylan Hartley (concussion), Courtney Lawes (knee), George Kruis (ankle), Nathan Hughes (knee), Jonathan Joseph (ankle) and Anthony Watson (Achilles). Sam Underhill is also a doubt having yet to resume training after suffering a toe injury during the Six Nations.
I would also rest Lions Owen Farrell, Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, Maro Itoje and Dan Cole after their exertions in New Zealand last summer and gruelling 2017-18 campaigns.
With all this in mind, let’s get down to business: here’s my 32-man England squad to tangle with Erasmus’s Boks, with uncapped players marked with a *…
Hookers: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tom Dunn*, Tommy Taylor
With no Dylan Hartley or Jamie George, Cowan-Dickie is sure to feature heavily this June, looking to recreate his club form on South Africa’s fast playing surfaces.
My concerns that Tom Dunn lacked an attacking dimension were abated after his barnstorming performance against Gloucester last weekend. While Tommy Taylor is yet to return to full fitness and form, he impressed enough last season to earn a call-up.
Props: Ellis Genge, Beno Obano*, Joe Marler, Jake Cooper-Woolley*, Kyle Sinckler, Harry Williams,
Kyle Sinckler and Harry Williams are both proven at Test level and will by no means let the side down in Dan Cole’s absence, while Wasps’ Cooper-Woolley has played himself into selection.
Joe Marler’s ill-discipline is close to forcing his exclusion, but without Mako Vunipola, Jones will need Marler’s experience. A close call for Exeter’s Alec Hepburn, who narrowly misses out.
Locks: Charlie Ewels, Nick Isiekwe, Joe Launchbury, Sam Skinner*
Exeter Chiefs lock Sam Skinner is another name that will have been met with a certain amount of surprise.
Over the last few rounds of Premiership action, Skinner has overtaken team-mate Jonny Hill in my eyes and is exhibiting a skill-set and work ethic mirroring the storming form Maro Itoje displayed in 2016.
Back-rows: Tom Curry, James Haskell, Chris Robshaw, Brad Shields*, Billy Vunipola
Even with injuries to Nathan Hughes, Sam Underhill and potentially Billy Vunipola, the back row brings about plenty of selection headaches. Don Armand, Sam Simmonds, Ben Curry, Jono Ross and Jack Willis are all casualties.
Simmonds’s exclusion, in particular, will be greeted with plenty of uproar considering his outstanding club form. While the Exeter dynamo is tearing up the Premiership, in my eyes he simply hasn’t produced against top-tier nations.
Often during the Six Nations, the 23-year-old was driven back in contact, something England simply cannot afford. Simmonds may have better chances at openside than No 8 behind the likes of Tom Curry, Sam Underhill and James Haskell, but must prove his pedigree off the ball.
Obviously, if the hamstring injury Vunipola picked up in Saracens training this week proves serious, things will change.
Half-backs: Danny Care, Dan Robson*, Ben Youngs, George Ford, Marcus Smith*
At half-back, there is no way Jones will travel without a fit Ben Youngs and Danny Care, but it’s time to break the ritual of travelling with just two scrum-halves and include Dan Robson. England need another dimension and Robson is the man to either provide it or bring it out of Youngs and Care.
George Ford will continue his reign in the No 10 jersey but should be backed up by Marcus Smith, who has more than proven this season that he can operate at a level of maturity ten years his senior.
Joe Simmonds will be on Smith’s tail for a call-up, but the Harlequin has spent far more time in the England camp and edges a second Simmonds brother out of the touring party.
Centres: Alex Lozowski, Joe Marchant*, Henry Slade, Ben Te’o
My midfield selections are fairly self-explanatory, with Lozowski, Marchant, Slade and Te’o all firmly in Eddie’s plans. While Gloucester flyer Henry Trinder is hot on the heels of Marchant and Slade, Manu Tuilagi is yet to prove his durability and form.
Outside backs: Mike Brown, Elliot Daly, Gabriel Ibitoye*, Jack Nowell, Jason Woodward*
Jason Woodward is a man that simply must tour alongside the usual suspects this summer. Jack Nowell and Elliot Daly both played for the Lions, but missed significant portions of the season through injury and are not in need of rest to the same extent of the five left at home.
Gabriel Ibitoye must also tour this summer as an apprentice, furthering his progression under the Jones regime.
This is a squad that I believe strikes the best balance of the tried and tested with potential bolters. While I considered the inclusion of players like Jack Willis and Ben Vellacott, we are at risk of not giving South Africa the respect they deserve. First and foremost, Jones will select a side with the aim of winning the series 3-0 and that means taking many of the men who featured in the Six Nations, despite the abysmal campaign.
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