Jacob Whitehead has looked into his crystal ball to pick an England team for the next World Cup in France
An England XV for the 2023 Rugby World Cup
The blow of England’s loss in the Rugby World Cup final has been softened in some quarters by the idea that this team may not have peaked yet. After all, they had the youngest average age of any team to ever take the field in a World Cup final in the professional era. But how could they look in four years’ time? Here’s a possible England starting XV for France 2023…
15. Josh Hodge – This year’s World Rugby U20 Championship wasn’t a vintage one for England, but one bright point was the brilliance of Newcastle full-back Hodge. An accomplished goalkicker whose counter-attacking runs will make the most geriatric supporter stand from their seat, he will be a key figure in the Falcons’ resurgence.
14. Joe Cokanasiga – Perhaps this World Cup came one year too early for Cokanasiga, who wasn’t let loose in the knockout stages. In four yeas he will be a frightening prospect, as his aerial and defensive skills improve to match his bulldozing attacking flair.
13. Henry Slade – The second distributor in this England side, Slade will be one of the team’s leaders in 2023. Outside-centre is a real position of strength – think of the competing claims of Joe Marchant, Alex Lozowski, or even Jack Nowell. Silky Northampton player Fraser Dingwall also has international honours in his future.
12. Ollie Lawrence – Finding his feet for Worcester in the Premiership at 20 years old, Lawrence’s potential has got both his club and country excited. Capable of marrying the power of Tuilagi with the shiftiness of a Jonathan Joseph, he should make opposition defences afraid.
11. Anthony Watson – It feels as if he’s been around for a decade, but Watson has still not peaked. Having played brilliantly at the World Cup despite an injury-hit season, the Bath talisman will be pushed by Gloucester’s Ollie Thorley and Harlequins’ Gabriel Ibitoye.
Related: Downtime with Ollie Thorley
10. Owen Farrell – Farrell will be 32 in 2023, but it would be a shock if he wasn’t England’s elder statesman in the next tournament. We’re predicting he’ll settle at fly-half with his attacking skills still improving and a talented generation of centres in the wings.
9. Harry Randall – Ben Youngs and Willi Heinz are unlikely to make the next World Cup, which will leave Eddie Jones with the job of developing a youngster for the job. Ben Spencer may be in contention at 31, but Bristol’s Randall is our pick. A jet-heeled jinker whose kicking game is rapidly improving, Randall stepped up to Premiership rugby with ease last season and expect him to kick on more this term.
1. Ellis Genge – The Bristol-born loosehead rampaged into Jones’s World Cup squad after his impressive form for Leicester. Imagine how good he could be in four years, learning scrummaging from Joe Marler and picking up a few handling tricks from Mako Vunipola.
2. Jamie George – The Saracens hooker will be 32 come the tournament in France and such is his form at the moment, it is hard to see any player surpassing him for the starting jersey. It will be interesting seeing if Jack Singleton, now also at Saracens, can compellingly press his case.
3. Kyle Sinckler – Suffering the cruellest fate of England’s XV in the final, forced off due to concussion in the first five minutes, I pity the man standing in the way of Sinckler’s World Cup redemption story. His battle with Tadhg Furlong for the tighthead shirt on the 2021 Lions tour will be one to watch.
Related: The making of Kyle Sinckler
4. Maro Itoje – A star of Japan in 2019, and surely still burning brightly in France in four years at the age of only 28. Saracens and England will need to manage his workload to ensure this generational talent will arrive at the peak of his powers.
5. Joel Kpoku – The next star off the Saracens production line may be Kpoku, although the lock has been linked with a move to Northampton Saints due to the presence of Itoje, George Kruis and Nick Isiekwe at his current club. An incredibly hard-hitting carrier in the mould of Eben Etzebeth, a selection in the coming months would not be surprising.
Related: Rising Star Joel Kpoku
6. Tom Curry – Nominated for World Rugby Men’s 15s Player of the Year in the same year as his international breakthrough, the fairytale story should continue for Curry. Do not rule out twin brother Ben lining up next to him during the next World Cup cycle.
7. Sam Underhill – Underhill will be in his prime at 27 at the next World Cup. If his tough tackling does not lead to injury, expect to see the Curry-Underhill combination in France. Wasps’ Jack Willis, now back from a serious knee injury, or Gloucester’s young Aaron Hinkley are other names to watch.
8. Billy Vunipola – A tough selection: will Billy’s body still be fit and firing in four years’ time? With the spirit of optimism, and the example of Duane Vermeulen, who won a World Cup at 33, we’ll say he’ll make it – with Bath’s Zach Mercer an heir to develop in the interim.
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