Ahead of England’s three-Test series in South Africa, Ali Stokes highlights six players who can revive England’s form
Six players who can ignite England in South Africa
England are in dire need of many things, but of foremost importance is a victory to end a four-match losing streak, as well as the sign of improvement at the breakdown and in attack. Here are six players who can drastically improve these problem areas during this month’s three-Test series against South Africa…
In the absence of one of the most successful captains in England’s history, hooker George should be given a starting role in South Africa alongside Saracens and British & Irish Lions comrades Mako Vunipola and Maro Itoje.
A meagre two of his 25 England caps to date have been Test starts, despite his emergence as the Lions undisputed first-choice hooker in New Zealand last year.
With captain Dylan Hartley ruled out of this tour with concussion issues, George has the chance to prove his attacking edge is enough to warrant the No 2 jersey long term – and to hand Owen Farrell the captain’s armband on a permanent basis.
For all of Hartley’s attributes, one thing the skipper cannot produce is the type of game-breaking potential that second- and third-choice hookers George and Luke Cowan-Dickie can utilise. Such skill-sets have been noticeably absent from England’s cause of late; something George can go some way to rectifying against the Springboks.
In a similar situation to George, the Harlequins bowling ball of a tighthead possesses an attacking threat his stable, yet limited, predecessor cannot rival. In this case, Leicester stalwart Dan Cole stands between Sinckler and England’s top job on the right side of the scrum.
With Cole rested following a mammoth workload this season, Sinckler has the opportunity to become an irreplaceable component in England’s game plan. With handling skills and running lines even the great England centre Will Greenwood would be proud of, Sinckler is not short of blockbuster potential.
In addition to his endeavours as a centre in a prop’s body, Sinckler can burrow himself in at the breakdown and build upon England’s frailties at the ruck.
When you look at the best teams in the world, they have a tighthead who is more than a simple pillar at set-piece. Rugby has evolved and Sinckler has the capacity to take England up a notch.
The lack of a bonafide openside flanker has been a constant problem for England for more than a decade, something that was particularly prevalent during a disastrous Six Nations campaign.
Eddie Jones’s side suffered from a severe lack of nous at the breakdown and were dominated by Scotland and France on both sides of the ball. The issue was caused in no small part by playing a third lock at six and blindside Chris Robshaw on the openside.
England lacked mobility, breakdown expertise and link play as a result. All are attributes Sale Sharks’ 19-year-old Tom Curry can contribute to substantial effect.
Since his Test debut last summer, Curry has been the best openside in England, pipping twin brother Ben to the title. Tom’s broken wrist may have kept him out for the entirety of the international season thus far, but a return to fitness over the past two months puts him on a path to cement himself as a permanent feature in the starting XV.
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One area that has plagued England for years has been the lack of a consistent, definable centre partnership. Jones has persevered with injured duo Jonathan Joseph or Ben Te’o alongside Farrell so far, but Alex Lozowski should be the man to fill the No 13 jersey this summer.
Lozowski has been in storming form for Saracens ever since his positional switch in the last third of the season and thoroughly outplayed his opposite man and England competitor Henry Slade during the Aviva Premiership final last month.
Slade may have the magic to pull a rabbit out of a scrum cap at times, but his inconsistency on the biggest stages is of concern. In a stark contrast, Lozowski has proven his resolve to be steely and his running game to be striking.
Thunderous in the tackle, quick enough to scythe through defensive gaps and the vision borne of time at fly-half makes Lozowski a genuine threat and the man to take the game to the Springboks this weekend.
Utilised almost exclusively on the wing at Test level, Daly’s stint at full-back against the Barbarians produced striking, memorable results. It was a performance that will no doubt have caught the imagination of England’s coaching contingent.
With Jones keen to develop a greater threat from his No 15 recently, Daly looks to have set himself up as the frontrunner for the spot on this tour.
Strong in contact, pace to burn, a monstrous left boot and the ability to act as a valuable creative influence, Daly simply has to start at full-back on the fast South African tracks and further afield. Daly’s all-round skill-set and genuine world-class quality could see him likened to All Blacks great Ben Smith if allowed the chance to claim the No 15 jersey as his own.
Flitting between fly-half and full-back in Jones’s eyes, Cipriani has finally earned a squad inclusion and will offer his game-changing, outrageous attacking instincts off the bench against the Springboks.
Whether Cipriani arrives to the pitch at ten or 15 is irrelevant. A spell in either spot in the final 20 minutes could see him break down defences and create opportunities only he possesses the confidence and capacity to orchestrate.
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The Gloucester-bound playmaker proved his world-class decision-making in the wider channels against the Barbarians, able to unlock defences and release the likes of Jonny May, Denny Solomona and Daly upon the opposition. The 30-year-old sees things others do not and can restore meaning to Jones’s famed term ‘finishers’.
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