With Tests against the USA and Canada on the horizon, younger players will be looking to force their way into the reckoning
Who should Eddie Jones pick for England this summer?
This summer is the perfect chance for Eddie Jones to bring a raft of new faces into the England set-up. With 11 players in the British & Irish Lions squad, Tests against Canada and the United States will give fringe players the chance to assert themselves ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
The equivalent tour to Argentina in 2017 was an unmitigated success. England not only won two Tests against a full-strength Pumas side, but also unearthed players who are now integral to the team, such as Tom Curry and Sam Underhill.
Who should Eddie Jones pick for England this summer?
Here’s a proposed 32-man England squad for the Tests at Twickenham against USA on 4 July and Canada on 10 July…
At loosehead, Genge and Obano (before his ban) have enjoyed an excellent few months in the Gallagher Premiership. Sale’s Rodd isn’t a household name yet – but forwards coach Matt Proudfoot has attended Sale training to meet the 20-year-old loosehead, who is also eligible for Scotland.
Sinckler and Stuart are England’s first-choice tightheads, so it seems worth having a youngster to learn from them. This means Exeter’s Harry Williams misses out in favour of 22-year-old clubmate Street, who really does have superstar potential. Leicester’s Joe Heyes is also in contention.
Hookers – Will Capon (Bristol), Tom Dunn (Bath), Gabriel Oghre (Wasps)
Alfie Barbeary would be in this group, but after a torrid season with injuries there is no sense in rushing him into a summer series. His time will come.
Instead, Dunn deserves a run in the starting jersey. The emotional centrepiece of the Bath pack, he’s been unlucky to play so few minutes in his three England appearances so far. Recently banned after receiving a red card against Bristol, he should return for England raring to go.
Capon and Oghre are the other selections – and are only 21 and 23 years old respectively. Capon has been a model of consistency for Bristol – while Barbeary’s clubmate Oghre has managed to win minutes against the most stacked hooker depth chart in the league. Dynamic in the loose with rare athletic ability for the position, his throwing will need to keep improving.
Locks – Charlie Ewels (Bath), Nick Isiekwe (Northampton/Saracens), Chunya Munga (London Irish), David Ribbans (Northampton)
Eddie Jones considers Ewels to possess leadership potential – and he is a real candidate to captain the side this summer. It will be interesting to see how he copes with being the senior member of a second-row partnership for the first time at Test level.
If you were to draw an international second-row you’d alight on the shape of Ribbans – exceptionally durable, a massive unit, and one of the best pick-and-drive forwards in the league. He’s already been selected in wider England squads, and at 25 has time before the next World Cup to become the carrying lock Jones is looking to pack down alongside Maro Itoje.
The other two spots are wide open and could include Northampton’s Alex Moon or Leicester tyro George Martin. But it’s time that Moon’s (temporary) clubmate Isiekwe got another taste of international rugby.
He toured Argentina just after his 19th birthday and the future seemed bright, before he was harshly substituted off in the first half against South Africa the next summer. He’s been Northampton’s best forward since joining on loan from Saracens, is still only 23 years old and has an exceptional work-rate for a lock/six hybrid.
Another youngster, Munga, is starting in the Premiership at only 20 for an underrated London Irish pack. Picked out as a future star by Alex Corbisiero and a key performer in the England age groups, he too should come into camp early.
Back-rows – Ben Curry (Sale), Alex Dombrandt (Harlequins), Ben Earl (Bristol/Saracens), Ted Hill (Worcester), Sam Underhill (Bath), Billy Vunipola (Saracens)
An extremely competitive area. Earl and Underhill are slam-dunk picks, with Underhill’s recovery from a hip injury edging out clubmate Miles Reid. Will Evans could have been involved before his untimely leg break.
Hill and Curry have both been involved previously with England – Hill even picked up a cap against Japan in 2018. They have captaincy experience, are only 22, and hit like freight trains.
It’ll be fascinating to see if Vunipola is selected this summer. While the temptation to rest him and other senior players is there, the Saracens No 8 has spoken about how playing games improves his physical condition. There will be plenty of opportunities to get him running downhill.
Vunipola’s skill-set also complements Dombrandt, who deserves a cap as part of the best 8-9-10 axis in the Gallagher Premiership. An X-factor player in attack, his off-ball work-rate has been questioned in the past, but along with his conditioning is improving rapidly.
Scrum-halves – Dan Robson (Wasps), Alex Mitchell (Northampton)
There isn’t a player more deserving of international minutes than Robson, who is poised to make his first start this summer after 11 substitute appearances. Simply exceptional against Harlequins in May.
Behind him is a straight shootout between Northampton’s Mitchell, Exeter’s Jack Maunder, and Bristol pair Harry Randall and Andy Uren. Randall looked to be the favourite after being named in England’s Six Nations squad, but an ankle injury has left him without any significant minutes since January.
Mitchell has enjoyed his longest run of form for Northampton, and after spending so long in camp merits game-time. Probably the nine with the best combination of run-kick-pass skills.
Ben Youngs ruled himself out of Lions contention to spend time with his family, so it’s unlikely he’ll play for England this summer.
Time to see what the young guns can do. If George Ford is rested, it’s a choice between Smith, Umaga, and Joe Simmonds.
Smith has been exceptional for Quins, who are reaping the rewards of allowing the academy product to run their attack at such an early age. He needs minutes to prove he can do the same at international level – the USA and Canada will be a gentle introduction.
It’s tough on Simmonds, but Umaga’s versatility and instinct gets him the nod for the second spot. He’s impressively bounced back in recent months from a bout of sophomore struggles to return to his creative best, while also developing a quietly effective tactical kicking game.
The most difficult position to select, with so many different styles competing for a single berth. Lawrence and Slade are the obvious selections, given another chance to develop a centre partnership that has promise on paper but failed to fire in the Six Nations.
Pairing Marcus Smith with clubmate Marchant could bring the best out of both, but it does mean that Wasps’ Paolo Odogwu misses out.
The final slot comes down to Sam James of Sale versus Piers O’Conor of Bristol – incredibly versatile ball-players capable of being a second playmaker or making clean breaks themselves. There is something irresistible about O’Conor’s decision-making in broken field, so he gets the nod on this occasion. Could also be used at full-back.
There might be a temptation to rest May, but you sense the wing will be desperate to retain match sharpness in case the Lions come calling. Thorley deserves a second cap, while the third winger spot goes to namesake Hassell-Collins, who has been the crown jewel in an adventurous and youthful London Irish back-line.
Hassell-Collins has made 33 clean breaks so far this season, almost ten clear of his closest competitor, and has the chance to finish the season with more than 1,000 metres with ball in hand. Possesses prototypical size for an international winger and is still only 22 years old.
A third Ollie, Northampton’s Sleightholme, should also be considered – a real sprinter with a poacher’s instinct to match. Joe Cokanasiga and Jack Nowell miss out due to questions over injury and form.
Malins is a certainty to be selected at full-back, having displaced Elliot Daly during the Six Nations, but the second slot is extremely open. Jones may well persist with the George Furbank experiment, but a better option would be Leicester’s Steward, who competes with a physicality, maturity and fearlessness beyond his years. If you need an Englishman to take a high ball for your life, Steward is the man. Plays like David Havili.
Possible England Summer Test Starting XV: Malins; May, Slade, Lawrence, Thorley; Smith, Robson; Genge, Dunn, Sinckler, Ewels, Ribbans, Earl, Underhill, Vunipola.
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