With the countdown to the first Test well and truly on, will Eddie Jones tweak a winning squad for the hard tracks of Australia? RW picks the side to start in Brisbane...
Coaching is 90 per cent selection and Eddie Jones has proved a decent selector so far in his time in England. His team face Australia in Brisbane on 11 June and Jones has much to ponder. Don’t expect him to pull too many rabbits out of the hat but here is what he should do as England bid to win a first away series against the Wallabies,
Full-back: Alex Goode
Hard to leave Mike Brown out but what’s it all about if the Premiership Player of the Year is English and can’t get in the England team? Jones may well give both Goode and Brown a start in the series but Goode should have first dibs after playing second fiddle for the last three years.
Left wing: Anthony Watson
Watson wears 14 despite playing on the left wing – after an agreement with Jack Nowell – and has 12 tries in his last 17 Tests and four in his last four. The one against Wales at Twickenham might just have been the best of the lot and, injury permitting, the Bath man is nailed on for the foreseeable future and is still only 22 years old.
Outside centre: Jonathan Joseph
A tight call this one with Elliot Daly banging on the door with his pace, handling and cannon-like boot but Joseph has some ‘credit in the bank’ to use one of Eddie Jones’ predecessor’s favourite sayings. Joseph has got to produce some of his dazzling footwork though because Daly is catching up with him fast.
Inside centre: Henry Slade
A tough one this. I can still see Jones going for Owen Farrell here and George Ford at No.10, or even playing Ben Te’o at 12, but I would like to see Slade given a run despite a couple of blunders in the Premiership final. He has vision and can pass, his kicking is good but Jones has said he would like to see him run with the ball more.
Right wing: Jack Nowell
Possibly the form wing in Europe, since the World Cup, and a major player in Exeter’s march to the Premiership final. Comes off his wing well looking for work, can mix it with the forwards at the breakdown where he won more turnovers than anyone during the Six Nations. Nowell has eight tries in 15 Tests at 23 and more to come.
Fly-half: Owen Farrell
Farrell has steered Saracens to European and Premiership titles from number 10 so he should be playing fly-half for England. His attacking game has come on a ton since Jones arrived in England and his place-kicking is up there in the Jonny Wilkinson bracket. Farrell brings a bit of dog to the back line as long as he keeps a lid on things.
Scrum-half: Danny Care
In six internationals under Jones, Care has started twice (against Scotland and France) and Ben Youngs four times and it is a toss-of-a-coin job, although Richard Wigglesworth is unlucky not to be involved. Youngs made a couple of fumbles early on against Wales and Care should get first crack down under.
Loose-head prop: Mako Vunipola
With Joe Marler off the scene Vunipola has a chance to nail down the No.1 jersey. In the Six Nations he started twice, against Italy and France, but should be starting all three Tests in Australia. Vunipola has the hands of a centre, but that is a bonus for a prop, and has to show up at scrum-time and round the park like he has been for Saracens.
Hooker: Dylan Hartley (c)
Hartley had just 17 minutes of rugby between the Grand Slam match against France and the Wales game in May but still hit all of his line-outs and showed how crucial he is to England. He once told us that his job was to scrum well and throw in well, everything else is a bonus and he is the heart of this England team now.
Tight-head prop: Dan Cole
Cole looked like he was on the way down during the World Cup but rallied with England recently and three weeks with Neal Hatley, the new forwards coach, won’t do him any harm. Has 65 international caps in the locker and should not be giving away so many penalties as he does at the moment but is still the best bet.
Lock: Maro Itoje
I thought about shifting him to No.6 to get Joe Launchbury in the starting line-up but the European Player of the Year can stay where he is after 12 months in which he has not put a foot wrong. Just about the prototype of the perfect modern lock – who would have thought 12 months ago that Launchbury and Courtney Lawes would be the second-string?
Lock: George Kruis
Kruis was rated no-better than a club player when he pitched up at Saracens but now he is established in world rugby. Got 45 minutes off the bench in the World Cup but is now one of the first names on the team sheet for the way he runs the line out and has started every game he was available for under Jones. Challenging the best in the game.
Blindside flanker: Chris Robshaw
Teimana Harrison was a tempting option here but Robshaw gets the nod, just. The former captain was hailed as one of England’s most improved players by Jones after the Six Nations so it would be harsh for the Australian to bin him now. Robshaw will know the pressure is on and will do well to keep his place for all three Tests.
Openside flanker: James Haskell
Haskell is probably the player who has surprised Jones since he came in. His public image probably didn’t help but Jones has worked with him and rates him highly. Haskell will be up against it on the faster tracks of Australia but has passed all his exams this season when most expected him to fade away.
No.8: Billy Vunipola
Another complete no-brainer as Vunipola has made this slot his own and been one of the outstanding players in Europe. Has sorted out his fitness issues and is one of the most dominant ball-carriers around. Jones’ decision to make him a vice-captain has paid off and he has continued, with Saracens, where he left off in the Six Nations.
Jamie George, Matt Mullan, Paul Hill, Joe Launchbury, Jack Clifford, Ben Youngs, George Ford, Elliot Daly
No shocks here although Harrison might be vying for a bench spot with Clifford and Jones will have to make a call on Ford’s confidence after his barracking at Twickenham. Clifford, Daly and Youngs will add gas in the last quarter but George won’t be expecting much game with skipper Hartley on the field. In three Six Nations games, before injury, he played a total of 24 minutes.
For the latest Rugby World subscription offers, click here