England's Uncapped World Cup Bolters
The vast majority of English rugby fans have their collective attentions trained on this season's fascinating Premiership relegation battle, with an all-consuming final few weeks spelling potential disaster for some of the nation's most historic names. But there will be at least one man fully focused on the international game at current. We take a look at potential outside bets England boss Eddie Jones may be considering during these final weeks of the regular Premiership season and England's uncapped World Cup bolters.
The final weeks of the regular Gallagher Premiership season are ramping up and the potential relegation of English giants Leicester Tigers is the hot topic ahead of what is potentially the biggest game of the season at Kingston Park this Friday. With the threat of Championship rugby next season looming above Leicester, Newcastle Falcons, Worcester Warriors and Bristol like a dark cloud, the battle at the bottom of the table has never been more captivating.
Although, there is at least one man that has his mind on matters away from Premiership table come the final round of the season on 18th of May. England boss Eddie Jones will be in peak World Cup preparation mode, finalising the minutia of his side’s month-long campaign in Japan this September. With travel logistics and summer commitments set to be handed out to the potential playing squad over the next few weeks, Jones’ mind must surely be concluding, if not already set in stone, his 32-man party.
Owen Farrell, Billy Vunipola, Henry Slade and Maro Itoje are just a few names guaranteed a plane ticket if fit, but minds begin to ponder the outside bets, the famed ‘bolters’ tag.
Bolters have become somewhat of an endangered species since the turn of the professional era, with both the mental and physical pressures of the modern game considered too heavy a burden to drop on the shoulders of the latest Premiership stars. However, Jones is not a man to cling to convention and is the type of coach that would warm to the prospect of a fresh face within his squad in hopes of keeping his regular squad on their toes and the potential of unearthing a hidden gem.
You only have to look as far as Sale’s Tom Curry or Newcastle’s Mark Wilson to see just how quickly inexperienced players can become established members of the matchday squad. But no further ado, here are four of England's uncapped World Cup bolters that could feature in Japan in five months time.
Saracens openside come-mobile number eight Ben Earl was cause for disagreement last summer, with many scratching their heads over his inclusion in England’s South African touring party in favour of the likes of Exeter’s Don Armand. But, for all the summer’s criticism and questions, the 21-year-old has been hitting his straps at senior level this season and is justifying his England squad spot in terrific fashion.
In a hybrid mould of Bath’s wide-set, hard-hitting and pill-pilfering openside Underhill and the lightening fast, free-scoring Chiefs number eight Sam Simmonds, Earl is in possession of the type of destructive nature Eddie Jones favours in his utility backrowers.
While former England captain Chris Robshaw seems most in danger of losing out on a squad spot in favour of Earl, but the combined cap count of just 32 caps between Curry, Underhill and Wilson is the real sticking point for opting for the experience of Robshaw over the promise of Earl.
The question mark surrounding England’s twelve jersey have been culled to a certain degree this year with the return to fitness of both Manu Tuilagi and Ben Te’o during the Six Nations. But as ever, the English midfield is far from concrete.
With both Te’o and Tuilagi suffering from less than clean bills of health in years gone by, Jones could well be looking into his next best options as far as physically imposing, offloading inside centres go. Except for returning to the use of captain Owen Farrell at inside centre, or even the much anticipated promotion of Worcester’s pivotal playmaking centre Ryan Mills, the closet like-for-like replacement for a Te’o or a Tuilagi is Gloucester’s hat-trick hero Mark Atkinson.
Atkinson’s ability to distribute, with the skillset to step in at fly-half, and offload to an audacious degree at times, combined with his six foot six inches frame just shy of a whopping eighteen stone, makes him a serious prospect at international level.
Danny Cipriani and Marcus Smith are two of the most popular names to be thrown into the hat when discussing England’s third-choice fly-half, but Exeter Chiefs’ Joe Simmonds is a man making Premiership headway in a somewhat subdued fashion.
Cipriani seems to be an almost reluctant selection of Jones’ and Smith has struggled for game time this year, seemingly further back on his journey to becoming a starting Premiership fly-half than last season’s endeavours suggested. Simmonds the younger has often displayed an impressive attacking ability to rival both Cipriani and Smith at times, greatly outplaying the latter last season in a complete performance that received curiously trifling plaudits. With Jones’ love for a curveball and the need for a reliable third option, the younger of Exeter’s Simmonds brothers stands as an, admittedly wide, outside bet.
This was nothing short of magical from Joe Simmonds. That pass is absolutely perfect. To make the break and then throw the 20 meter pass quite so flawlessly is something special.— Ali Stokes (@alistokesrugby) 6 May 2018
Even if just for training sessions of fixtures against the USA and Tonga, the Exeter man’s ability to slot in as a playmaking fullback with a nose for a linebreak could be a crucial string to his RWC bow, with Elliot Daly changing the face of England’s attacking shape from the fifteen jersey over the last ten months.
The Dylan Hartley vs Jamie George debate is a favoured pass times of English fans and pundits alike, blazing since the former was named as Chris Robshaw’s replacement in 2016 and currently standing 27-12 in Hartley’s favour.
But, with Hartley currently facing a race against time to return to fitness before the end of the season and prospect of Exeter’s Luke Cowan-Dickie standing as England’s second-choice hooker - should the worst come to the worst for Hartley’s recovery - a third specialist number two will be required.
Once fit, Worcester’s Jack Singleton finds himself in the four-into-three equation of England’s hooking stocks and is set to make his return from injury for the Warriors at home to Sale Sharks this weekend. While Cowan-Dickie is by far the most destructive of the quartet and befits the ‘finishers’ tag better than most, his lineouts have been a source of concern at Test level.
Singleton has proven himself both a reliable source of set-piece possession and hinted at a glimpse of line breaking tenacity when handed his shot for England in uncapped fixtures against the barbarians. Closer to the Hartley mould than any of his competitors, reliability and a restless work ethic are the staple diet of Singleton’s game; the type of components many coaches view as World Cup knockout stage material.
Even with Hartley and George both available, the risk of a skewed Cowan-Dickie lineout could be a factor in Singleton receiving a text and a plane ticket in place of a belated birthday present from Jones this summer.