Eddie Jones has selected his touring party for South Africa. There were a number of players unavailable, captain Dylan Hartley, British & Irish Lions Jonathan Joseph, George Kruis, Courtney Lawes and Anthony Watson and several other senior squad members.
Jones also decided to rest some players, such as Jack Nowell, Danny Care and Dan Cole. So what can we expect from England? The absentees will leave England looking much different to the team that lined up during the 6 Nations.
One big talking point is the inclusion of the Wasps halfbacks Dan Robson and Danny Cipriani. Both have been largely overlooked under Eddie Jones and will be looking to impress. Another talking point is the inclusion of Brad Shields. There are 8 other players who can potentially play blindside flanker in the touring squad, so if Shields gets any game time he will certainly have earned it in training.
It is interesting that Cameron Redpath of Sale has been selected ahead of Marcus Smith or Joe Simmonds as backup fly half. He is clearly along for the experience. Alongside Cipriani and Ford, three of the centres can play 10. However, there have long been rumours that Redpath could be something special.
Your England squad for next month's three-Test tour to South Africa 🌹
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) May 10, 2018
Improving the attack
England have questions to answer over their playing style. Should they change their attacking systems or just try to execute better? Whether Jones decides to stick or twist, England desperately needs to reinvigorate their ball carrying. They also need to win a lot more turnovers at the breakdown.
Improving these two areas could transform the England attack. With front foot ball, the playmakers at 10 and 12 can attack the line, forcing defenders to commit. The scrum-halves, Ben Spencer, Ben Youngs and Dan Robson all have excellent running games and will look to target South Africa around the rucks. The dangerous outside backs can get ball with that little bit of extra space.
Winning turnover ball will both relieve pressure in defence and create opportunities to counter-attack. England’s unstructured attack has stalled a little since the Argentina tour due to a lack of opportunity to use it. Turnovers would allow this to come to the fore again.
Goals for the tour
The goals for this tour are many and varied. They have rested several key players and freshened up the squad. Eddie Jones has brought some young players along for the experience. England wants some fringe players to make a case for moving up the pecking order. They need the third choice hooker and scrum-half situations to become clear. The attack must improve and England absolutely have to win at least one test. One of Jack Willis, Tom Curry or maybe Sam Simmonds must establish themselves at openside flanker. Lastly, Ben Teo is the only option as a powerful midfield runner, so Eddie Jones will hope Nathan Earle or Denny Solomona can provide that outlet.
I want England to win 3-0 as much as any other fan, but many players are injured or needed time off. South Africa can now access quality players like Faf De Klerk or Vincent Koch. The Stormers, Lions, Bulls and Sharks are all playing well this season. The Springboks will be formidable at home and the tour could still potentially be a success without a series victory.
I have highlighted 5 players who can help England’s carrying and turnovers. They might not be the most important squad members in terms of winning and losing the series. However, if some of these players go on to establish themselves in the team, it will go a long way to achieving many of England’s goals for the summer.
#1 Luke Cowan-Dickie – Hooker, Exeter Chiefs, 7 caps
Dylan Hartley is out injured. Jamie George is going on tour, but Jones has selected only 2 hookers. As a result, Luke Cowan-Dickie will expect plenty of game time in South Africa. He toured Argentina, but has had injuries this year so is relatively fresh. The Exeter man has only 7 caps thus far, so he would benefit greatly from more international game time. His line out throwing is good, and he is a strong scrummager. However, his real calling card is that he excels in both the areas England need him to.
Cowan-Dickie is a prolific hard yards carrier, averaging 2.2 meters per carry from his 15 carries per game. By contrast, Jamie George makes only 7.3 carries for 2.9 meters each. This means George gains 20.8 meters per game to 33 from Cowan-Dickie. Dylan Hartley fares badly compared to both his understudies, making only 8.1 meters per game from 6.8 carries. The Exeter Chief is exceptional around the breakdown, making a turnover every 55 minutes. For a hooker, this number is absolutely World Class. Neither Hartley nor George make many turnovers.
As the tour selection shows, Cowan-Dickie is the man who Eddie Jones has identified to put pressure on George and Hartley. The stats show he can certainly do so.
#2 Ellis Genge – Loosehead Prop, Leicester Tigers, 5 caps
Genge is a destructive scrummager, one of the best in the business. Leicester had a solid scrum while Genge was injured. Since his return, they are the most dominant scrum in England. While his rival Mako Vunipola is probably the best ball carrying loosehead in world rugby, Genge is a box office carrier himself. The Tiger makes an average 3.15 meters per carry, running 26.8 meters from 8.5 carries per game. Vunipola is the better ball handler, often used off lineouts and at the front of a 3 pod. The Saracen also carries more often than Genge, 12.3 times per game. However, Genge bends the line further when he does take the ball. Vunipola makes similar yardage, 28.7 meters, but only 2.33 meters per carry.
The other loosehead on this tour is Joe Marler. Marler brings set-piece excellence and powerful hits in defence. He isn’t a bad ball carrier by any means, but his stats don’t match up to Genge or Vunipola. As a result of both Marler and Vunipola being selected, Genge may not see much action in South Africa. I believe this would be a mistake. Austin Healey recently said of Ellis Genge that if he wore all black, everyone would call him the best loosehead prop in the world. While I might not go that far, he is absolutely on fire right now.
#3 Jack Willis – Blindside Flanker, Wasps, 0 caps
21-year-old Jack Willis is a big man, at 1.9 meters tall and almost 116 kg. He is a good carrier, making 2.4 meters per carry and 11 carries per game. His 26 meters per game is a good return, much of it in heavy traffic. He makes a turnover every 61 minutes, and as a result, some people see him as a 7. This is certainly a phenomenal breakdown presence. However, for Wasps, Willis has only started at 7 once, while starting on the other flank 6 times.
With Willis at 6 and a traditional open side at 7, England would expect several breakdown turnovers each game without compromising on ball carrying. The young Wasp has a huge defensive work rate too, averaging almost 17 tackles per game. I think Willis may see some time off the bench or at 7, as there are 7 other potential blindside flankers in the touring party. I would personally like to see either Willis or Sam Simmonds start at 6 in the first test though.
#4 Tom Curry – Openside Flanker, Sale Sharks, 0 caps
Tom Curry is only 19 years old and in his second season of professional rugby. He stood out on his England debut away in Argentina but has been injured much of this season. Even so, as a measure of his effectiveness, he turns the ball over once every 62 minutes. This is exactly the same rate as David Pocock in this year’s Super Rugby competition. Curry makes only 5.1 carries per game and averages 3.2 meters per carry. His 16.3 running meters per game is still a decent return.
The Sale flanker also has a phenomenal defensive work rate, averaging over 17 tackles per game. In my opinion, England desperately need to develop a group of traditional openside flankers, and this tour can be the start of that process. I think Curry is the best candidate and I expect he will be given a chance to show that in the first test.
#5 Nathan Earle – Winger, Saracens, 0 caps
At 1.85 meters tall and weighing 99 kg, 23-year-old Saracens winger Nathan Earle is big, fast and powerful. He can add balance to an England back line that lacks the option to pick a ball carrying centre. Earle makes 57 meters per game from 7.1 carries, averaging 8 meters per carry. He beats 2 defenders and makes 2 clean breaks. Earle makes more turnovers than many back row forwards, collecting one every 80 mins. His strike rate is good too, averaging a try every 93 minutes.
Earle may not get much game time on this tour. He has Elliot Daly, Jonny May and Denny Solomona ahead of him. I for one would like to see him given a chance at some point though.
Earle will move to Harlequins next year as a replacement for Marland Yarde. Yarde had a prolific season and posts better stats than Earle, and I was surprised he was overlooked. However, Earle is seriously quick, and perhaps this, along with his height, persuaded Eddie Jones that he could become the better player in the near future.
As the statistics show, the 5 players in this list can all add something to England’s effectiveness at ball carrying and winning turnovers. There is more to rugby of course, but with the exception of Willis, these players were involved in Argentina. They
I can’t wait for the tour to start. South Africa also have a lot of interesting decisions to make. This will be a fascinating tactical battle, but also with so many new personnel the teams will have a fresh feel.
Author: Daniel Pugsley
I am a 31 year old from Yorkshire, England. I have played social rugby for 25 years in England, Japan, Italy, Poland and the UAE. I teach English as a foreign language, which explains why I’ve lived in so many places. I recently moved back to England and have had to take a break from playing, but I hope to pull on the boots again soon.