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.

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.

Key players

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.

Conclusions

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 play for Abu Dhabi Harlequins 3rds and coach the U6s where my daughter plays. I teach English as a foreign language, which explains why I’ve lived in so many places. I am new to sports writing, but why should the Quins lads be the only ones to suffer my ramblings!

27 COMMENTS

  1. Great article. I agree with all your points. I feel that out of this tour, our hooker, scrum-half and back-row issues will be resolved. However, our midfield is far from resolution and needs some serious thought.

    On the back-row. I see no reason why Willis and Simmonds could not play together. Simmonds would be my pick at 7. He is a natural 7 and was only put into an 8 position by Exeter when Waldrom was struggling with injury. His Hooper-esque style would compliment Billy at 8 and a grafter like Willis or Shields at 6.

    • Hi Richard, thanks! Willis and Simmonds yeah, I could go for that. I don’t think it matters which of them play 6 and 7 in that combo either. Simmonds only makes a turnover every 237 minutes, but excels in other areas (over 80 mins he averages 48.8 running meters, 16.4 carries, 3 defenders beaten, a clean break, 6 passes, 14.5 tackles and a try) and Willis covers for the lack of turnovers as well as adding good hard yard carries and work rate. Between them they cover all the bases, although neither are noted line out forwards.

      Here’s my problem with Shields and Simmonds together though. Shields carries very well, averaging 4.9 m per carry and 10.5 carries per game, and makes his tackles with 12.7 per game. He only has 1 breakdown turnover though in 703 minutes of rugby this year. If Simmonds plays 7, who wins you the turnover ball England desperately need?

  2. Hi Daniel, great article.
    What do you think about the double playmaker with Cipriani ? 10 Cipriani 12 Farrell ? Personally prefer the Wasp instead Ford. But also see how lozowski – cipriani can play for the Rose it’s interesting.
    Is still Ford -Farrell the best option for Japan 2019? Sad to see Markus Smith out but i can understand Jones decision.

    Are you going to write about other teams squad for june test?

    Ottavio

    • Hi Ottavio, thanks for the comment! Most of the northern teams are picking less well known players. I might write something but to be honest I don’t really know enough about many of the newer faces, I watch more Premiership (and the Sunwolves, for my sins) than anything so I have seen the English lads though.

      I think Cipriani deserves a chance to start the first test, Ford was on fire in Leicester’s last match but Cipriani has been at that level all season. I think in the longer term Lozowski and Slade are more promising as #13 playmakers, which would mean Farrell moving to 10 and fighting it out with Ford and Cipriani. We could then bring in a carrying 12 (although only Te’o and Tuilagi look like realistic options for that role at this point) and the back line would have a much better balance. I believe every back line needs two bona fide play makers, but I like one of them to be a fullback or 13 so he is wider out. Ford and Farrell does work and it might be the best option, but we should try other things between now and the World Cup.

  3. Hi Daniel,

    now we are talking some serious stuff don’t we?

    I personally think England concerns about the breakdown are all well justified by some very poor performances in the 6N
    But, let’s keep in mind that england suffered most as the tournament went on, so tiring matches over a tiring season could well explain some poor display; just compare the minutes played from english players with the ones played form irish…

    i think that england gameplan actually works fine, but really needs some real physical condition and a bit more focus on competence in some position, such as the loose forward trio

    i see SA absolutely favourite and winning, sorry for your england team
    the SA franchises are really playing well, some good wingers are coming up and even though SA will show some experimentation their forward pack is absolutely superior even to the AB one

    • Hi Superignazzio, I agree that the England game plan works and England are suffering from too many big games. Without Billy V we have struggled to get the attack moving forward, but I think its a fixable problem. We just need more ball carriers in the pack really.

      I think it’s vital for the attack that we get turnovers. If you can pressure the opposition ruck ball, they kick the ball back to you more and that gives you chances to attack unstructured defences from kick returns. If you win turnovers then you also either get attacking line outs from the penalty or you can attack unstructured defences. When you add kick returns, line outs and turnover ball together, that type of possession accounts for most of the tries professional teams score. You also get momentum and field position, and your attack is fresher from not making as many tackles. It would make a huge difference to England, it’s what we have been missing this season.

      I want to see who Erasmus picks before making any judgments on who I think will win the series. They could be really good, I haven’t seen anyone bully a Kiwi team like the Sharks did to the Highlanders in a long time. I don’t remember all 4 major South African teams being so strong all at the same time before. Big call about the SA forward pack, I think they could become world beaters but I wouldn’t say they are a match for the ABs just yet. Marx is a huge loss.

      • well, actually i see SA winning just because i sympathise for them

        SA has the same issue England has for this series: What’s the team? Who we pick?

        I understand that the game vs Wales the week before the series start will be used mainly to test overseas players leaving the core of the team in South Africa to prepare the first test, at least this what i got reading some blog and news on the net

        i think Eddie Jones will set up a good team, performing much better than 6N, you will say not much effort needed
        i just think that nobody can’t bully SA in the breakdown area, so i’d point out a more manouvering game keeping the axis 10-12 playmakers, in this situation i guess Cipriani fits a 12 farrel style role, as defensive tenure of the player needs to be tested because Farrel makes a great work in that area
        but as we get closer to the world cup the choice for a 12 playmaker back up has to adressed, and cipriani might satisfy this urgency

        moreover, without malcom marx whom i refer to as the top level hooker in the world, cowan dickie has real chances to stake a claim on the n°2 shirt because he has the potential to be as good as marx is, just need a test to prove it

        For SA, there are some players who are getting back to the performance stat they used to, one over all is damian de allende
        the forward pack is strong and fit, especially the loose forward trio where both franco mostart and piet steph du toit have been included as 7, then you can name kolisi at 6, immovable, dan and jean luc du preez, kwagga smith, captain whiteley
        wingers and full back might be much more experimental as nobody has really impressed last year
        the halves are well set with cronje and pollard starting i guess

        • De Allende has really hit some form hasn’t he? I think most interesting of all for South Africa is the debate around 10. They have Willemse, Lambie, Pollard, Du Preez and Jantjies all playing really well. I want to see Curwin Bosch get a game at 15 at some point, he is electric and gives them a second play maker. The Boks have so many in form options all over the team, I think they have to be favourites at home.

  4. A thought I was tinkering with. I’ve seen brown play wing pretty well, still a big presence, also daily is best when given space to run. So what if daily was put in at fullback? Presuming that eddie would always play brown where possible, I think if daily was given the space to counter attack properly he’d be unstoppable.
    I also reckon Haskel probably has quite a bit of life left in him internationally, it just seems to take him 10-15 minutes to warm into the game, so not good off the bench.

    • Hi Joe, when everyone is fit I would love to see Daly tried at 15 and keep Watson on the wing. Eddie Jones seems to think Watson is the backup 15 and Daly is a wing/center though. I liked Daly at 15 ever since I saw him shred England while playing for the Barbarians at Twickenham a few years ago.

      Brown was tried on the left wing under Stuart Lancaster and he wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t at his usual level. I don’t think he’s played there since.

      Haskell is a great player, but he has a very specific skill set. If that fits the balance of your pack as a whole then great. I also agree he’s not really an impact bench player.

  5. Re the winger selections, Earle doesn’t get much game time for Sarries and is still well into “don’t know” territory, Denny hasn’t featured in an England game since Argentina and is still not long into his RU career and May was looking (I don’t know the stats – so its an impression) more uncertain as the season went on and lacks the game awareness of Daly and others. Do you think this is a good selection for some difficult games, two at altitude? We’re almost back to square one in the backs. No real FB cover, and no place for the Prem’s leading try scorer still playing (Wade) a man with great stats for beating players too. Daly could be a great FB but needs to play there for it to be instinctive and I’m hoping the rumours re Cipriani at FB are just that – he’s really an out and out 10. I’d be pushed to select a first team set of backs beyond that which started last season.

    • Hi Mike, I agree Earle is very much an unknown. He’s apparently rated in NZ as he spent some time at Canterbury on loan and did well. It’s probably worth seeing what he can do, we desperately need somebody to make 8-10 heavy midfield carries a game and it can easily be a winger instead of a centre.

      I’m a Tigers fan and I love Jonny May but yeah, he’s not been in the same form lately as he started the season with. England’s defence places a lot of emphasis on wingers being good positionally as Brown doesn’t cover across to the open wing as early as someone like Rob Kearney, he stays more central. England still ask the 13 to press, so if the open winger stays deep, like for the Finn Russell pass in the Scotland game, he can be left separated from the 13 and in no man’s land. If he comes up then theres a lot of space in behind him for chips and grubbers. He needs to come up but also hang back enough to cover the kicks, a very tough balancing act. Daly seems to cover it better than May, one reason I guess why Jones always prefers him there. The Irish system is similar but Kearney comes across more so the winger can go flatter, it makes his life easier and led to a couple of Stockdale intercepts in the 6N.

      We have got lots of good wingers though. Nowell wasn’t considered due to fatigue, Yarde not picked, Rokoduguni still injured. I am a huge fan of Ollie Woodburn but he’s never had a look in. I rate Wade, I would have given him a chance long ago, I think he’s been very unlucky over the years with selection. Alex Lewington is a fabulous player too. I would take Woodburn or Wade over Solomona, unless Jones thinks Solomona can become the midfield carrier off his wing? He’s not that big though is he? I guess if he’s looking for that from one wing then Solomona and Earle are worth looking at.

      I rate Mike Haley at fullback for Sale and the Gloucester lad Jason Woodward is excellent. Cippers is no FB, I agree with you he is a 10. England are kind of wedded to a playmaking centre so don’t need a playmaking fullback too, if we did then Alex Goode would be a much better option than Cipriani.

      • That’s all sound stuff, I didn’t know Earle had been on loan, you are right we do need carriers, if that’s the tactic we’re missing. I really can’t see Denny as anything but a liability at the top level, and with Eddie saying he wants game changers, I really can’t see what Wade has to do, I mean 80 Prem tries, many when Wasps (my team!) were rubbish.

        The selections also look increasingly strange when you look at the last Saxons tour where Mike H was excellent from memory – and until now, that Saxons squad has been a selectoral desert!

        I think the forwards are not too difficult to fix, but regardless of my disagreements with selection, the backs are a bit of a mess. You’re a Tiger, you must have had some concerns about how Tigers looked better when Ford was away? The low risk selection is Youngs, Ford, Daly, Of, JJ, Watson, Brown, but I think we’ll need more than that in a hot RWC. I’d hope Slade and others make a claim, but I’m starting to think Eddie is not sure what next. As the guys on Rugby Analyst noted, England’s strategy of stronger and fitter was found out and there wasn’t a plan B. Not long to go to the RWC and we ought not to be looking for game breakers now!

        • Hayley was awesome that tour, and Wade deserves a chance. I would have taken Yarde over Solomona too. I am a big believer in identifying roles and picking the best man for the role, rather than necessarily the best player. I think Wade could be fantastic if we went with one carrier and one tricky player like New Zealand often do. It’s why I’m more comfortable with Earle being on tour rather than Solomona despite Solomona being the better player right now.

          I was concerned about Ford for a while but the performance against Sale convinced me he was just stuck in a rut at the same time as our forwards were struggling. I think our summer signings will sort the Tigers pack and Ford will be back to his best.

          Here’s my tour back line for the first test, what do you think Mike?
          9 Youngs, 10 Cipriani, 11 May, 12 Te’o, 13 Slade, 14 Earle, 15 Daly. 2 powerful guys, loads of pace in the back 3, 4 kickers and 3 playmakers. Cipriani is in better form than Ford, I’d pick Youngs over Robson as you want one halfback to be experienced and I’d probably make Youngs captain. Farrell and Brown can come in for the 2nd test if it really doesn’t work.

          • Hi Dan
            I’d probably think Danny might prefer Robson to start, it ought to have the right blend of power and pace, I do think it might have a little naivety and might be tempted to start Farrell, but its got every chance if the forwards turn up/are selected/play 1331…..

            Re that tour, good set of backs, prob ought to have been putting pressure on the first team selected at the time!

  6. Eddie has to go for broke this tour and risk losing; he will accept that if he can get the performance from some fresh faces that gives him options next season. The attack has to function to International standard too! There is no point in taking fresh faces if you don’t play them – we are too close to the WC to worry about apprentices for 2023.
    Given the need to look after Mako V I would start him on the bench; we know what Marlar offers so get Genge in the stating XV. Similar with Ford – let’s look at Ciprianni at No10. Brown is also a known factor so why not try Daly at FB. A real pity Tommy Taylor wasn’t fit enough to travel as I rate him higher than Hartley and up with George and Cowan-Dickie.
    Let’s not forget this is a three match test series so we need to use these excellent opportunities to test out the different combinations and players and we can do that by keeping experienced heads in the team but still allow experimentation.
    My team for the first Test:
    15 Daly
    14 Earle
    13 Te’o
    12 Farrell
    11 May
    10 Ciprianni
    9 Youngs
    8 Vuinipola
    7 Simmons
    6 Willis
    5 Launchbury
    4 Itoje
    3 Sinkler
    2 George
    1 Genge

    This would give you pace to burn in both backs and forwards and potentially exciting opportunities throughout the team. Will Eddie be this bold?

    • Hi Andrew, I would be happy with your selections, and I think you are closer to what the team will actually be than I am. I would pick Curry instead of Simmonds at 7, Slade at 13 with Te’o 12, and Cowan Dickie ahead of George. My reasoning is that I want England to play counterattacking rugby rather than try to fight power with power. To help make that happen I want the slightly wider playmaker (which won’t happen, I expect your centers to start) plus more turnovers in the team. George and Simmonds between them can be expected to contribute 1-2 turnovers over a 3 test series. Cowan-Dickie and Curry between them would expect around 10-12, although to get them you sacrifice some wide carrying and put extra pressure on the line out.

  7. Hi Daniel, What do you make of Paul Gustard leaving for Quins? Leaving Eddie a bit thin on coaching resources even though his team of back roomers is enormous – 20+ That leaves England without defence or attack coach a year plus out from the RWC?

    Should we be concerned?

    • Hi Mike, great move for Harlequins, exactly the sort of no nonsense outside influence they needed. They should be moving up the table pretty quickly.

      I think it might end up playing to everyone’s advantage. It took other teams 2 years to work out England, and bringing in new attack and defence structures now is just long enough to bed them in but not quite long enough for other teams to get used to countering them. I think England and South Africa might both be in the position Australia were in the last World Cup, just about getting it together at the right time.

      Either that or they get Alex Sanderson and nothing much changes except a fresh voice and some new drills. It’s not like England were struggling in defence under Gustard and Sanderson uses the same system.

      I think attack coach is a bigger issue. I think England need to manufacture more unstructured play (which is why I am so keen to see us threaten opposition breakdowns so they kick to us and we get turnovers). We also need more go forward and I want to see us strike off set piece from anywhere, like Wasps at the weekend. That’s what I’m hoping to see anyway!

      • I’d expect Sanderson to get an offer he can’t refuse, but probably would ensure EJ ok’s playing 1331, so we don’t get the “Scotland problem” vs the SH teams. Unless England have a more fluid pattern of play, then the other teams won’t have much to work out….

        Re attack, in the short term starting Cips with OF and Slade helps, but as set out in the “Balanced Team” article, that could leave England short of “heavy” runners as Daly and others are quite lightweight in the back three

        Quite a few questions for Eddie.

        • I have seen Shaun Edwards, Ronan O’Gara and Joe Worsley all mentioned as well as Sanderson, there are certainly good options around. I don’t want journeyman Australians nobody has heard of! O’Gara and Edwards would excite me, they tick a lot of boxes.

          Eddie Jones seems keen to try Cipriani at 15. A lot of Wasps tries come from Gopperth at first receiver, pulling back to Cipriani who makes good decisions wider out. I can see the logic, it’s worth a try. At 15 he would find himself attacking that pivotal 13 channel a lot, he could really open things up. He would also provide a 3rd genuine playmaker, meaning Slade / Lozowski at 13 is total overkill.

          • I think my problem with playing him at 15 is that he’s only played 10 at club level for the last 4 years and whilst improved, is no one’s idea of a great tackler. You could just sub him into 10, use OF at the Jimmy sub and go from there!

  8. Hi Daniel, great article and a lot of research clearly done. For me the most interesting unit to look at for England is the back row since thats where they struggeld most during the 6N. I think Jones has made pretty much the right decisions with most of the form players picked. Don Armand is probably the one who can feel most aggrieved but was never going to feature much with Shields coming in. My pick would be Wilson, Simmonds and Vunipola with Shields covering on the bench. Wilson has been in great form all season provides a good turnover and grafter presence allowing the other two to focus on carrying in the close and wide channels. Real shame about Jack Willis but he has plenty of potential to take the 6 shirt after the WC. Is there any reason why Tom Curry has been picked ahead of Ben? I was under the impression that Tom had been injured most of the season and it was Ben who was playing. Who would be your ideal pick, both for the tour and the world cup?

    • Hi Conor, thanks! Armand is certainly unlucky, obviously Eddie Jones has some kind of problem with his game but I don’t know what it is. Wilson is a good player, I am not sure about him as an out and out 7 though. I’d be fine with him playing there if the 6 was a player like Jack Willis (such a shame he’s injured now) or Chris Robshaw, but pairing Wilson with Simmonds for me leaves us a bit short at the breakdown.

      The Currys are interesting, it’s only really when I looked into the stats I noticed the differences because when they play together I often don’t notice which one is doing what. There just seem to be three of them! Statistically Tom carries much less than Ben, but is a lot more effective at the breakdown (3 turnovers every 2 games compared to Ben’s 1 per game). Ben is more of a lineout option, and also a bit more effective ball in hand (21 defenders beaten, 18 clean breaks, 5 tries, 3 assists in about 15.5 matches worth of game time). Ben has been fit all season and was originally favoured by Eddie Jones. However Tom is the one who went on the Argentina tour. Ben I think is in the U21 squad. When they play together Steve Diamond always puts Ben at 6 and Tom at 7, but this season Sale acquired Jono Ross and Tom was injured so Ben had 15 starts at 7 and none at 6.

      World Cup I want to see Robshaw 6, Tom Curry 7 Billy V 8 with Sam Simmonds on the bench and one of the locks can be a second backrow option if needed. Robshaw is a leader, he is an extra lineout option and has become really effective on the floor. Pair him with a proper 7 and a carrying 8 and he will shine.

      I don’t think Willis will be back in time, I did my ACL 2 years ago and it’s a very nasty injury, it plays with your mind as well. It takes people a long time to start trusting the knee again even after they are fit, you favout the other leg which leads to more problems. Yes you can play earlier, but I think in terms of getting back to their best it’s an 18 month injury even for the professionals.

      • Wasps have said 9 – 12 months sadly. I was looking forward to him playing for Wasps with Hughes and Shields….

        • Jonny May was back in 11 months, Willis may be similar. They said it’s a multi-ligament injury though, not only ACL, and Willis is a big old unit, 20kg or so heavier than May. That extra weight and complication will slow things down. He will do well to be back inside a year, but then he has to start trusting it in games.

          Austin Healey said in his book it took him a whole season to really feel he was back to his best. May himself has been on record saying it took him a few months before it wasn’t in the back of his mind. The trouble with ACLs is they always seem to come from such innocuous movements. It’s not like other injuries where someone is twisted in an unusual motion or they got absolutely smashed.

          Healey did his stooping for a low pass, Willis did his in a routine tackle, and I did mine stepping off my left foot. When you get back playing you feel like there’s a sword of Damocles hanging over your head, because the original injury came totally out of the blue. You can play, but you are always a few % off top form because you can’t quite get in the zone, everything feels nervous and forced. You have a tiny split second hesitation before you try to step someone or go for a tackle or a gap.

          I predict Willis will be back some time after the 6 Nations, but that would only leave him a handful of games, including the World Cup warm ups, to get back to the level he was at pre-injury. I hope he can do it, but it’s not going to be easy.

          • It may well be prudent to leave it until post RWC for England, I think that is only fair on the player and Wasps too! I’ve been lucky as I combined rugby with being an opening bowler at a decent country league standard and only needed a minor clean up under the knife aged 50. I do recognise the nervousness of injury, I’ve managed quite a few ankle ligament injuries and even now, years after my rugby career ended, I an still nervous on uneven surfaces and keep several ice packs on permanent freezer duty.

            For England, it does mean that Curry or similar will need to step up so that they don’t end up with a bit of a one paced back row. I’d expect England might wish Thomas Young from Wasps was eligible as with a solid 6&8 he has that pace lacking in England’s pack if the two Sam’s don’t recover/regain form. I guess we’ll see what England’s tactic is in SA, I’d hope its as simple as playing three back rowers in the back row for a start!

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