In the sixth part of our series looking at England’s options after their 2015 World Cup debacle, we take a look at the position of number 8. Below we look at the options both in the short-term (2016 Six Nations) and longer term (2019 Rugby World Cup);
There is no doubting that Vunipola is a top class player, the biggest question mark over him still remains his consistency however. He has age on his side though, so if he can perform at his best on a regular basis for England he is pretty much guaranteed to be in the squad come 2019.
Last year Morgan was the undoubted first choice for England after a series of impressive performances. Unfortunately injuries curtailed his season and hampered his efforts during the World Cup. An injury free run now could see him become the undisputed first choice 8.
Hughes will become available for England next year through the residency rule and looks assured of a call up. A monstrous ball carrier who can offload and has a great work rate, he will now have to carry his club form over onto the international stage to usurp Vunipola and Morgan.
Common sense would dictate Easter’s England career is over given his age, however he was their top performing number 8 during the World Cup despite playing just one game. He’s highly unlikely to be around for 2019, but may still offer something over the next year or two.
The Northampton man was being touted for a call-up a while back, however those clamouring for his inclusion have gone quiet. He’s unlikely to see much action anytime soon unless injury strikes, however a run in the Saints starting XV this season could see him press his claims for a spot.
It came as a surprise to many that Waldrom was overlooked for the World Cup given his try scoring exploits for Exeter last season. He now has a serious battle on his hands to break back into the squad given he is already 32 and has dropped behind Don Armand at the Chiefs.
Another Exeter Chiefs man who was criminally overlooked for the World Cup this year. The big question will be however whether Ewers is seen as more of a flanker than number 8 as that is where he is most often utilised by Exeter. Either way he is deserving of a call-up.
The young Sale Sharks forward has had an incredible 12 months and looks destined for England honours sooner rather than later. He can play both lock and number 8 so could be an excellent option in any England squad, especially given he provides an extra option at the line out.
The Newcastle Falcons back rower was another who wasn’t too far off a call-up last season after some impressive displays. At 27 it may be a bit late for Wilson given there are younger guys performing at a higher level, but a solid showing this season could change all that.
At this stage, it looks highly likely that we’ll be seeing Vunipola and Morgan battling it out for the number 8 shirt through until 2019 with Hughes coming into the reckoning next summer. It’s hard to look past these three right now given they all have huge potential, and age is very much on their side.