Assessing England’s Backrow

backrow

James Haskell and Chris Robshaw posed for this (admittedly hilarious) photo just after winning the grand slam of this years 6 nations. It is a comical dig at the critics, proving that England can be successful without a genuine 7. Yes, it worked and both players played very well, however its time England finally do select an openside. Jones’ side will need one this summer when they come up against the most prolific backrow duo in the world of David Pocock and Michael Hooper – both out and out 7s.

Here I have looked at England’s options in the backrow for the three test summer tour to Australia, also bearing in mind the long term goal of the 2019 world cup.

Blindside Flanker:

Chris Robshaw

It has now been established that Robshaw should not wear the 7 jersey after excelling at blindside for both club and country and making one of the best player comebacks in recent history after a dismal world cup. Still has a few years left in him and it would be great to have his experience around the England set up a little longer.

Jack Clifford

An incredibly versatile player – starting at 6, 7 and 8 for Harlequins this season. Clifford has previously played for England 7s and captained England at u18 and u20 level, including winning the u20 world championship in 2013. Some see him as England’s hope at openside but realistically he is more in Robshaws mold of a 6½, so would be a very useful asset at blindside.

Dave Ewers

Unfortunately missed a portion of this season through injury however has looked a promising prospect for England for a couple of seasons. Capable of playing both 6 and 8 offering powerful runs and possesses deft handling.

Maro Itoje

England’s new star player has played both 6 and lock for Saracens causing debate on his best position. He is more experienced in the second row after captaining England u20s to world champions in 2014 and if deployed in the engine room his athleticism will provide England with a 4th back rower, so he should stay there.

Openside flanker:

James Haskell

Played a great 6 nations at openside but as the image suggests he is no 7. Age isn’t on his side anymore and the England squad is only big enough for one of Haskell or Robshaw so despite giving so much to England over the years he should make way for younger talent.

Matt Kvesic

Seems to have been around and knocking on englands door for a while despite being only 23. Currently Englands best out and out 7 and it is beyond me how he hasn’t been given more of a chance to prove himself internationally. An excellent fetcher, exactly what is needed to combat others around the world.

Will Fraser

Looked a very promising prospect however his career has been hampered with serious injuries so it might not be likely that he’ll reach his full potential. Is still in contention for an England spot but has lost out on his best years, an unfortunately wasted talent.

Luke Wallace

Has spent the last few seasons swapping round the 6 and 7 jersey with Robshaw at Harlequins but has now established himself as their first choice openside. An excellent club level 7 but may not have what it takes to perform on the international stage.

Brendon O’Connor

The New Zealand born openside moved to Leicester Tigers at the begging of this season from Auckland Blues. A real out and out 7 with the potential to make it internationally and qualifies through an English grandmother but whether he would want to turn his back on his country and play for another or if he is even good enough we must wait and see.

Sam Underhill

A definite star for the future. Was captain of a successful England u18 team, won man of the match in his first start for Ospreys and has now played against and with some of the best flankers in the northern hemisphere such as Sean O’Brien, Dan Lydiate and Justin Tipuric despite only being in his first year at university.  

Steffon Armitage

If you still believe this could happen then move on. Not possible.

Number 8:

Billy Vunipola

Englands incumbent 8 and currently in the form of his life, came in a close second for player of the tournament this 6 nations and if his outstanding form continues he will be on his way to becoming one of the best number 8s in the world. It will take a lot to usurp big Billy from his throne at the back of England’s scrum.

Nathan Hughes

Excellent form for wasps for the past few seasons and those in the know have been waiting for the day he qualifies for England – June 27th. Hughes has the strength of Vunipola but is perhaps more dynamic and offers more than just brute force.

Josh Beaumont

The most well rounded 8 of the lot, also capable of covering second row. Beaumont comes from rich rugby stock as his father, Bill Beaumont, was an England captain. Beaumont had a breakthrough season in 2014/15 with Sale, earning him a place in an uncapped England match against the barbarians that summer, where he scored a try. He has since been on the fringes of England, included in this 6 nations 33 man squad.

With all this in mind England’s backrow for the Australia tour should be:

  1. Robshaw
  2. Kvesic
  3. Vunipola

Clifford coming off the bench preferably to replace Robshaw with Beaumont and Underhill also being taken.

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