What are England’s options at 10 for the 2019 Rugby World Cup?

Following on from the weekends fixtures what are England’s options at 10 for the 2019 Rugby World Cup?..

The year is 2009, 41 seconds to go, New Zealand lead Australia 24 points to 19 in the 3rd bledisloe cup test. Stephan Donald, nicknamed the “Beaver”, kicks for touch to relieve pressure for the All Blacks, he misses. Moments later, James O’Connor converts his own try, leaving the Wallabies to win the match. The Beaver looks to have played his last match in the All Blacks Jersey. Two years on, Stephan Donald receives a call from Graham Henry after Whitebait fishing on the Waikato river. After injuries to outhalves Dan Carter and Colin Slade, Donald has been called in as a replacement for Aaron Cruden for the Rugby World Cup Final. Then the unthinkable happens, 30 mins into the first half, Cruden goes down injured. The Beaver takes of his tracksuit on the sidelines and proceeds onto the pitch. He then takes the most important kick not just in his career, but in All Black history. New Zealand go on to beat France by 1 point and win the world cup in their own country. This is all thanks to the match winning kick taken by their fourth-choice fly-half.

In the game of modern rugby, having depth within a squad is crucial. As seen in the above anecdote, it is even more crucial having depth for arguably the most important position on a rugby field, fly-half. So what happens if Eddie Jones is faced with the same circumstances as Graham Henry did back in 2011. Who does he call if the “out-half curse” is bestowed upon England?

Danny Cipriani – First of all, let’s look at the top contender for the number 10 spot in the England squad, Danny Cipriani. Wait!… Where is Owen Farrell, the player who started ahead of Jonny Sexton for the first test in the British and Irish Lions’ Series in New Zealand. Farrell will be starting, but will have 12 on the back of his jersey. The combination of having Sexton at 10 and Farrell on his outside worked quite well against the best team in the world. The combination also worked well for England when it was George Ford on the inside of Farrell. Therefore, I would not be surprised to see this combination in full effect for England at the RWC in 2019, except this time, Cipriani will be directing things at 10.

Despite his recent off-field antics, it’s hard to see Jones overlooking Ciprani for the more inferior Ford. Last season, Cipriani was in excellent form for Wasps, taking the number 10 spot ahead of the Aviva Premiership Rugby Player of the Season, Jimmy Gopperth. Furthermore, Cipriani was also shortlisted last season for Aviva Premier Rugby Player of the Season and took the out-half position for the BT’ dream team of the Premiership. The reason for these accolades is his ability to run at a defence, hold defenders and create space for the outside backs. It also helps that he is able to create ​unbelievable passes​ like he did against the Saints at the weekend. Although he is not known for his defensive attributes, its hard to see him give up as much yards as George Ford does in the 10 channel. So if Jones’s stands by his statement that he “will judge him (Cipriani) on what he does on the pitch”, it’s hard to see anyone other than Cipriani starting at 10 for the world cup.

Owen Farrell – Despite Farrell seeing himself more as a 10 rather than a 12, it’s hard to deny having another extra play-making option at 12 to create more plays and attacking opportunities. Farrell is more than capable of playing in the out-half position, but it’s his solid defensive attributes along with his play-making capabilities that make him a valuable option at 12.

However, that being said, if something was to happen to Cipriani, Jones will be presented with two options, Ford at 10 and Farrell at 12 in order to continue with the 10-12 combination or Farrell at 10 and Ford warms the bench. I believe the latter is the most viable at this time. However, this does depend if there is a suitable replacement for Farrell at 12 and also on Ford’s form throughout this season for Leicester Tigers.

George Ford – Speaking of Ford’s form, being on the wrong side of a 40-6 scoreline at the weekend does not help his case to be selected at number 10 for England for the upcoming world cup. Furthermore, although he started off strong in the first two tests against South Africa in the summer series, it was his fading performance after the first half of each test that gave Jones no choice but to go ahead and replace Ford with Cipriani. It also does not help that England won the third test with Ciprani directing things at 10.

One could also argue that there is no need for Ford to be on the bench with two fly-halves on the field already. His absence would free up space on the bench for another substitute for the pack or centres. However, being only 25 with 46 England caps to his name, Ford has plenty of international experience playing in the white shirt and this sort of experience is very hard to replace. Moreover, international coaches tend to be quite conservative when undergoing the selection process for a squad. In conclusion, Ford will most likely make the England squad and will probably be 3rd-choice fly-half for the world cup.

Henry Slade? Alex Lozowski? Marcus Smith – So it begs the question, who will be England’s Stephen Donald if the “out-half curse” hits the squad. First, we can look at the one player who will definitely be in the squad for Japan. Henry Slade has played multiple cames at 10 for Exeter Chiefs and has experience playing in a tighter space. However, in Eddie Jones’ eyes, Slade is seen as an outside centre when wearing the rose. Nevertheless, desperate times will call for desperate measures and it is not hard to see Slade as an option for that number 10 shirt with those precious 13 international caps.

Then there is Lozowski and Smith who probably won’t make the squad if all other number 10 options are fit. However, both of these players will make sure to keep their phone nearby because if Cipriani, Farrell or Ford get a tweak in the hamstring or tear in the groin, Jones may look towards calling one of them in. This will largely depend on how much international experience they will get within this season and how they can cope with the increased pace of the game. Nevertheless, don’t be surprised if you see either of these two kicking over a match- winning kick in Japan next year.

Written by – James O’Connor – 07/09/18

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