Yesterday, Eddie Jones announced his England squad.
“We have taken the decision to go early because of what we learned from previous campaigns,” Jones said, before going on, “we want the squad to know early and now we can get on and be the best prepared England side there has ever been, ready to win the World Cup.”
While Jones has refused to confirm or deny whether Te’o was involved in an incident involving Mike Brown at the camp in Treviso, it is understood by the BBC that Te’o was the instigator. Te’o does not make the squad.
Amongst other high profile casualties are Danny Cipriani, the RPA Player of the Year and Premiership Player of the Season, European Player of the Year Alex Goode, Alex Lozowski and Harry Williams, who have both come off excellent seasons.
A series of senior players, who were until recently trusted lieutenants, have also missed out. Jones has valued Te’o’s direct running and ability to straighten the attack in the past, so his omission comes as a surprise.
Likewise, Mike Brown, Dylan Hartley, Chris Robshaw, Nathan Hughes and Danny Care have all been regulars under Eddie Jones for the last four years and have over three hundred caps between them.
In their stead come players without that depth of experience. Lewis Ludlam brings physicality and aggression, along with a real dynamism in the loose and a competitive drive which clearly appeals to Jones, but he has just one cap to his name. As do Willi Heinz, one of only two nines, and Jack Singleton, whilst sevens convert Ruaridh McConnochie is the first uncapped call up to a World Cup squad since Joe Simpson in 2007.
Whilst it may be easy to suggest that perhaps Jones loses valuable nous in dumping some of his loyal campaigners, and will be devoid of experience as a result, the numbers don’t stack up in support of this interpretation. In fact, this squad has the most caps of any England team heading into a World Cup bar 2003.
The issues that may manifest themselves come September will be as a result of an overreliance on England’s strengths. Jones appears, with this squad, to have committed entirely to the high intensity, physical style of play that overwhelmed Ireland in Dublin.
This, however, is heavily reliant in the fitness and form of key individuals, namely the Vunipola’s, Tuilagi and Farrell. If one of them is to be injured, then the plan feels hollow and one dimensional, which makes the omission of Te’o even more intriguing.
Ultimately, the physical game plan relies on the presence of these individuals, and also the assumption that they will be able to consistently provide front foot ball. If a side matches England physically, it is possible they will lack the invention to work around it. In this eventuality, Jones may regret leaving some of game breaking talents he had at his disposal, such as Cipriani, Care and Goode, at home.
That is not to say England are shaping up to be a boring, predictable team, their attack is too varied and fast for that, but rather the foundation of their play is physical dominance. If a side like South Africa or the All Blacks are able to withstand the physical barrage, England may not have the guile or craft to break them down.
InTheLoose England XV:
Vunipola, George, Sinckler, Itoje, Kruis, Wilson, Curry, B. Vunipola
Youngs, May, Farrell, Tuilagi, Slade, Cokanasiga (Nowell if fit), Daly
Forwards: Dan Cole (Leicester, 86 caps), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter, 12), Tom Curry (Sale, 11), Ellis Genge (Leicester, 10), Jamie George (Saracens, 37), Maro Itoje (Saracens, 27), George Kruis (Saracens, 32), Joe Launchbury (Wasps, 59), Courtney Lawes (Northampton, 72), Lewis Ludlam (Northampton, 1), Joe Marler (Harlequins, 58), Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins, 22), Jack Singleton (Saracens, 1), Sam Underhill (Bath, 9), Billy Vunipola (Saracens, 42), Mako Vunipola (Saracens, 53), Mark Wilson (Newcastle/Sale, 13).
Backs: Joe Cokanasiga (Bath, 5), Elliot Daly (Saracens, 31), Owen Farrell (Saracens, 70), George Ford (Leicester Tigers, 56), Piers Francis (Northampton, 5), Willi Heinz (Gloucester, 1), Jonathan Joseph (Bath, 41), Jonny May (Leicester, 45), Ruaridh McConnochie (Bath, uncapped), Jack Nowell (Exeter, 33), Henry Slade (Exeter, 22), Manu Tuilagi (Leicester, 33), Anthony Watson (Bath, 34), Ben Youngs (Leicester, 86).
Written by Joe Ronan