Five questions Eddie Jones' latest England squad must answer

Five questions Eddie Jones' latest England squad must answer - SHUTTERSTOCK
Five questions Eddie Jones' latest England squad must answer - SHUTTERSTOCK

Monday morning will see Eddie Jones name a squad of around 36 players for a three-day England training camp at the start of October. As always, the announcement will generate debate. Less than a year until the 2023 World Cup finally arrives, there are questions at hand.

How to cope with back-five absences?

Sheer attrition will influence the options available to Eddie Jones and England’s stable of back-five forwards has been hit particularly hard. Alfie Barbeary, Charlie Ewels, Nick Isiekwe, Sam Jeffries and Sam Underhill all appear set to miss the autumn schedule. Alex Dombrandt has been nursing a hamstring issue, too.

Ollie Chessum, Maro Itoje, Jonny Hill, Courtney Lawes, Lewis Ludlam, Billy Vunipola and Jack Willis look like shoo-ins. Outside of that lie a few question marks. Will the burly Joe Launchbury return? Is it time for Hugh Tizard to build on a breakthrough season? Could another second-rower, perhaps Freddie Clarke of Gloucester, step up? These training squads tend to contain surprises.

As for the back row, will it matter that Sam Simmonds is off to Montpellier? Ben Earl has bided his time and also offers explosive pace as well as existing chemistry with the Saracens contingent. Tom Pearson of London Irish is clever and resourceful. Do not count out Callum Chick, but Tom Willis has impressed for Wasps. George Martin, he of a single cap in Dublin in the 2021 Six Nations, is still just 21 and looks to have found another level for Leicester Tigers.

Tom Willis has impressed for Wasps at the start of the season - GETTY IMAGES
Tom Willis has impressed for Wasps at the start of the season - GETTY IMAGES

Which veterans will be reintegrated?

A 2-1 series victory over the Wallabies was hardly serene, yet it is worth underlining that England managed that result without Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler, Ben Youngs, Manu Tuilagi, Henry Slade, Elliot Daly, Jonny May and Anthony Watson. Apart from May and Watson, all of those have featured at the start of this Premiership campaign and would seem to be in contention.

Will Stuart and Joe Heyes coped well against Australia and Patrick Schickerling, another tourist, has been mightily effective in the loose for Exeter Chiefs of late. Then again, Dan Cole would be a grizzled addition to the front-row mix. Jones was at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday to watch him, as well as three potential scrum-halves.

Jack van Poortvliet and Alex Mitchell had their moments before Youngs arrived from the bench to toy with the hosts. Raffi Quirke is close to coming back for Sale Sharks, we are told. Danny Care could be the unfortunate fall-guy in this scenario, as he was at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Amid a fleet of younger flyers, May and Watson find themselves in an interesting position. Their know-how is evidently valued by Jones. They need to string together matches over the next 12 months, though.

Could Dan Cole be in line for an England recall? - CAMERASPORT VIA GETTY IMAGES
Could Dan Cole be in line for an England recall? - CAMERASPORT VIA GETTY IMAGES

Where is the pace for broken-field situations?

One deficiency that followed England from the Six Nations into July was an inability to convert line-breaks and turn pressure into tries.

Electric pace is a precious commodity in this regard and Henry Arundell’s reputation continues to rise. England tend to ask their wings to swing over to the opposite 15-metre channels during phase-play. In that sense, playing at full-back for London Irish is probably preparing him quite nicely.

Watch how he isolates Harry Randall, the penultimate player in Bristol’s defensive line, before selling a dummy and linking back up with Ben White on the inside to create a try:

As well as possessing outright speed, Arundell looks to be an intuitive support player when the game is stretched. Tommy Freeman was sharp for Saints against Tigers, while Cadan Murley of Harlequins will have been considered as well. Low slung and powerful, he is in the mould of Jack Nowell.

Adam Radwan bagged a stunning solo try on the opening weekend. Freddie Steward has surely nailed down one spot in the back three. Now to figure out who joins him.

This moment, from Saracens’ last-gasp win over Gloucester, will have caught Jones’ eye as well. Owen Farrell takes the ball to the line with Jamie George to his left and Ben Earl bursting onto his inside shoulder. Farrell subtly shows the ball towards Earl before pulling a pass behind George to an arcing Elliot Daly.

A break results, with both George and Earl flooding through to finish things off. Earl scores after using his rare acceleration to offer himself to Daly:

Jones has always promised that England’s attack will kick on in time for 2023. That time is now.

Will the midfield balance be revisited?

George Ford was another to miss the summer and is not due back for Sale Sharks until December, when it is hoped that his Achilles tendon will have healed. That leaves Owen Farrell and Marcus Smith as front-line fly-halves. Although July demonstrated potential in their embryonic midfield partnership, specialist centres are available again.

It would be a reasonably big surprise if either of Tuilagi or Slade are omitted from Monday’s squad. Guy Porter endured some difficult moments in the third Test against Australia, yet has looked energetic for Leicester.

Ollie Lawrence has been reliably excellent for Worcester Warriors amid a fraught time off the field. Luke Northmore was a catalyst of Harlequins’ comeback in Devon and Daly is probably most likely to be at outside centre at Test level.

We are back to a familiar quandary, then. Jones could field two distributors with a flinty carrier – Tuilagi, Lawrence or Porter – or pile his chips onto either Farrell, whose offloading game continues to develop, or Smith at No 10. Such strategies are not mutually exclusive. There is scope to be flexible with a multi-faceted match-day 23.

Guy Porter had a mixed start to his international career - GETTY IMAGES
Guy Porter had a mixed start to his international career - GETTY IMAGES

What about World Cup eligibility?

Ali Hepher confirmed on Sunday that Sam Simmonds will be heading to Montpellier, as had been reported by Telegraph Sport 48 hours previously. At this stage, we do not know whether that move will rule him out of selection for the World Cup, because that is still being established by all major stakeholders.

That suggests other prospective England internationals are pondering moves abroad for the 2023-24 season. Manu Tuilagi, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Courtney Lawes, Jack Nowell and Anthony Watson are just six individuals that are out of contract at the end of the current campaign and would surely attract an overseas suitor either in France or Japan – especially as the Premiership salary-cap remains down for next season.

Frankly, it is highly doubtful that the Rugby Football Union would deny Jones access to any player that he wants for 2023, given how the Australian has been allowed to prioritise World Cup planning. The hope is that there will also be empathy towards players from Worcester Warriors and Wasps should their clubs collapse, leaving them needing to take deals in other countries.