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England Rugby - Old Mutual Wealth Series Squad

27/10/2016 15:59

In the blink of an eye we've witnessed six rounds of domestic rugby and two rounds of Europe and it's almost time for international rugby to take centre stage again. 

Since Australia the landscape has changed a touch, as some players have pushed themselves into the mix while others have lost their spot in contention. Of course in recent days we've been discussing injuries more than any of us would like and clearly having ten individuals on the sidelines isn't ideal. But, as you'd expect England's head coach is seeing it as an opportunity and as a positive step in the progression torwards the ultimate goal which is the 2019 Rugby World Cup:

'History shows that when you're preparing for a Rugby World Cup you need depth down to four and five in all positions. Stephen Donald was out white-baiting and then kicked the winning penalty in a World Cup final wearing a jersey that was too small. That's the sort of depth you need. You never like to see players get injured but it presents opportunities for other guys to come forward.'

The opportunities this autumn are ample and personally I'm expecting the individuals that are coming into the squad to thrive. Players like Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes will be chomping at the bit to get their hands on a starting jersey again and those that haven't had huge amounts of contact time with Eddie and the coaching team like Jonny May, Ben Morgan, Mike Haley, Nathan Hughes and Tom Wood will be eager to showcase their worth. 

Clearly there's one area of the squad that is occupying the lion's share of discussion right now and that's the back-row. Eddie Jones has been very clear regarding the balance that he wants to achieve currently with a 'ball-running eight, a high work-rate player at six and a destructive defensive player at seven'. After James Haskell's injury Sam Jones and Mike Williams both could have had a shot at making the seven jersey theirs for the series but injuries put paid to that and now Teimana Harrison and Tom Wood are the front runners. Without doubt James Haskell took the output in the seven jersey to a new level in Australia and whomever takes it over from him has very large shoes to fill. 

Let's look at the former contender first and examine Eddie Jones' current thoughts on the young man that he pulled off after 30 minutes in Australia. The Australian was quick to point out the improvement that Teimana has made since that tour:

"It's about his effectiveness as a ball-carrier, his effectiveness clearing-out and his effectiveness in the tackle. He's starting to stop people and he's starting to put people back when he carries. I thought his game against Castres was a really good performance so he has certainly elevated himself greatly."

Interestingly he backed up this positive assessment by later describing Teimana's performance against Castres as 'the best performance I've seen from a No 7 in a Premiership team'. Clearly the 24-year-old has made significant strides forwards in a relatively short space of time.

According to England's head coach Tom Wood is 'certainly in contention' and Northampton Saints' captain has also shown the development required in terms of 'his work off the ball' and added 'more dynamism to his ball-carrying'. Injuries have presented the man with 42-caps to his name an opportunity to get significant contact time back in the International set up and knowing Tom Wood he'll grab that chance with both hands.

Finally when it comes to the back-row let's not forget that Chris Robshaw still has what Eddie Jones calls his '6 and a half jersey' in the locker and he isn't short of test experience at openside. If you consider the options and spell them out as Eddie has done below then all of a sudden this 'crisis' isn't quite so large as first thought;

"We're talking about an injury crisis but we've got those three guys [Ben Morgan, Nathan Hughes and Billy Vunipola] at eight. At six we've got Chris Robshaw, Nathan Hughes, Ben Morgan and Tom Wood. At seven we've got Teimana Harrison, Tom Wood and possibly Nathan Hughes. Out of every situation comes a lot of positivity."

Naturally England's coaching staff will watch this Premiership weekend from behind a pillow and be praying to the rugby gods that no further injuries occur. After that they're all off to Portugal for a week of training in the sunshine with a clear purpose;

"We've got a big job ahead because we've got ten guys who'd normally be in our top 30 not there. That leaves a tactical gap, a physical gap and a social gap in the side. So, we've got to fill all of those gaps in and we've got a week in Portugal to do that before start Test match preparation."

The long and the short of this 33-man England Rugby squad is that even without ten front-line players there's ample strength to turnaround what their head-coach calls their 'abysmal' record against South Africa.  

England Squad - Old Mutual Wealth Series 2016

Backs: Mike Brown, Danny Care, Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell, George Ford, Alex Goode, Mike Haley, Jonathan Joseph, Alex Lozowski, Jonny May, Semesa Rokoduguni, Henry Slade, Ben Te'o, Marland Yarde, Ben Youngs 

Forwards: Dave Attwood, Dan Cole, Charlie Ewels, Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Teimana Harrison, Dylan Hartley, Nathan Hughes, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Joe Marler, Ben Morgan, Chris Robshaw, Kyle Sinckler, Tommy Taylor, Billy Vunipola, Mako Vunipola, Tom Wood 

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