Eddie Jones today announced his 33-man England squad for a three day training camp in Oxford at the end of the month.
In it he included school leaver Marcus Smith as well as Tom Curry and Nick Isiekwe, who are both just a year out of school, along with plenty of other notable youngsters, including Sam Underhill, the former England U18 captain, Charlie Ewels, the former England U20 captain, and his Bath teammate, Tom Dunn.
It is a stunning achievement for all of those players, but also a real indication of Eddie Jones’ thinking. He is giving plenty of Lions a rest, including Kyle Sinckler, James Haskell, and Jonathan Joseph, but he is also using that as an opportunity to allow these youngsters to try and force their way into his World Cup plans. With two years to go, this is when that process starts – when Jones first arrived, he said that the first couple of years would be about the foundations, the next couple about getting that 2019 squad pieced together, which could see a few older players fall by the wayside.
Looking at the squad though, were you to pick a matchday 23 it actually looks relatively unlikely, barring injury, that many of these youngsters will make the side. In the second row there is still the sizeable obstacles of Itoje, Launchbury, and Lawes to get past, and at fly half there are theoretically 6 potential options, though Farrell and Slade are there primarily as centres, with Lozowski and Francis also options there. Dunn at hooker must get past either the captain, or the Lions test starter.
Where there is an opening is at openside. Sam Underhill and Tom Curry are the only opensides in the squad, so unless Jones reverses his belief that Chris Robshaw is a six and only a six, moving him to 7 and starting ether Lawes or Itoje at 6, one of Underhill or Curry has the chance to make themselves the number one England number seven.
Overall it shows an interesting development from Jones though. Dare I say it, a slight All Black development. They have been doing this for years, introducing a lot of fresh faces to their squad, but retaining a Test squad full of experience and know how and just drip feeding youngsters into it one by one. To an outsider there is, every so often, a player making their debut, but to the player and the squad it seems natural, because they have been a part of the wider squad for months.
What this squad also does is highlight what we have been saying here at Fifteen Rugby for years. The gap between the school playing fields and the bright lights of Twickenham Stadium is not all that big. Take Marcus Smith, this time last year he was preparing for a game against St John’s, Leatherhead, two years ago Tom Curry was getting ready to play Bromsgrove, Nick Isiekwe was getting ready for a County Cup game against Verulam, no less.
Now all three are going all out to try and get on the pitch for England. If that is not inspiring to those running out on the school playing fields tomorrow, I don’t know what is.
England Training Squad:
Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Tom Curry (Sale Sharks), Tom Dunn (Bath Rugby), Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby), Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers), Jamie George (Saracens), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), Nathan Hughes (Wasps), Nick Isiekwe (Saracens), Maro Itoje (Saracens), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Joe Marler (Harlequins), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins), Sam Underhill (Bath Rugby), Harry Williams (Exeter Chiefs), Billy Vunipola (Saracens), Mako Vunipola (Saracens).
Mike Brown (Harlequins), Danny Care (Harlequins), Elliot Daly (Wasps), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Leicester Tigers), Piers Francis (Northampton Saints), Alex Lozowski (Saracens), Jonny May (Leicester Tigers), Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs), Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs), Marcus Smith (Harlequins), Ben Te’o (Worcester Warriors), Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby), Marland Yarde (Harlequins), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers).