Eddie Jones’s Golden Formula: A Detailed Breakdown of England’s Rugby World Cup™ Squad
In his 4 years as England coach, Eddie Jones has repeatedly told the nation to judge him on the Rugby World Cup. Well, that time has come. From experimenting with a double fly-half pivot, to picking three locks and even deploying Jack Nowell as a flanker, it’s safe to say that Jones has finally settled on his World Cup formula.
That’s not to say that Jones’s four-year selection process was easy. If this England squad was a cake, then the recipe has led to a lot of broken eggs. Premiership Player of the Year Danny Cipriani was the most notable omission, but superstars Don Armand, Matt Kvesic, Harry Williams, and European Player of the Year Alex Goode barely got a sniff.
With Danny Care, Mike Brown, Chris Robshaw, Dylan Hartley all forced out, it’s safe to say that the old guard have well and truly gone, too.
Yet there are reasons to be excited about this young team. The England head coach takes with him a squad littered with European champions and world-class talent. Throw in his own revolutionary tactics, and Eddie Jones may well have cooked up the perfect recipe for success come November.
Gone are the days of props being labelled as the team chubsters. A modern-day front-rower is a brutal blend of athleticism and power. It seems that every year the skillset required by a prop further diverges from their original job description as scrum merchants with cauliflower ears.
England’s first choice prop pairing are two players who have taken the position to another level. Mako Vunipola and Kyle Sinckler are ball-handling, ball-carrying wrecking balls. This new breed of front row have the hands of a silky fly-half, the tackle stats of a bloodthirsty flanker, and the carrying ability of a brutish centre. Mako, arguably one of the finest players in world rugby, has mentored the fiery Sinckler, who has in turn become a refined and intelligent rugby player. However, question marks remain over his temperament.
Dan Cole represents one of the few experienced players in the squad: the perfect ice to Sinckler’s fire. Meanwhile, deputising for the elder Vunipola brother is Ellis Genge. Although he has had limited opportunities, the loosehead who has been dubbed “Baby Rhino” has all the attributes to succeed the indomitable Mako.
Despite retiring from international duty earlier this year, Joe Marler received a surprise call-up to the England squad. Funnyman Marler brings guile and experience, whilst his dressing room antics will be invaluable when heading on tour with the squad. Often labelled a loose cannon, the Harlequins prop is a favourite of Eddie Jones and a formidable force on and off the pitch.
Similarly to their front-row companions, the role of the hooker has completely transformed in recent years. Jamie George spearheads a formidable selection of forwards vying for the no. 2 jersey, however, Jones has hinted that his hookers may also be used as utility forwards.
This has come as Jack Singleton was listed as a back-row replacement for England’s second warm-up match against Wales at the Principality stadium. The move highlights the fact that the best modern hookers are pacey, technically astute and tackle machines.
George, who regularly tops the tackle charts, is no stranger to pulling off a grubber-kick or show-and-go. His elite attacking skillset earmarks him as one of the first names on the England team sheet, with replacements Cowan-Dickie and Singleton in a similar mould.
Eddie Jones’s engine room comprises of two key components: a set-piece specialist, and Maro Itoje. Touted for future England captaincy, Itoje’s playstyle betrays his calm persona. His role is to tactically break up the play in defence, sometimes illegally, before offering a world-class ball-carrying option in attack. If Itoje is injured, Wasps captain Joe Launchbury is a more than adequate replacement.
Stag Weekend podcast pundit Ben Ward once said, ‘one way of spotting a world-class lock is ironically by not noticing them at all’ and George Kruis encompasses this. A player who quietly goes about his business whilst building a reputation as a set-piece specialist, Kruis is an invaluable asset to England.
Courtney Lawes is England’s other option at lock. Unlike the majority of Jones’s selections, Lawes offers something completely different to every member of the team. The Northampton forward is a tackle monster which has seen him deployed as a blindside flanker under the Australian coach. His ability from the bench will be important to England and his impact will only intensify as fatigue increases in the tournament.
In modern rugby, the roles of a blindside flanker and an openside flanker are poles apart. In his tenure as England coach, these roles have often been a problem for Eddie Jones. Since 2015, the Australian tactician has struggled with stalwarts Chris Robshaw and James Haskell, bent the rules to call up New Zealand-born Brad Shields and even experimented winger Jack Nowell as a forward.
Finally, Jones appears to have decided on his flanker formula. Occupying the blindside and taking the #6 jersey will be Mark Wilson. Despite being relegated with Newcastle last season, Wilson’s ferocity and dogged determination led to him forcing his way into England’s side in the 2018 Autumn Internationals. A ball-carrying workhorse, Wilson will be supported by another name who has battled to get into the England squad. Much has been made of Lewis Ludlam’s rise from battling for a contract at club level to making his England debut in less than 12 months. Yet in his first appearance, the Northampton flanker looked like he had 50+ caps.
This is how you sing an anthem. Congrats @LewisLudlam
— Jim Hamilton (@jimhamilton4) August 11, 2019
Another late name to the England party is Tom Curry. The 21-year-old has only been a regular fixture in the squad since the 2019 Six Nations, but he is undoubtedly one of England’s key players heading to Japan. The openside flanker’s playstyle is waspish: he covers every blade of grass. His relentless tackling and powerful carrying make him one to watch for this year’s World Cup.
Filling in for Curry will be Sam Underhill. Underhill is a true warrior who enjoys nothing more than crunching an opponent. Despite not possessing the ball-carrying ability of Curry, his tackling ability is arguably unparalleled in world rugby and will be an invaluable finisher if England are to progress in Japan.
Who else? Rugby fans have run out of superlatives for Billy Vunipola. The man is a giant who still plays the game like a child in a playground. He is vital for England’s World Cup chances and fans will be hoping their talisman avoids injury heading into the business end of the tournament.
Sam Simmonds can count himself unlucky that he wasn’t called up to the squad. The Exeter 8 has barely put a foot wrong in an England shirt, but Jones is a stickler for his own rules, and Simmonds’s sheer lack of physicality rules him out of contention. Mark Wilson will act as a replacement number 8, but England fans could worry about the lack of squad depth if the injury-prone Billy takes a bad knock.
Despite explosive scrum halves being the fashionable selection in world rugby (Connor Murray, Faf de Clerk, and Corbus Reinach to name but a few), Jones has once again refused to be swayed by trends.
A player who has seemingly come from nowhere, Willi Heinz is essentially Ben Youngs reincarnate. Both 9s will act as the conductors of the England side, controlling the tempo of the game as England have done so well as of late – albeit this has tended to fizzle out in the second half.
Sympathy must go to Danny Care. His 84 caps bring not only a plethora of experience, but he is also a real danger from the bench. His form for Harlequins was excellent last season, yet England’s refusal to select based on Premiership performances has cost another talented player a World Cup cap.
Perhaps the most notable omission from England’s squad was reigning Premiership Player of the Year, Danny Cipriani. The mercurial fly-half’s exile has provoked uproar from England fans due to his unparalleled ability with a rugby ball.
Danny Cipriani is the best fly-half in the world no debate. 🐐pic.twitter.com/HzhPR0Puf2
— Archie Biltcliffe (@A_Biltcliffe) August 12, 2019
Throughout his tenure, the England head coach has always refused the notion that he has a frosty relationship with the Gloucester 10 despite constant speculation in the media. These rumours have been amplified with Cipriani’s blotted behavioural record that ranges from a drink-driving offence to a nightclub assault.
Yet I agree with Jones; Cipriani’s behaviour is not the reason behind his shock dismissal. He simply does not fit in with England’s finely tuned gameplan.
By making Owen Farrell and George Ford captain and vice-captain respectively, it is clear that Jones wants his fly-half to be his on-pitch leader. The most influential position on a rugby pitch can take on several roles under several different styles, yet Jones’s totalitarian control of his side leads to the necessity of his fly-half not deviating from the script. Despite his technical superiority to both Farrell and Ford, Cipriani is a player who Jones knows cannot be shackled, and thus has had to regrettably drop the maverick 10.
However, Owen Farrell is still a world-class fly-half. With his steely grit, defensive solidity and mechanical composure, Jones and the rest of the nation can be safe in the knowledge that they have a fly-half who will not disappoint in big games.
After the Ford/Farrell axis at 10 and 12 initially set the world alight, teams soon nullified this by targeting Ford. Subsequently, Jones has returned to utilising a big, bruising crashball next to his fly-half. Up until last week, Eddie Jones probably had his inside-centre options nailed on. However, a reported training ground bust-up between Mike Brown and Ben T’eo left the two experienced backs unceremoniously thrown off an England train making haste for Japan.
The head coach, keen to keep squad harmony high, has put the team before the player and limited his inside-centre options by ditching former favourite T’eo.
Manu Tuilagi, whose recovery from injury saw him tear up the Six Nations, is the nailed-on starter: a bludgeoning runner with an underrated rugby brain, expect Tuilagi to score a hatful of tries if he remains fit.
— Tom Brown (@tom_brown68) August 12, 2019
Tuilagi’s replacement comes in the form of Piers Francis. Stag Weekend’s Ward labels Francis as ‘the rugby equivalent of a multitool’. In World Cups squad flexibility is essential, and with Eddie Jones refusing to divert from his gameplan, Francis will almost certainly be called upon in the face of injury.
Starting in the #13 jersey will probably be Exeter back Henry Slade. Despite making his England debut in 2014, Slade had failed to live up to his own hype in an England shirt until the 2018 Autumn Internationals where his attacking flair and defensive solidity cemented his role in the squad. Slade acts as a bridge between the aggressive Tuilagi and England’s exciting back-three. The 13’s technical attributes create a revamped version of the aforementioned dual-playmaker axis that led to much success early in Jones’s tenure.
After a long injury layoff, Jonathan Joseph is finally back in the England squad. Averaging a try in every 0.49 starts, the Bath back is a proven England try-machine. His pace offers an explosive alternative to Slade and will be important to break weaker sides down in England’s pool matches and beyond.
Eddie Jones has been quietly refining the role of an England winger for four years and appears to have found a solution to the attacking talent at his disposal.
Jonny May is now one of the best wingers in world rugby, topping the try scoring charts in the 2019 Six Nations and winning England Rugby’s Player of the Year. Much of this success can be attributed to his role as the ‘attacking winger’ in Jones’s system. The use of workhorse Jack Nowell on the opposite touchline compensates for May’s defensive frailties (which have significantly reduced in recent years). This lets England unshackle the Leicester wing who one can expect to run riot in the upcoming tournament.
With Nowell currently injured, Bath’s Ruaridh McConnochie has been called up as another defensively astute option on the wing. However, it would be naïve to call the former England 7s player a defensive specialist. His ability under the high ball adds solidity and gives freedom for England’s full-back and other winger to attack.
Joe Cokanasiga is another frighteningly good attacking option. Although he is raw, his sheer pace and power are attributes that Jones values in a player. At just 21-years-old, expect Cokanasiga to make a huge impact as a finisher before potentially forcing his way into the starting XV. It could be short-sighted to dub Cokanasiga the next Jonah Lomu, but the similarities are certainly there, and the Bath winger could become the breakout star of this World Cup.
With Jones repeatedly ignoring European Player of the Year Alex Goode and ditching stalwart Mike Brown, England’s starting fullback will be either Elliot Daly or Anthony Watson.
Recovering from a long injury layoff, Watson has some of the best feet in world rugby and can wriggle out of almost any scenario. His defensive game has improved massively, grabbing Man of the Match in England’s first warm up game against Wales for his towering aerial performance.
Daly may not have the quick feet of Watson, but his raw pace more than compensates. In England’s system, the aforementioned defensive winger will cover for Daly, who plays as a sort of deep-lying centre. Daly is capable of astonishingly long kicks, and with a calm temperament, expect Saracens’ newest signing to start England’s crunch matches.