The Eddie Jones era kicks off at Murrayfield on Saturday afternoon but at first glance, the squad he’s picked to travel to Scotland isn’t wildly different from Stuart Lancaster’s first game in charge. A shrewd decision or a missed opportunity?
This is the starting XV we’d go for:
15 – Mike Brown: One of the first names on Eddie Jones’ team sheet. Fire, passion and an armoury of skills at his disposal. Always beating the first defender and confident under the high ball. One of the most highly rated fullbacks in world rugby.
14 – Anthony Watson: Another shoo-in for the new Aussie coach. Lightning quick, strong under the high ball and certainly knows his way to the try line. Hold on to your drinks, exciting things happen when this guy gets his hands on the ball.
13 – Elliot Daly: Not yet ‘blooded’ on the international stage, but he’s proving himself week in week out. With searing pace, footwork the Lord of the Dance would be proud of, and a left peg that can knock over 3 points from 50 meters out, it’s hard to leave out the young Wasps man.
12 – Owen Farrell: A big debate on what part he should play in the England side, but on his form for premiership table-toppers Saracens, the question comes down to where he should play his part. Eddie Jones is well known for having playmakers in at 12, Farrell ticks this box with a bold red marker. Not afraid to put in a defensive shift either.
11 – Jack Nowell: It’s hard for a Cornish based company to not include the only Cornishman in the squad. Aside from this, this would have been a close call between Nowell and Ashton, but with Chris serving a 10-week ban, our decision was made a lot easier. The young man from Newlyn is a strong ball carrier, knows how to ride the tackle and not shy in defence. Will link up well with Watson and Brown.
10 – George Ford: Not had the easiest first half of the season due to an inconsistent Bath pack. Ford thrives when he has a set of big physical forwards leading the charge. With Farrell in the 12 shirt, the pressure Ford might normally be under will be alleviated by having another playmaker outside.
9 – Ben Youngs: Just the one Youngs brother included in the year’s squad. Pivotal for the Tigers dominant form in Europe so far. Will be an experienced head in what will be a young England side. Youngs bosses the pack well and will be looking at sniping options where possible.
8 – Billy Vunilpola: Another name to be among the first on the team sheet. If you want to go forward ball, you give this guy the pill. Nine times out of ten ‘Big Billy’ will break the gain-line and make yards when England will need them the most. Will offer a strong platform to attack off the base of the scrum.
7 – Matt Kvesic: Arguably the only out and out 7 in the England squad. Since his return from injury, Kvesic has been back to his old ways, menacing at the breakdown. England’s answer to ‘Pooper’.
6 – Chris Robshaw: A lot of speculation over former Captain, Robshaw during the RWC. He has since had his captain’s armband removed and had a position shift over from the open-side to the blind-side. His work-rate is unquestionable, and his leadership experience will prove invaluable.
5 – Joe Launchbury: There has been a lot of talk over whether Launchbury should be captain for England, an abundance of athleticism and skill, perhaps just lacks that ‘fiery edge’ that Jones is looking for in a leader. Likely to captain the lineout, he will prove to be a key figure in Englands Six Nations campaign.
4 – George Kruis: Solid for Saracens. Not a player that steals the headlines, but is doing all the donkey work that not many people see. Guarantee he will be doing the same in an England shirt.
3 – Dan Cole: The veteran of this young England side. DC has impressed in a Tigers shirt at both scrum time and at the breakdown. Will be key to England’s set-piece.
2 – Dylan Hartley (c): Arguably the most controversial call of Eddie Jones’ 32-man squad…and that was before he was named captain! Personally, I feel this a great shout. England has been waiting for a firey, ‘in your face’ leader since the Martin Johnson era. This is Hartley’s chance to put a bit of ‘dog’ back into the red rose.
1 – Mako Vunipola: Fantastic scrummager and explosive in the loose. This is a tough choice with Kieran Brookes returning from injury, but watching the Vunipola brothers run around the pitch causing havoc together makes great viewing.
16 – Jamie George: Strong argument to be a starter in this young England side. Just missing out to a more experienced hooker. (And his competition is the Captain!)
17 – Matt Mullan: On form for wasps. Strong, solid scrummager to bring on in the final quarter.
18 – Paul Hill: Has exploded onto the scene in a Saints shirts. Time for England to blood the young guns.
19 – Maro Itoje: ‘Super Maro’ as he is being named over at Saracens. Potential future captain of England. Utility forward, able to cover all back 5 positions.
20 – Jack Clifford: Another potential candidate to wear the captain’s armband in the future. Been a driving force in a Quins shirt, will be excited to see him on the international stage.
21 – Danny Care: Plays a different game to Youngs, will pick up-tempo and will attack the fringes all day long.
22 – Jonathan Joseph: Another with a tank full of gas. Will be looking to get the 13 shirt back off Daly.
23 – Alex Goode: Only just missing out on the 15 shirt in my eyes. His skill set will be key for the Six Nations campaign.