- Despite calls for fresh blood, England still possess a talented squad
- Eddie Jones will have to assess the players to see if they fit in a style of play that England will excel in
- The next England captain needs to have the respect of the players and to have their position nailed down within the team
I think there are some really exciting players in the current England squad. The likes of Ford, Joseph, Watson, May, Launchbury, Brown, Ben Youngs are all good players, plus you've got Manu Tuilagi coming back, so there's a good core of players already established.
The main thing is that Eddie Jones needs to see the guys play. He needs to see the players that are at his disposal perform and find out what they are capable of.
A couple of weeks ago, in a previous article you can read here, I said that whoever the new coach is, he needs to give some of the younger guys coming through a chance to show what they can do. Whilst there's no need for wholesale changes, I do think the squad needs freshening up.
Here are a few of those young guys who I feel should be given a real chance in 2016.
Maro Itoje (Saracens)
I know he's been in the squad before but I think he deserves to be looked at. I'm not convinced where his position should be but his performances this season warrant the opportunity to be in the squad. He's such a tenacious player in the way he plays the game.
I don't think he's quite big enough to be a second row. He's got enough physical size to be a back row player but then I don't think he's got quite enough pace. I'd happily be proven wrong on both of those counts. I'd draw a parallel with Neil Back – you just need to be given the chance. If as a player you're hungry enough, you'll take that chance.
Brendan O'Connor (Leicester Tigers)
I've only seen two games he's played in so far but I was genuinely impressed. I like his physical size and he's a very destructive tackler and can use that to put his team on the front foot.
His skillset is good in terms of his distribution and passing. If you chat to Aaron Mauger (Leicester's Head Coach), that's what he's been looking for in his back row. He's eligible to play through his grandparents so why not put him in there?
Nathan Hughes (Wasps)
He's benefitted from the tutelage of James Haskell who has matured as an individual and as a rugby player. At thirty, we're probably seeing some of James' best rugby including over the last couple of international matches and this season at Wasps. Also at the club is George Smith who creates a wealth of back row talent around him.
Nathan will be learning absolutely bundles off both of those players and discovering that it's not all about a big bosh game. Combining Haskell and Smith, you could have a player who comes from somewhere between those two. Eligible through residency from June 2016, he's a player you can't ignore.
Matt Kvesic (Gloucester Rugby)
I think England are still looking for an out-and-out seven. Kvesic would fit that mould, as he's very hard over the breakdown. He's a great physical specimen, he's quick, he's powerful, he carries well and he tackles well.
I think he should have been given an opportunity under Stuart Lancaster to play more. He was given two caps in Argentina where he distinguished himself and was never given another shot. Performance is driven by competition for places so that sort of thing should only be positive for a side.
Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs)
I like him because he makes rugby look easy. He's got that Iain Balshaw or Will Greenwood air about him where he makes very difficult things for everyone else look incredibly easy.
He's got a good temperament and I think he's a very exciting talent. He needs to be included in that squad and given another chance to start. The timing of his leg injury could prove to be very unlucky in the short term but hopefully he won't be out for long.
Kyle Eastmond (Bath Rugby)
Similarly to Kvesic, we've seen glimpses of him on the international stage and I think he's done really well. If you're going to play George Ford at fly-half then you can have Eastmond outside him as another natural distributor a la Matt Giteau for Australia. I remember when he came through as a young man he was mesmeric.
Kyle should have had more chances. When he played against New Zealand in 2014 he played really well. He had a really solid game and then he was gone. He's got the skillset of Jason Robinson, and there's an 'x-factor' about him. You need to give him a chance to shine in an environment that's conducive to what he offers. With Eddie Jones coming in, it could be an environment that these guys will thrive in.
I think it could be time for a change. Huge credit to Chris Robshaw, he's done a fantastic job. There was a lot of debate as to whether Chris really was an international player when he was first given the job but he's proven that if you're dedicated enough and you work hard enough you can really make the most of your ability.
Is it likely that someone else will play at seven and someone else will captain for the Six Nations? I'd say yes. I don't think you can go far wrong with Joe Launchbury as captain.
Two things you need as your captain is that they have the respect of the players and that your skillset means that your position in that side is nailed down. Like Richie McCaw who has written about what he learned about being a captain in 2007, it should be given to someone who can grow into the role, to be given the time to learn and grow into being a great leader.
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