The coach who guided Fiji to gold and our resident columnist
UTTING AN England squad together for next year’s World Cup didn’t take me long – all 31 players are listed at the end of this piece – and I’m sure selection would change a little before the tournament as form and injury force people in and out of the squad. Still, the key for me in picking a squad now was getting a blend that would allow the right playing style as well as have the ability to change if and when needed depending on opponents or the environment.
I don’t subscribe to the idea that you pick players in a squad because they have the flexibility to play more than one position, but those players are often the most talented and the best readers of the game, so I have a tonne of them!
My backs selection is the most eye-catching but in the forwards there are still chances for Mercer, Armand, Rhodes, Attwood, Slater, Simmonds, Hill, Hepburn and Kruis to come through. I would also include Carl Fearns instead of Chris Robshaw if the RFU relaxed their policy on overseas-based players.
So, the backs. I have gone for three fly-half options in Owen Farrell, Danny Cipriani and Marcus Smith. George Ford is a terrific player but those three have more breadth and width to their game. I would also consider Farrell at 12, and in this squad you can play Manu Tuilagi and Joe Marchant in that role too.
Marchant is only getting better and he can also be used on the wing if needed
P– he can break the tightest of defences. Manu can play 12, 13 and wing, and his physical presence out wide means young guns like Gabriel Ibitoye, Nathan Earle and Joe Cokanasiga miss out. I’m sure all of them will be in the 2023 squad.
I love the way Chris Ashton plays and works, but I’ve left him out. Unavailable for the first few Premiership rounds, he needs to get back to doing what he was doing at Toulon for Sale. The same goes for Ben Te’o – a good injury-free run and he could be back in the mix, but you have to pick on form and not faces.
My outside-centre choices are Elliot Daly and Henry Slade. Daly can also play a number of positions but 13 is his best one for me and he’s my starting guy there – whatever the opposition.
Full-back is also really interesting. I know I said I’m picking on form but I’m backing Anthony Watson to return from injury in great shape and he is a starter for me, either on the wing or at 15.
My bolter is Alex Goode. Eddie Jones doesn’t seem to want him involved but he breaks a game open with guile and ingenuity, and is as cool as they come under pressure. He should be considered. That means Mike Brown misses out. Mike is a world-class back-three player and has the experience you need for a World Cup. He’s been one of my favourite players over the past few years, but Goode is playing better than him. A string of strong performances and these rankings could change. I guess that’s my overriding theme in this squad. England have the players to win a World Cup. Yes, coaches could pick favourites rather than on form or not take players who perhaps challenge them, but if they show measure and clarity in selection it won’t be the quality of the players that will decide England’s fate. It won’t be their conditioning either, as the staff in the Premiership and at the RFU are amazing at what they do.
Instead, it will come down to two simple factors: creating the culture that gets the best out of these players and playing the game in the right way tactically with a settled team that isn’t regularly chopped and changed.
My 31-man England squad for the
2019 World Cup: Cole, Genge, Sinckler, M Vunipola, Williams; Cowan-Dickie, George, Hartley; Isiekwe, Itoje, Launchbury, Lawes; T Curry, Hughes, Robshaw, Underhill, B Vunipola; Care, Robson, Youngs; Cipriani, Farrell,
Smith; Daly, Marchant, Slade, Tuilagi; Goode, May, Nowell, Watson.
Bright spark Joe Marchant scores for Quins