Autumn Internationals: Talking points from the squad announcements
England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales have named their squads for the November Tests – we take a look at the key talking points
There are less than two years to go until the start of the 2019 World Cup and the squad announcements for the upcoming autumn Internationals illustrate how coaches are already looking ahead to Japan. There is a distinct youthful feel to the squads England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales have named, with several uncapped players in each, as teams look to develop their strength in depth midway through the World Cup cycle. We’ve dissected the squads – and here are the key talking points before the Tests get underway next month…
ENGLAND’S INS, OUTS AND APPRENTICES
- The headline omission is James Haskell, who has given ten years’ service in an England shirt. Eddie Jones insists the “door is not shut” but says the Wasps flanker’s form needs to improve. Instead it looks like a straight battle between Tom Curry, 19, and Sam Underhill, 21, for the No 7 shirt.
- Exeter back-row Sam Simmonds is one of four uncapped players in the squad, his form for the Chiefs rewarded with an England call-up. He can play across the back row and with Wasps No 8 Nathan Hughes available for all three Tests and Chris Robshaw generally Jones’s preferred blindside, Simmonds could be the ideal bench man this November.
- There are also two ‘apprentices’ in the squad – Harlequins fly-half Marcus Smith and Bath back-row Zach Mercer. New Zealand have long included apprentices in their squad and while Jones has said it is unlikely these two will see any game time, it is a chance for them to get to grips with the England set-up and develop their skill-sets as they build towards RWC 2019. Yet Eddie’s unpredictable nature also means they could well feature in one of the three Tests!
- With so many of this squad also involved in the Lions tour and clocking lots of minutes for their clubs so far this season, expect to see some of those who wore red in the summer to be rested at points during this campaign. Adequate downtime is becoming a growing concern – look at how Australia are giving Israel Folau a lengthy break following this weekend’s Barbarians fixture.
England squad – Forwards: Dan Cole, Tom Curry, Tom Dunn, Charlie Ewels, Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Dylan Hartley, Nathan Hughes, Nick Isiekwe, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Courtney Lawes, Zach Mercer, Matt Mullan, Chris Robshaw, Sam Simmonds, Sam Underhill, Mako Vunipola, Harry Williams.
Backs: Mike Brown, Danny Care, Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell, George Ford, Piers Francis, Jonathan Joseph, Alex Lozowski, Jonny May, Henry Slade, Denny Solomona, Ben Youngs, Anthony Watson.
Test schedule: Argentina (11 Nov), Australia (18 Nov), Samoa (25 Nov).
IRELAND ARE SPREADING THEIR WINGS
- Following the news this week that Simon Zebo will leave Munster for France at the end of the season, he has been left out of Ireland’s 38-man squad for the autumn. The IRFU have long favoured selecting only those players based in Ireland so Zebo’s move next year would make him an unlikely candidate for the 2019 World Cup squad – and Joe Schmidt seems to be looking at potential replacements already, with uncapped wings Adam Byrne and Darren Sweetnam selected. It’s Ulster’s Jacob Stockdale, though, who is arguably the form wing, and his size and power give Ireland a different dynamic out wide.
- There are two other uncapped players in the squad – centres Bundee Aki and Chris Farrell. Aki’s qualification on residency has long been discussed and with Garry Ringrose sidelined, he could reignite the midfield partnership with Robbie Henshaw that helped Connacht to lift the Guinness Pro12 title in 2016.
- What about No 8? Jamie Heaslip may be injured but there is still a big battle brewing at the back of the scrum between Jack Conan and CJ Stander. Conan was a standout for Ireland on the summer tour and has started this season as he finished last, with plenty of dynamic carries for Leinster. Stander is the more experienced of the pair and now has a Lions tour under his belt. With the likes of Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien and Rhys Ruddock also in the back-row mix, there are tough selections ahead for Schmidt. And with such a large squad, expect to see changes for each of the fixtures.
Ireland squad – Forwards: Rory Best, Jack Conan, Ultan Dillane, Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, Iain Henderson, Rob Herring, Dave Kilcoyne, Dan Leavy, Jack McGrath, Sean O’Brien, Tommy O’Donnell, Peter O’Mahony, Andrew Porter, Rhys Ruddock, James Ryan, John Ryan, CJ Stander, Devin Toner, James Tracy, Kieran Treadwell.
Backs: Bundee Aki, Adam Byrne, Joey Carbery, Andrew Conway, Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Robbie Henshaw, Dave Kearney, Rob Kearney, Ian Keatley, Kieran Marmion, Stuart McCloskey, Luke McGrath, Conor Murray, Johnny Sexton, Jacob Stockdale, Darren Sweetnam.
Test schedule: South Africa (11 Nov), Fiji (18 Nov), Argentina (25 Nov).
STARTER OF TEN FOR SCOTLAND…
- Gregor Townsend has named ten uncapped players in his 36-man autumn squad, including Leicester Tigers’ Wales-born back-row Luke Hamilton. He did play for Wales U20 but the SRU have checked that he is not tied to the red shirt, avoiding the embarrassment caused when Steve Shingler was selected a few years ago, only for it to be later shown that he was not eligible. Hamilton qualifies through his father and his versatility will be a boon for Scotland.
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- There are a couple of uncapped Premiership backs included too – Chris Harris of Newcastle and Sale’s Byron McGuigan, who has represented Scotland at sevens. Both have started the season in fine form and earn their first call-ups to the national set-up.
- Greig Laidlaw’s injury means Ali Price is the front-runner to wear the No 9 shirt, which should suit the fast, attacking style favoured by Townsend. It also means goalkicking duties will fall to Finn Russell during November.
Scotland squad – Forwards: Simon Berghan, Jamie Bhatti, John Barclay (capt), Scott Cummings, Cornell Du Preez, Zander Fagerson, Ross Ford, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Rob Harley, Luke Hamilton, Darryl Marfo, Stuart McInally, WP Nel, Jamie Ritchie, Tim Swinson, Ben Toolis, George Turner, Ryan Wilson, Hamish Watson.
Backs: Phil Burleigh, Alex Dunbar, Dougie Fife, Nathan Fowles, Chris Harris, Nick Grigg, Stuart Hogg, Pete Horne, Ruaridh Jackson, Lee Jones, Huw Jones, Byron McGuigan. Ali Price, Henry Pyrgos, Finn Russell, Tommy Seymour.
Test schedule: Samoa (11 Nov), New Zealand (18 Nov), Australia (25 Nov).
CENTRES OF ATTENTION IN WALES
- Neither Scott Williams nor Jamie Roberts – Wales’ regular inside-centres in recent years – have been picked by Warren Gatland & Co in a move that suggests we could see a change in attacking style from Wales this autumn. Scarlet Hadleigh Parkes is only available for Wales’ final Test against South Africa, when he will have qualified on residency, and while Jonathan Davies will surely start at 13, there are differing options at 12.
- Owen Watkin has been in great form after a lengthy injury lay-off and offers a more traditional inside-centre option or they could choose a second playmaker at 12, like Owen Williams, as the Lions did with Farrell and Sexton in the latter two Tests against New Zealand. That would certainly be a break from the norm for Wales, who often prefer a hard-running carrier at 12, but having two ball players at 10-12 could get the best out of their back-three talent.
- Sam Cross helped Great Britain win silver at the 2016 Olympics, made his competitive Ospreys debut against Saracens on Saturday night (a late-call-up) and scored a try after being moved from the back row to the wing because of injuries, and has now been named in the Wales squad. That’s a quick turn of events for the 25-year-old but the experience will no doubt help his development.
- With Sam Warburton injured, Justin Tipuric is likely to play at openside with the ever-reliable Taulupe Faletau at No 8, but who wears six? It would be good to see Aaron Shingler rewarded with the blindside birth given how impressive he has been for the Scarlets – and Wales would cause defences problems with both him and Tipuric on the flanks. Yet there needs to be that balance of link play and grunt work from the back five as a whole.
Wales squad – Forwards: Jake Ball, Adam Beard, Leon Brown, Sam Cross, Kristian Dacey, Seb Davies, Elliot Dee, Rob Evans, Taulupe Faletau, Tomas Francis, Cory Hill, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Wyn Jones, Samson Lee, Dan Lydiate, Josh Navidi, Ken Owens, Aaron Shingler, Nicky Smith, Justin Tipuric.
Backs: Hallam Amos, Dan Biggar, Alex Cuthbert, Aled Davies, Gareth Davies, Jonathan Davies, Steffan Evans, Leigh Halfpenny, Tyler Morgan, Hadleigh Parkes, Rhys Patchell, Rhys Priestland, Owen Watkin, Rhys Webb, Liam Williams, Owen Williams.
Test schedule: Australia (11 Nov), Georgia (18 Nov), New Zealand (25 Nov), South Africa (2 Dec).
A FRESH LOOK FOR ENGLAND WOMEN
- Two months after that World Cup final defeat by New Zealand, England start the rebuilding process for 2021 with a three-Test series against Canada next month. “Evolution not revolution” is the plan for Simon Middleton, though, and he has plenty of experience, with 18 players involved in the recent World Cup included.
- There are significant changes in the backs, with six uncapped players selected given that many regulars last season have now retired or been called into the sevens set-up. Wings Jess Breach and Abigail Dow have both impressed in the Tyrrells Premier 15s while Ellie Kildunne is being likened to Emily Scarratt. Expect to see familiar faces Katy Daley-Mclean, Rachael Burford and Danielle Waterman involved to guide those new caps through their first Tests.
- Perhaps the most significant news, however, is that England’s women’s players will receive match fees for the first time. There has always been remuneration focused on expenses and loss of earnings, but discussions between the RPA and RFU will see a squad fee for the Elite Player Squad, as well as match fees for each game, introduced this season. It’s not the full-time contracts players had in the lead-up to the World Cup but it is still a step forward for the women’s game.
England Women squad – Forwards: Sarah Bern, Jo Brown, Rowena Burnfield, Amy Cokayne, Rochelle Clark, Poppy Cleall, Vickii Cornborough, Lark Davies, Sarah Hunter, Heather Kerr, Justine Lucas, Harriet Millar-Mills, Izzy Noel-Smith, Marlie Packer, Tamara Taylor, Abbie Scott.
Backs: Rachael Burford, Jess Breach, Charlotte Clapp, Katy Daley-Mclean, Abigail Dow, Zoe Harrison, Ellie Kildunne, Caity Mattinson, Amber Reed, Leanne Riley, Lagi Tuima, Danielle Waterman.
Test schedule: Canada (17, 21 and 25 Nov).