England look to build on World Cup platform

Having come so close to World Cup glory, the challenge for Eddie Jones was always going to be how to build on that success while bringing through a new generation.

Having come so close to World Cup glory, the challenge for Eddie Jones was always going to be how to build on that success while bringing through a new generation.

With that in mind, the general age profile of his England squad for the 2020 Guinness Six Nations makes sense, even if there will be inevitable disagreements over the exact make-up of the personnel.

In all, 22 players from the Rugby World Cup campaign make the 34-man squad. Of those who are missing, Billy Vunipola has a broken arm, Exeter Chiefs duo Henry Slade and Jack Nowell are both injured, while Joe Cokanasiga has also not featured since returning from Japan.

To make up for those absentees, Jones has gone with eight uncapped players, while four more are still in single figures for caps won.

In terms of age, there are just three players who are 30 or older, although it is worth noting that two of those, Ben Youngs and Willi Heinz, are the only scrum-halves in the squad.

In the longer term, Jones will have to find a successor to Youngs, but he is clearly happy with the form shown by his World Cup duo so far this season.

Barring a late call-up, or Northampton Saints apprentice Alex Mitchell being promoted to the senior squad, Youngs and Heinz will be in the 23 for the opening fixture against France in Paris.

Trying to second-guess Jones for the remainder is a fool’s errand, but it will certainly be interesting see how he sets up his back row.

Vunipola’s carrying dovetailed perfectly with the twin threats of Tom Curry and Sam Underhill at the breakdown and around the fringes. Replacing him will not be easy, and Jones has not included any player starting week in, week out at No.8 in the Premiership.

Instead it will likely be one of his other back-rowers who shifts across. Former England Under-20s skipper Ben Earl seems one obvious candidate, while Curry is another who has been mentioned as a possibility.

Ted Hill won his first cap at short notice as an apprentice but the 20-year-old is now a full member of the squad as he looks to push the first-choice options in the back row.

Then you have the ability of both Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes to slot into the back row which gives Jones the versatility he needs to bring in an uncapped lock like Alex Moon to experience the England environment.

The absences of Nowell and Cokanasiga also mean there is potentially a spot up for grabs covering the back three.

While Anthony Watson, Jonny May and Elliot Daly are firmly entrenched, both Ollie Thorley and George Furbank, a winger and a full-back respectively, will hope to get an opportunity off the bench at some point.

Youngsters Jacob Umaga and Fraser Dingwall may be a bit further back in the pecking order but their inclusions are an indication that Jones clearly rates them highly.

Bath tighthead Will Stuart is the other uncapped player who could force his way into a matchday 23, as he battles the returning Harry Williams for the opportunity to back up Kyle Sinckler.

Overall it is a young squad, not a surprise considering only France were younger of tier one teams in Japan, with enough new faces to keep it fresh.

There are positions where Jones will keep fans and players guessing but for the most part, this England team should look similar to the one that beat both Australia and New Zealand on the way to the World Cup final.

Jones wants his team to raise their standards from 2019 and there is certainly the talent to do that in this squad.

If they manage it, they will fancy their chances of being there or thereabouts in the final Championship shake-up.