England’s potential World Cup bolters

It is getting close to crunch time for the Rugby World Cup squads.

It is getting close to crunch time for the Rugby World Cup squads.

England, runners-up in this year’s Guinness Six Nations, are currently in Treviso for a  warm-weather training camp to prepare for the exertions of Japan later this year.

The camps keep getting cut, players come and go and with the warm-up games around the corner it is hard to get a read on Eddie Jones’ plans.

Some newer faces have come to the fore, seemingly just in time, to present an outside chance for selection to Japan.

Jack Singleton

One of only three hookers in the squad in Italy, the 22-year-old is still to be capped by England.

His clubmate Jamie George, Singleton re-joined Sarries this summer from Worcester, is the clear starter in the No.2 jersey.

But with Dylan Hartley now gone, the battle behind George is raging between Singleton and Luke Cowan-Dickie.

Cowan-Dickie is the front runner with 11 caps to his name but Singleton’s mobility and all-round skillset makes him an international in waiting.

Jones has been eyeing the young man for some time, he went to Argentina and South Africa in successive summer tours but has yet to get on the pitch for the Red Rose.

But after a stellar time of it at Sixways, Sarries have brought their academy product home for the new campaign.

If Jones opts to take three hookers to Japan, Sarries fans might not see their old boy back in black and red for a while yet…

Lewis Ludlam

The other uncapped forward in the England pack in Treviso is flanker Lewis Ludlam.

The 23-year-old enjoyed a breakout season for Northampton Saints and is now knocking down the door for international honours.

At openside flanker, Sam Underhill and Tom Curry appear to have the jump on him for Japan.

But in such an abrasive position as the back row with injuries commonplace, Ludlam clearly remains in contention for Jones.

His versatility as an option across the back row is a benefit, but it is his tenaciousness both in the tackle and over the ball that caught Chris Boyd’s eye at Saints and subsequently England’s.

Ludlam remains in England’s thoughts deep into the training camps while the likes of Chris Robshaw and Nathan Hughes have been let go.

Clearly working with the likes of Tom Wood and Heinrich Bussow has helped Ludlam to refine his game last season.

But his abrasive carrying style, and stellar England age-group showings have long made him a star on the rise.

Willi Heinz

Willi Heinz remains uncapped by England but has clearly been much thought of for a while.

The former Crusader, who qualifies for England via his grandmother, was called up by Jones back at the start of 2017.

He was just used in training camps back then but now looks to be nearing a first international cap.

The 32-year-old has become the main man at Kingsholm for Gloucester, a fine distributor and try threat, it is his organisational skills that have really impressed Jones however.

After such a breakthrough season for Gloucester, it is perhaps surprising that Heinz is the Cherry & Whites’ sole representative in Italy.

Ollie Thorley and Danny Cipriani have been overlooked but it would be no surprise to see Heinz stay the course.

Ben Youngs is established as England’s starting No.9 but behind him the picture is unclear.

Will Jones take two or three specialist No.9s to Japan? Either way, Heinz and Ben Spencer are the next cabs off the rank and vying for their opportunity.

Piers Francis

Piers Francis is the only member of this quintet of bolters to have actually been capped under Jones.

The 29-year-old centre made his England bow in the summer of 2017 in Argentina, before he had even played for his new club Northampton after impressing in Super Rugby with the Blues.

Since then, form and fitness have meant he has had to bide his time in England’s midfield.

In November of 2017 he appeared against Samoa in an autumn international – his sole England appearance at Twickenham so far – and then in June of last year went to South Africa and came off the bench in Johannesburg.

But in a crowded midfield with Manu Tuilagi back to full fitness and Henry Slade impressing in the 2019 Guinness Six Nations, Francis has his work cut out for him.

His versatility will help his cause, most comfortable at 12 he has also spent plenty of club time at fly-half.

It has been quite the journey for Francis to get to this point. Born in Gravesend, a member of the Sarries academy who has spent time in Edinburgh, Doncaster and indeed Auckland, a trip to Japan would be a big next step on his circuitous CV.

Ruaridh McConnochie

Spots in England’s 31-man squad for Japan are probably at their most competitive in the back three.

There are British & Irish Lions like Jack Nowell, Elliot Daly and Anthony Watson to consider. Then you have England’s try-scoring star Jonny May and the new kid on the block Joe Cokanasiga. There is also the considerable experience of Mike Brown vying for attention.

But in amongst all that class, is the new fans’ favourite at the Rec, Ruaridh McConnochie.

The former Sevens star, who won a silver medal with Team GB in Rio and a bronze on the Gold Coast a year later, has made an amazing impact at Bath in the last 12 months.

His quick feet and fine finishing make him an attacking threat on either wing, at full-back and probably at outside centre at a push.

Still only 27, McConnochie recently signed a new four-year deal at Bath.

And Jones has liked what he has seen of the speedster already in camp:

“It was a pretty easy selection. He’s played brilliantly for Bath, then we delved a bit into his background, his character.

“I had a few meetings with him. He’s a good character, a good team man, an ideal guy to fit potentially as a utility back for the World Cup.”