England U20 v Wales U20 match report

Kingsholm welcomed back international rugby on Friday evening as England U20s welcomed Wales U20s to the home of Gloucester Rugby.

The visitors claimed their second win of the tournament after a dominant performance over Alan Dickens side. 

To read more of this article, please click here to view it over on Gloucestershire Live.


Six players to watch this Six Nations

With Wales and Italy kicking off the Six Nations this afternoon, here is a look at the six players from each nation to look out for in the upcoming tournament.

Wales – Louis Rees-Zammit

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With only a handful of first team Gloucester appearances to his name, Louis Rees-Zammit has lit up the rugby pitch this season. Does ‘Rees-Lightening’ ring any bells? The 18 year old will turn 19 just days before the second tournament fixture and is expected to make an appearance within the competition. Rees-Zammit has scored half a century of points for Gloucester and has scored at least one try on every first team starting appearance via one – an impressive statistic for any player.

His fast pace and ability to accelerate quickly with ball in hand is a skill that Wales will look to feature for their games, helping them open up their attacking rugby. Although Rees-Zammit isn’t expected to start in many games, nor feature too heavily when selected, he could be the vital player that Wales will need to inject some pace into their fixtures.

Social snapshot

France – Demba Bamba

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Another young player set to feature heavily this Six Nations, is Demba Bamba. The 21 year old prop missed out on the majority of France’s World Cup games due to sustaining a thigh injury and will be wanting to make a good impression during the upcoming tournament.

Bamba was one of the three players promoted into the senior squad from their 2018 U20 world champion side for the 2019 World Cup period. The powerful tighthead prop’s ability to make valuable meters with ball in hand is one of the reasons he has been on the French national sides radar for many seasons. He is a player that could have a long international career ahead of him and make a serious impact into the way that France play.

Social snapshot

Italy – Jake Polledri

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Now a fully fledged international, Polledri has made a huge impact on the international stage for Italy. The young Italian, who plays for Gloucester is marketed as one of the best ball carriers in the Northern Hemisphere. Stepping through the defence and powering through gaps is something that comes natural to Polledri’s game and will be an asset to Italy during the Six Nations.

The flanker broke records during the 2019 World Cup, beating 14 defenders against Canada in their pool fixture. This is the highest number of defenders beaten in a single game since the tournament began in 1987. Expect to see big things from the developing flanker this Six Nations.

Social snapshot

Scotland – Huw Jones

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The 26 year old centre was extremely unlucky to be omitted from the Scotland World Cup squad last year. Jones has been influential in Scotland’s staggered success in recent years, in his first two international seasons, he scored ten tries in just a season and a half including featuring heavily in the Scots Calcutta Cup victory in 2018.

Now having more game time with Glasgow, the centre is set to have an impressive tournament this spring. With 23 caps to his name and 50 points scored for his country he is an extremely talented centre who has the ability to cover the back three, which could become very beneficial to Scotland if injuries occur.

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England – Will Stuart

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The Bath prop has had an extremely good first season with Bath after moving from Wasps last season. Having worked his way up the academy ladder, Stuart has made an impressive impact on the Gallagher Premiership since he made his senior contract a few seasons ago.

The tight-head is a hugely talented prospect for both club and country. His strong ball carrying skills and ability to break down the first line of defence is something that England will surely look to capitalise on for not only this tournament but for many to come. He could definitely be a valuable asset to England’s long term plans.

Social snapshot

Ireland – Billy Burns

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One might recognise Burns to be more situated to England given the amount of time he spent in the Gallagher Premiership before flying over to Ulster in 2018. The Englishman qualifies to represent Ireland through a paternal grandparent. He is one of eight uncapped players called up into the camp by new head coach, Andy Farrell.

Burns could offer a new dimension to Ireland’s playing game through his creative in play decisions and ability to carry the ball to the defenders and take the occasional risk in the hope it pays off. His quick thinking and clever playing has already benefited Ulster and could give Ireland the edge they need in the tournament following a disappointing World Cup campaign.

Social snapshot

England don’t need to worry about another World Cup pool of death

Four years ago, England bowed out of their home World Cup on what was a miserable campaign for Stuart Lancaster’s men. England’s ‘pool of death’ saw them face Wales and Australia along with two easier games in Fiji and Uruguay. Asia awaits their arrival and this timeEngland don’t need to worry about another World Cup pool of death.

To read more please click here

Is England’s Maro Itoje getting enough credit?

Oghenemaro Miles Itoje was born 28th October 1994 to Nigerian parents in London. In his five years of professional rugby he has become…

This season I have been fortunate to have some of my articles published for Last Word on Rugby.

Please click here to read more of my article.

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England U20 v Scotland U20 Match Report

England finished their Six Nations campaign in style on Friday night at Franklins Gardens, running in seven tries against a weak Scotland side and scoring 33 unanswered points in the second half. 

Both sides came into this fixture off the back of wins last time out in the competition and hoped to end their tournament on a high. 

Scotland scored first through Cameron Anderson after he intercepted a poor pass from the England Scrum half, Ollie Fox and ran in from 60 meters out with no one able to catch him. 

England replied quickly through Full-back Tom De Glanville who had a stellar match in an England shirt as he went over under the posts. The successful conversion from Manu Vunipola saw the scores level with ten minutes played. 

England had opportunities throughout the first half but narrowly missed out on exploiting them following a missed penalty and two disallowed tries.

Photo via James Fitchew Photography

Captain Tom Willis finally got over the white wash late into the first half off the back of the maul following his first try being ruled out by the TMO and England led 12-7 at the break. 

For the second time this Six Nations, Gloucester’s Aaron Hinkley put in another Man of the Match performance following yet another outstanding game in wearing the rose. He scored England’s third try of the evening after powering through the Scottish defence and finding space down the right wing. 


The England crowd were in full voice after Cameron Redpath scored England’s bonus point try of the game after a beautiful break from Ollie Lawrence as he spilt the Scottish defence open. Vunipola converted and England started to break away from the men in blue. 

With ten minutes, left to play Alfie Petch ran onto the ball and powered through the Scotland defensive line to go over the white wash, Vunipola again successful with the conversion brought the England score to 33-7. 

Photo via James Fitchew Photography

England were to score two more converted tries before the match concluded, once through debutant Alfie Barbeary and again through winger Aaron Reed who sprinted the pitch uncontested to score England’s seventh and final try of the match. 

England’s 45-7 victory meant that they finished in third place behind tournament champions Ireland and France at the end of this year’s Six Nations tournament as they prepare for the Junior World Championships this summer. 

Sixteen years have passed but the 2003 rugby World Cup will never be forgotten

“They’ve caught it as they start to attack, as Dawson goes through makes a wonderful break tackled 50 meters from the line Backs there, Wilkinson will drop for goal, no Martin Johnson has it he drives, there’s 35 seconds to go, this is the one it’s coming back for Jonny Wilkinson he drops for World Cup glory, it’s up its over, he has done it, Jonny Wilkinson is England’s hero yet again.”

Regardless of whether you are a rugby fan or not you will know exactly where you were when Ian Robertson shouted those memorable worlds from Stadium Australia 16 years ago at the Rugby World Cup final. One drop goal that will never be forgotten.

Times have changed and although Robertson will not be involved this time around, England are hopeful to repeat the success of 2003 in Japan this Autumn. 

England’s achievement Down-Under was a heroic display of hard work, determination, reliance and the belief that they were the best side in the world, nevertheless the route to Australia wasn’t plain sailing. 

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Following the international triumph of the 1995 World Cup in South Africa, the media coverage intensified and the sport went professional partly due to the global battle between media giants Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch. However, in 2002 England went on strike just six days before a test match over the amount of commercial advertisements they were being asked to doing and how little they were being finically rewarded.

Following England’s disappointment in the previous two World Cups, Clive Woodward’s team were a side at their peak heading into the 2003 tournament, a side whose athleticism and pure determination held them in such valuable position. 

‘Cliveisms’ is a word that surrounded the England training camps. The coach soon became as much as an English rugby legend as his players; he was like any coach put under criticism but the tactical nous made him one of rugby’s most successful coaches.

There were a lot of sporting icons that came following the success of 2003, but none more so Mr Jonathan Wilkinson. Irrespective of whether you are an avid rugby follower or not you will know who Wilkinson is. 

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Aged just eight years old, a young Jonny wrote down a list of goals he personally wanted to achieve following the 1987 World Cup what he calls ‘essay like’ goals.

“I wanted to play for England, I wanted to be the kicker, I wanted to win a World Cup, I wanted to be the best that there ever was, I was so sure of what I wanted to be.”

So, let’s rewind to the start of 22ndNovember 2003. Australia in their own back garden were clearly favourites however, the crowd wasn’t just golden and as the anthems were sung an echo of pride and passion from England rung around the stadium. 

Wilkinson took raptures of catcalls in the first half, the Aussie’s had seen enough of him and rather he been sat on the replacements bench. Despite Australia’s early try, Wilkinson’s boot kept England ahead of the men in gold. 

78 minutes gone and 14 all. Four years of immediate preparation and many more building up all coming down to the last two minutes. But thus, no change in the score and for the first time in rugby World Cup history we go to extra time. 

The blood pressure of every English fan anywhere had just risen and two ten minute periods stood between World Cup glory and insufferable defeat. 

England took the lead after the first ten minutes and nerves started to settle down. 

When Australia levelled at 97 minutes the feeling on nausea sat in the stomachs of everyone watching, maybe we might have to go to a penalty kick shoot-out. 

But then a moment of pure magic, kicking off his unfamiliar right foot the eight-year-old Wilkinson lived out his World Cup dream. 

“It’s coming back for Jonny Wilkinson he drops for World Cup glory.” 

2003 can never be repeated and nor should it be expected to; the pure resilience of the England team and the enormity of the task that they undertook and thus achieved in the era that they did helped shaped English rugby union to what it has become today. 

Eddie Jones and his men have a momentous challenge awaiting them in Japan this September, an opportunity to repeat the success of 2003 and become only the second England side to win a rugby World Cup. 

What lies ahead will be a gruelling test of pure commitment to the game, but if they do achieve the accolade they too will have a place in history.

The sensational six this 2019 Six Nations

Ireland – Jacob Stockdale 

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Arguably, he is the best winger the world has at the moment and will be for a long time to come. The 22-year-old has already made quite an impact on the international stage, scoring seven tries in the 2018 Six Nations campaign and has 12 tries in his 14 appearances for his country. 

Stockdale has been critical in how Ulster have performed this season, especially in the Champions Cup including his two crucial tries in their win against Racing 92 in which they made the quarter finals. Not only did he score in the match against New Zealand last Autumn but scored the decisive try against England at Twickenham last Spring. His performance regardless of the context of the match is always at international standard and the way in which he scores tries is what is remarkable about this young player. There is no fear when he plays. He is expected to have another outstanding tournament this time around and I cannot see any reason why he won’t pick up the top try scorer and player of the championship again. 

Scotland – Greig Laidlaw 

The scrum-half has been vital in Scotland’s success over recent years and their performance seems to be elevated when he appears in the line-ups. His excellent goal kicking saw him be one of the highest points scorers of last year’s tournament. His club form for Clermont this season has been at its best helping them get to the top of the table in the Top14 league and helping in securing their quarter final place in Europe. The 33-year-old doesn’t have age on his side, but it is the experience that he brings with him that stands him in such high prestige. Although he is the most experienced scrum-half that Scotland has to offer, Gregor Townsend might opt to play him off the bench like he did last season in favour of Ali Price. If he does choose to do this, then we can expect a change in pace from Scotland when he steps onto the field with his personality and professionalism bringing out the best in his teammates. Not only will he provide vital support at the breakdown he can also offer his accuracy kicking, something that could turn crucial in those tight fixtures.

Wales – Justin Tipuric 

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With former Welsh captain Sam Warburton retired, Tipuric is Wales’ leading open-side flanker and is expected to lead Warren Gatland’s men alongside other senior members of the squad. In what will be Gatland’s final Six Nations tournament as Wales’ head coach they will be hoping to make it a memorable one and rival the championship title. Tipuric has been on sensational form for Wales recently and gained himself two man-of-the-match awards during their Autumn campaign. His ball carrying ability is second to none and probably the best in the Northern hemisphere and he has really come into his element and out of the shadows since Warburton’s retirement. His work-rate at the breakdown is phenomenal with the power that he brings and how he not only protects the ball but the way he forces turnovers.  He will be a huge asset to Wales this tournament – especially when they play England and Ireland. If his international form continues he could be in contention for the captaincy at some point in his career when the legend Alyn Wyn-Jones steps down. Nevertheless, for the time being he will be a vital asset to how Wales play and their chances of taking the title away from Ireland. 

England – Dan Robson

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After missing the first half of the season due to injury and his opportunity to shine during England’s Autumn internationals, Dan Robson is back in Eddie Jones’ squad. With Jones not including Danny Care in the set-up, Robson has the opportunity to secure a place in the team for the World Cup. His form for Wasps has been sensational, despite the clubs’ turbulent season so far. He will be a huge asset to England in the style of rugby that he plays – offering something different to Ben Youngs, who will be expected to start at nine. His speed to the breakdown is astounding and his ability to spot the tiniest of gaps will benefit England greatly. Robson has an incredible rugby brain and often backs himself to make the gain-line and beat defenders. The initiative that he shows and his confidence in his ability is really refreshing. When playing in black and gold, Robson often offers very clever dummy passes or the occasional chip through the defensive line and both have worked well for Wasps over the past few seasons. His England call up has been long in the making and possibly deserved his place sooner, but now he has it I am sure he will be taking every opportunity he can to keep his place. He is definitely one to watch this Six Nations. 

Italy – Sergio Parisse

A true veteran of not only Italian rugby but the sport in general is Sergio Parisse. However, the Italian captain has suggested that this Six Nations might be his last. He is the longest serving national captain in rugby history, having skippered Italy on 86 occasions. Not only this but he is joint fourth with Gethin Jenkins in rugby’s most capped players of all time, sitting on 134 caps, with only Richie McCaw and George Gregan having more. Italy have had a hard time throughout all of their Six Nations campaigns’ and Parisse knows how hard this one will be. Everyone knows who the flanker is but that doesn’t mean he isn’t one to be looking out for. He plays with his heart on his sleeve every time he steps onto the field and always gives 110%. He should be regarded as one of the greatest of all time. His clever turnovers and power in defence is an asset to Connor O’Shea’s side. His leadership and gentle giant persona sets him above the rest and has always done a magnificent job in keeping the sprits of his side high, even when they have faced the toughest of opponents. If this is to be his last Six Nations tournament, then I am sure that he will leave the field happy with the knowledge that every performance he has is one to be proud of.

France – Guilhem Guirado 

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It is no secret that France’s international campaigns in recent years hasn’t been up to the standard it needs to be to compete with the best in the world and with the World Cup fast approaching they will need to show signs of improvement this Six Nations to help guide them to the World Cup. Their captain; Guilhem Guirado has been one of the best hookers in the modern game despite his sides poor performances. Although he has had a season riddled with injuries he shone for France at the end of 2018. The hooker is extremely powerful on the ball at the breakdown and ball in-hand but also executes the basics of rugby to exceptionally well, which is something that France can really benefit from. Guirado needs to be at his best not only in terms of playing but with his leadership skills this tournament as it is vital that France inject some pace and determination into their side. The pressure is on Les Bleus but if they can show a coherent team with Guirado guiding them then they could pose a threat in the competition.  

Still no place for Gloucester’s Danny Cipriani in England’s latest squad

Yet again Danny Cipriani has been left out of England’s training squad and this time it is just ahead of the Six Nations tournament that starts in just under two weeks’ time and the decision as usual divides opinion.

Cipriani made his return back into the Gloucester team last weekend against Munster following the chest injury he sustained against Exeter in November however, Eddie Jones is still hesitant over the fly-half’s position within the England set-up.


Cipriani lost his place in the squad during the Autumn Internationals after being called up for the tour to South Africa over the summer, in which he started the final test and produced the try assist for the winning try. 

He was instrumental to Gloucester’s strong start in the Gallagher Premiership and helped guide them to their current top four position in the league.

Cipriani has been previously been criticised by Head Coach Jones for his work rate and defence indicating that this has again contributed to his exclusion from the squad.

The 31 year old has only 16 international caps in 11 years and turned down opportunities in France to stay in England to stake a claim in the squad for the upcoming World Cup in September.

It’s no secret that there is and has been a lot of hype surrounding Cipriani over the past couple of seasons, but last year Jones claimed that the media created a lot of the hype and that he is already the starting Fly-Half for the World Cup in the medias eyes.


 It is clear that the front-runners for the 10 shirt in September are Owen Farrell and George Ford with Cipriani even being forth choice with the flexibility that some of the players in the squad can offer through being a utility-back option. 

Will Cipriani ever make it back into the squad? That is the question that needs an answer. He is yet another international standard player not playing international rugby, and it is all a bit confusing as to why.

Aaron Hinkley is relishing his international opportunities following his England U20 call up

Aaron Hinkley and his fellow England team-mates are hoping to take back the Six Nations title from France and start their competition with a win as they face Ireland away in Dublin in just under two weeks.

Hinkley spoke about the step up from club to international training and how Gloucester have helped him prepare for the training camp which he attended last week, he said:

“Training with the Gloucester first team every day is a big challenge in itself, so I’ve been preparing here as well as I can be with their help.”

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Like many players, Hinkley benefited from the various age groups in both club and international level, but found it hard missing out on England selection at U16 and U17 level:

“I didn’t get picked for England U16 nor U17, but what I think is really important is working hard and then you’ll eventually get the exposure once you deserve it.

“I thought it was the end not making the 16’s but once I eventually go into it, it’s actually a really important part of our development making it into the first teams.”

England go into the tournament hoping to make their seventh consecutive final in the competition, but Hinkley admits that the boys are staying focused with the task in hand.

“We are confident but its first job first, just play the game, get past the first game, all our focus at the moment is Ireland and obviously the aim for everyone is to win the Six Nations but for now it’s to focus on the job first.” 

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Although rugby is a team sport, at this level the competition gives players the opportunity to further their playing career and stake a claim in the professional set up, something that Hinkley is more than aware of: 

“Personally I would like to get as much exposure and development as I possibly can, there is a lot of training and great coaches around me so I’m looking to make the most of it.”

The competition kicks off on Friday 1st February where Hinkley and the England boys play the opening game of the competition in the hope of having a strong tournament ahead.

Wales V Australia match report

After a decade of waiting Wales beat Australia 9-6 with a late Dan Bigger penalty at the Principality Stadium on Saturday. It wasn’t the most exciting match but the wait is finally over.

Australia’s Ned Hanigan was penalised at the breakdown when Dan Bigger stood up to secure his side’s fist win against the Wallabies in ten years. 

The match only got going in the second half, with the first not offering much. But the win now means that Wales have won seven games in a row – something they haven’t done in 13 years.  

After the match Wales captain, Alun-Wyn Jones credited his side’s efforts in a long-awaited win. 

“We won by a fine margin today. I’m proud of the boys, we’ve had to be gracious in defeat for a long time and we will make sure we are gracious in success.” 

In a bizarre and manic first quarter, Wales opened the scoring through Halfpenny who made amends from his earlier miss at the posts with a successful kick after the home side demolished the Australian scrum. Australia’s lineouts haven’t been at their best recently and this showed in their decision to take a scrum wherever possible. 

Australia levelled the scores through Foley following an offside offence and from Dan Lydiate and slotted the kick from 40 meters out. 

Wales had the opportunity to take the lead before half time, but in a very bizarre kicking performance from full-back Leigh Halfpenny, he missed a relatively easy kick in front of the posts, and as the teams went down the tunnel it was still 3 all. 

The second half got a lot more interesting as Halfpenny lined up a penalty kick from the same place as the one he missed, this time for Australia being offside. Halfpenny doesn’t miss more than twice as he slotted the kick to put Wales ahead by three. 

A controversial hit on Halfpenny and then a penalty for Australia heard boos echo around the Principality as Matt To’omua levelled the score with just under ten minutes to play. 

But, it was the calm and steady boot of former Osprey’s fly half Dan Bigger who kicked the winning penalty for Wales as Ned Hanigan wasn’t rolling way. 

Dan Bigger, now possibly a national hero, as Wales beat Australia for the first time in ten years. 

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Who are England’s eight uncapped players?


Joe Cokansiga didn’t properly take up rugby until his teenage years. He grew up on a British Army base, however,​ it wasn’t until when he and his family were posted to Brunei when he started a promising rugby career.
From the way that he plays​,​ it is obvious that Cokansiga hasn’t forgotten his Fijian heritage and the 20-year old’s call up into the England squad isn’t too surprising considering his excellent form for Bath at the moment.
Cokansiga has worked hard from an early age to eventually claim his spot in the England squad.
Cokansiga brings a fasted paced, strong performance from the wing which could be crucial against the Southern Hemisphere especially if he is brought on with twenty minutes left to play.

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At just nineteen years of age, and only making his professional debut just over a month ago, Ted Hill is currently Worcester’s top try scorer, scoring 4 tries in 4 appearances.
When Hill came off the bench to make his debut he scored just 27 minutes after he graced the pitch, then scored the winning try to seal the win against Leicester Tigers. What is even more surprising is that he is a flanker.
Hill is a promising prospect and has worked hard with Warriors to claim his spot in the England squad. With the current injury crisis in the back row,​ this could be the perfect time for Hill to claim his spot and hold it against the senior players once they return from injury. He is still very young and has little professional experience but is defiantly a player to follow through the next few seasons.

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Despite only being twenty-one Mercer has been on England’s radar for a while having had previous squad inclusions as an apprentice player. He might not be the biggest player on the field but his fast feet and good game intelligence makes up for lack of size.
From a young age, Mercer has been surrounded by a rugby environment, after he followed his father Garry around the pitch picking up balls after training when he defence coach at Glasgow. Mercer isn’t Billy Vunipola and if he does get a place on the team sheet he should not be compared to the experienced No8 however, I wouldn’t rule him out to becoming the next Vunipola in the future.

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As one of Exeter’s longest serving players, Ben Moon has seen it all with the club following his debut in 2008 but he hasn’t yet seen an England shirt. Moon, has been an unsung hero at Exeter with over 200 appearances. He quietly keeps himself to himself and goes about his business on the pitch. His scrummaging is second to none and has played a monumental part in how Exeter’s set piece is so consistent. He has represented England throughout the age levels and with Joe Marler’s unexpected resignation from international rugby,​ it seems the perfect time for Moon to start being the unsung hero of English rugby.

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As far as stats go, Elliot Stooke topped the chart last season. He played in all 22 matches of the Aviva Premiership​, in which 18 of those were starts which is made even more impressive given the competition of Welsh international, Luke Charteris.
In his 1,400 minutes of rugby, last season the second row did a lot of unseen work at the breakdown and helped Bath massively in with their on-field struggles. Stooke was called up to the Saxons squad in 2014 as injury cover for Graham Kitchener but has failed to stake his claim any further.
His is an exciting addition to the squad but will need to work extremely hard if he is going to replace Joe Launchbury or Maro Itoji.

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Rhodes is the oldest of the new recruits at 30 years of age, but with age comes experience of which Rhodes has plenty. South African born, Rhodes qualifies for England under residency and has been with Saracens sine 2015. Rhodes has a lot of domestic experience that he can bring into the England squad from both Southern and Northern hemisphere rugby and could offer insights as to how his birth country plays.
As blindside flanker, it appears that Jones has brought him into the squad to look to fill the position left by former England captain Chris Robshaw who will miss the Autumn Internationals through injury.

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Schonert probably hasn’t got an England call-up sooner due to his playing career being woven with injuries. He missed out on touring Argentina in the summer due to yet another injury but he is now back fit and hoping to make a big impact with England, following his uncapped match against the Barbarians, which only fuelled his passion for playing for England further. Having been with Worcester for five seasons, Schonert helped the Warriors side gain promotion into the premiership and helped the club stay afloat in top-flight domestic rugby. He is a big ball-carrying prop who plays with his heart on his sleeve and will give 110% until the final whistle has been blown.

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Nathan Earle has come back to the premiership following a spell in New Zealand which he claims made him the player he is. He moved from Saracens to Harlequins after not receiving enough game time from the North London club, and the switch has certainly suited him.
As a winger/ fullback it isn’t just his pace that has gotten him into the England squad it is his size too. He is bigger than your ‘normal’ winger and has the ability to break through tackles that some would not. Not only is he fast and strong his ability​ to read phase play is second to none​ and often is in position ready to defend before the play happens.

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What people seem to be missing about Joe Marler’s retirement from international rugby

*please note this article contains some strong language*

Joe Marler has 59 England caps to his name, made his debut against South Africa in the summer of 2009 and coincidently has played his final game in an England shirt against the Bok’s during this summer’s tour.

Last week the Harlequins prop announced his retirement from international rugby with just under a year to go until the Rugby World Cup. The announcement shocked the rugby community and in an interview with ‘The Rugby Pod’ earlier this week, he admitted that he used to go looking for yellow and red cards around the time of the international periods.

That is what nearly every paper has portrayed, however, if you listen carefully it is actually the anxiety of playing international rugby that leads to erratic behaviour on the field of play.

There is no doubt that playing for your country is one of the greatest honours in any sport. But unless you are a professional athlete no one knows the impact it can have on both yourself and your family, which is something Marler alluded to when he spoke to the pod:

“I’ve just had enough, I’ve got a young family, I’ve enjoyed my time with England but family is my priority. As soon as I had kids my perspective changed.”

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Marler was more than certain to travel with the England squad to Japan for the World Cup next year and was looking to make a minimum of £400,000 just from international matches, but he says that money isn’t everything:

“You can’t buy back the years and parents evenings you have been missing out on.

“My drive is to be a family and play for my club, I couldn’t do both (international and domestic).

“You don’t get to see your family; people forget about the highs and lows.

“It hasn’t felt that hard, it hasn’t felt like a big decision for me because I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and it was probably pre- South Africa that I made my mind up.”

To retire from international rugby to spend more time with your family isn’t uncommon and is laudable and that reason wasn’t what caused upset earlier this week, it was the comments about receiving yellow and red cards and picking up bans around the international period.

What has been reported about Marler has been taken completely out of context. Never in the interview did he say that he wanted to or purposely tried to get himself a ban; which he has backed himself via Twitter following the podcast.

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What he actually said was that the anxiety that surrounds playing for England and the commitment, time away from family and the expectation would all get too much and how he played would consequently spiral out of control:

“The anxiety I would get about having to leave and go away again would start to manifest itself in giving away even more daft penalties and looking for outs, looking for red cards, looking for a yellow, because if I could pick up a ban then that is a way out without pulling the trigger”

Mental health within sport, especially rugby given its tough exterior has only started to be properly spoken about in the last five/six years. The effect that professional sport and the pressures that come with it can have a harrowing effect on the body both physically and mentally. Although Marler hasn’t openly said he is a sufferer of anxiety he has said that anxiety would be a reasoning to his behaviour to spiral:

“I can’t keep doing this rollercoaster and it is not fair on my family or the club to go hang on a minute a week ago he’s playing well for us and not knowing when he’s going to play like a twat again”

Marler certainly has a good 4 seasons left playing for his beloved club and will defiantly be reaching the 200-appearance mark by Christmas. His comments about his play can be taken as being rather poor from a sportsman or can be viewed with a touch of empathy for a player who has found playing for his country mentally harder than what meets the eye.

Chris Ashton could be the answer to England’s backs dilemma

The return of Chris Ashton to the Gallagher Premiership has lightened the hearts of English fans. After a thrilling season with Toulon in France, the former Saracen returns to English soil with Sale Sharks following his impressive season in the Top 14 in which he leaves France as the top try scorer for the season and scoring 130 points for his French side.

It was apparent that should Ashton come back home he would feature somewhere within the England set-up following his stunning three try display for the Barbarians against the men in white earlier this year.

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Ashton, who is now 31 and has 39 international caps for his country knows only too well how much of an opportunity Eddie Jones has given him by his inclusion into the Pre-Season England squad given that his last match for England was back in 2014 under Stuart Lancaster.

Ashton played fullback for the Barbarians in the summer and did excel, controlling the game and picking England’s poor defence to pieces. However, adding another player to the fullback position to me seems too much. Jones currently has four players he could call upon for the shirt.

Mike Brown will no doubt be his first point of call heading into the Autumn Internationals and then the World Cup campaign. Despite Brown’s slight lack of form at Harlequins recently, he very rarely puts a foot wrong at international level, you cannot fault his precision under the high ball, attention to detail and loyalty to the shirt, regardless of whether you like him as a player.

Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly and Jack Nowell can all play from the fullback position, though they are slightly less experienced in the role. However, Daly and Watson who are now regulars on an England team sheet could easily slot into the position if Brown was injured or replaced. Likewise, Ashton can theoretically do the same and if the decision was for him to be at fullback then this would appear the better option than starting him there.

Ashton’s versatility allows Eddie Jones to put his current players in their best position and slot Ashton in between. The most sensible solution would be to have Ashton on the wing, as we know this is where he can shine and play beautiful rugby. If you put him on the wing, then move Wasps’ Elliot Daley to outside centre, inside Owen Farrell which then settles the unanswered question of ‘who’s playing 13?’

Jones currently has many young backs shining in the Premiership all putting in strong performances for a place in the England squad, but with Ashton moving back to England presumably with the intention of pursuing his England career it would be a mistake to let him slip through the net once again.

Why England’s squad selection is so crucial ahead of the Autumn Internationals

The summer tour to South Africa was rather disappointing. South Africa played far better rugby than was anticipated and went onto the pitch with everything to play for and not much to lose.
England, on the other hand,​ were poor in discipline and failed to connect on the field.
Frustration grew throughout the tour and upon reflection it a lot of England’s mistakes came from the lack of experience of players playing alongside each other on the international platform.
After all, how can you expect Brad Shields to be ‘in tune’ with his fellow teammates having only known them for a matter of days?

The Autumn Internationals will be extremely testing for England via one match. They face the Springboks for the first test, then World Champions New Zealand, followed by Japan and Australia to finish the series.
Therefore, squad selection and player partnership must be flawless and show a pretty strong idea as to what the team will look like in a year’s time for the World Cup.

Rewind two years and England won an impressive series in Australia 3-0, and if you compare the team sheets from both the 2016 second test and the 2018 second test it shows the inconsistency of the squads.
Of those starting in 2018, 66% were in the 2016 match day 23. But of the match day 23 in 2018, only 44% were featured in the 2016 match day 23.

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The majority of those players that were not featured this year were left back home and rested by Eddie Jones, but there are players that seem to have disappeared from the England radar.
If you look at the 2018 Six Nations squad there are 24 players who made the squad in Spring but did not tour in the summer but, Eddie Jones all throughout the tour made it very clear that:
“we have 25 players sitting at home not available for selection”.
Which is true. However, I am yet to find those key 25 players that he means.

Players such as Sam Underhill, Alec Hepburn, Nathan Earle and Zac Mercer all made the Six Nations squad but didn’t tour in the Summer. However, I am not entirely convinced that they will feature again for England. They might appear in a squad but how likely is it for them to earn multiple caps for their country? So, it begs the question, why bring these (young) players into a squad if they aren’t given a chance to grow on an international platform.

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It is fantastic that during the summer Tom Curry got his chance to develop himself as an international player at a young age and in fairness to him he did play very well and coped with the enormity of the event. But the only way young players who are starting to knock on England’s door are ever going to prove themselves is by playing on the big stage.
It’s great that Marcus Smith to have been included in the squads this year to get used to the international step up and will have taken that experience forward to the U20 World Championships this summer, but he needs to get some game time in the Autumn to see if he can handle himself on the international level. By no means play him for the New Zealand match but give him a run out against Japan, let him prove himself. If not then why keep including him, or any of the younger players. Why put their hopes up if they’re never going to play?

By the end of the Autumn Internationals, Jones and his coaches need to have a very clear idea of the squad that they will be taking to Japan for the World Cup. The squad needs to have minimal changes within the next year so that the players can all be on the same page.
Then from that build player partnerships and stick to them so that come September 2019 the England team sheet is a slick organisation, rather than one that has your leaders getting into fights and conceding five too many penalties.