George Ford could be one of England's key players should they win the World Cup in 2019Graham Wilson

Wednesday marked exactly two years until the start of the Rugby World Cup in Japan and, as England head coach Eddie Jones prepares to name his first training squad of the autumn, he has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal.

After winning the series in Argentina this summer 2-0, with 30 players unavailable owing to the Lions Tour or injury, there are now more than 60 top level players for Jones to choose from. And this number continues to rise as new starlets emerge in the early weeks of the season. The eighteen-year-old Harlequins fly-half, Marcus Smith, has burst onto the scene and will be hoping to force his way into the squad for the autumn internationals, to be named in October. Likewise, Exeter’s young back-row Sam Simmonds has started the Premiership campaign with four tries in three matches.

Competition for places is essential for a successful international side. Just look at the All Blacks: Julian Savea, the man with the highest try-scoring rate ever in international rugby, cannot even make it onto their bench. Eddie Jones has repeatedly stressed the importance of having at least three top players available to fill each position by 2019. He is certainly getting there and, in some positions, will be facing some big selection headaches when it comes to naming his final World Cup squad.

England’s embarrassment of riches:

Prop: M. Vunipola, Marler, Cole, Sinckler, Genge, Mullan, Hill, Collier, Brookes, H. Williams, Harrison

Hooker: Hartley, George, Taylor, Cowan-Dickie, Buchanan, Singleton

Lock: Itoje, Kruis, Launchbury, Lawes, Isiekwe, Ewels, Attwood

Flanker: Robshaw, Haskell, Wood, Underhill, B. Curry, T. Curry, Wilson, Jones, M. Williams

No. 8: B. Vunipola, Hughes, Beaumont, Morgan

Scrum-half: Care, Youngs, Wigglesworth, Robson, Simpson, Maunder

Fly-half: Ford, Farrell*, Lozowski*, Francis*, Cipriani

Centres: Joseph, Te’o, Slade, Tuilagi, Devoto, Marchant, Mallinder, James

*designates they have also played centre for England

Back-three: Watson, Nowell, Daly, Brown, May, Yarde, Solomona, Wade, Rokodoguni, Goode, Haley, Earle, Cokanasiga

In a pool of players so large the standard is inevitably varied, and many of them may not even earn a cap between now and the World Cup, but there is plenty of talent to work with. Speaking last week after the announcement that England will face the All Blacks at Twickenham in Autumn 2018, Jones spoke of how he wants England to be “bulletproof” come 2019. The goal is very clear for this crop of players.

This summer was certainly a step in the right direction. The manner of the victories in Argentina was hugely encouraging, as England’s young guns really played. They threw the ball around in the way we have come to expect from the All Blacks, and scored tries from nothing. Paul Gustard, the defence coach, may have been slightly less pleased at the number of points leaked (the games were won 38-34 and 35-25) but, shorn of so many leading players, the performances were outstanding.

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Senior players Danny Care, Chris Robshaw, Joe Launchbury and Mike Brown led the way, whilst fly-half George Ford orchestrated the wins in two of his finest games in an England shirt. Perhaps it was the freedom he had without Farrell playing outside him, or perhaps it was the Argentinian heat, but it was Ford at his best. It was the Ford England need if they are to win the World Cup.

The verdict is still out on Sale’s Denny Solomona, though. He scored a magnificent try to win them the first test, breaking through tackles in a way no other England player can, but had been at fault for two Argentinian tries in his first three minutes on the pitch. He is an extraordinary talent, but will have to work hard to force his way into that World Cup squad.

The Lions’ drawn series with New Zealand was also good news for England. There were 10 England players in the test side. Not only did these players get more experience at the highest of levels, but they learned first-hand that New Zealand are beatable – something which has been far from clear in recent years. This will be invaluable over the next two seasons, provided that the players are managed properly. Such an arduous tour is bound to have taken its toll mentally and physically, and it is essential the players are given adequate rest.

To this end, the England management have hinted that they may rest some of their Lions for the upcoming tests against Argentina, Samoa and Australia. It is not the toughest of fixture lists – France are playing New Zealand twice – but it may be a chance for Jones to give the young players more first-team experience, and to work out plans B and C.

Aside from the national team, English rugby can be buoyed by the fact that this is fast becoming the most competitive Premiership season ever. After three rounds, no team remains unbeaten, and only Worcester are yet to win.

Saracens thrashed Northampton, then lost to Bath, who then went on to lose to Northampton. Gloucester beat Exeter, the Champions, before losing to Harlequins, who had been beaten by newly-promoted London Irish. Even Worcester, who got beaten by Newcastle 35-8 managed to push Wasps close. It is early days, but having such a competitive league is good news. Not only will the excitement attract more fans and potentially greater investment, England’s players will have to be at the top of their game week in week out.


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The Premiership’s American dream may not have come to fruition – only 6,271 people showed up to watch Saracens beat Newcastle in Philadelphia last weekend – but the league is clearly thriving. In round one alone, 50 tries were scored across the six games and, with high-profile signings such as Liam Williams, Matt Toomua and Willie le Roux being balanced with homegrown talent, the rugby is getting better and better.

There are, of course, concerns within the game. The spectre of concussion continues to loom, whilst the suggestion of a longer season has prompted talk of strike action by players. Sensible planning and management is required now more than ever. At least the RFU has failed in its attempt to shorten the Six Nations by removing rest weekends – something strongly opposed by players – after losing a vote 5-1 this week.

If those at the top listen to players on these important issues, English rugby will continue to go from strength to strength. It finds itself in a rude state of health and, as fans of the game, we can only hope that this upward trend continues right up to 2nd November, 2019

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