Phew ... Eng squad for Boks looks credible

2018-05-10 12:54
Eddie Jones (Getty)

Cape Town - There are certain big-name absentees, but the 34-man England rugby squad revealed by coach Eddie Jones on Thursday to tour South Africa in June happily seems to sport the core of that nation’s playing strength.

It is an important development because, for a second time in a row in bilateral meetings, fellow-Six Nations outfit Wales have opted for a glaringly weakened crew when they tackle the Springboks a week earlier in neutral Washington DC (Rassie Erasmus is also expected to field an “experimental” SA combination in the debatable undertaking).

England, however, will arrive on our shores for the three-Test series - starting in Johannesburg on June 9 - with much nearer to the Full Monty.

Yes, Jones has opted to rest a handful of senior personnel like scrumhalf Danny Care, tighthead prop Dan Cole and loose forward James Haskell - regular captain and feisty hooker Dylan Hartley is also unavailable due to concussion issue - but otherwise his party looks roughly of the equivalent staffing strength the Boks might boast, for instance, on a European trek at the end of their own gruelling season in the southern hemisphere.

There will be only eight previously uncapped players among the 34, as they bring a leaner group than visited (42) for their last tour here in 2012, when Heyneke Meyer began his tenure as Bok coach with a decent 2-0 outcome (one draw).

A good gauge of how much more credible the England squad looks than Wales’s does for the Bok clash in the USA is that the former will bring as many as 10 of 17 players from their ranks deployed (or at least initially selected, in some cases) for the memorable British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand in 2017.

That contrasts with the Welsh policy, admittedly with injuries a factor in certain instances, for the Bok Test and then two further ones in Argentina, of including a flimsy five of 16 Welshmen who saw service during the Lions safari.

England will also have at their service here 14 of the match-day 23 (or 61 percent) who did duty in their closing Six Nations match against all-conquering Ireland at Twickenham earlier this year.

That was a 24-15 reverse, signalling the third setback in a row for Jones’s charges (they also lost to France and Scotland) which saw them curtailed to a rare fifth-placed finish in the tournament.

Given those circumstances, we might reasonably have expected the coach to shake the selection bag anyway for the SA tour, something he appears to have done as he examines some new blood or revisits a couple of high-profile other customers.

Into the latter category, pleasingly, fall such characters as flyhalf Danny Cipriani, the enigmatic “rock star”, if you like, of English rugby who has been starring anew for Wasps.

The squad also includes those two significant wrecking-ball siblings of forward play, front-ranker Mako and No 8 Billy Vunipola - the last-named player is back from a long-term shoulder injury, not having represented England since the Six Nations of last year.

England are much-changed from the group who visited South Africa six years ago, the only half-dozen survivors from that unsuccessful mission for them being Mike Brown, Owen Farrell (the 62-cap flyhalf/centre leads the latest side), Ben Youngs, Joe Launchbury, Chris Robshaw and Joe Marler.

The Boks will be a very different combo, too: of the match-day squad involved in that first Test of 2012 in Durban (SA won 22-17), the only possible ongoing elements this time could be Frans Steyn, Tendai Mtawarira, Adriaan Strauss and Pat Lambie.

Bruising, then-rookie lock Eben Etzebeth made his Bok debut that day at Kings Park, although he seems only a long shot for series involvement, as he has not yet surfaced from injury for the Stormers in 2018 and time is fast running out for him to make the cut.

Jones has intriguingly also included 27-year-old Hurricanes flanker Brad Shields, New Zealand-born and still active in Super Rugby 2018 - making his qualities very familiar to many SA players - but the holder of a British passport and English parentage.

This England bunch? Happily, I believe, you can’t brand them bogus.

England's 34-man squad announced on Thursday for a three-Test tour of South Africa in June:


Fullbacks/wings: Mike Brown (Harlequins), Elliot Daly (Wasps), Nathan Earle (Saracens), Jonny May (Leicester) Denny Solomona (Sale)

Inside backs: Danny Cipriani (Wasps), Owen Farrell (Saracens, capt), George Ford (Leicester), Alex Lozowski (Saracens), Cameron Redpath (Sale), Dan Robson (Wasps), Henry Slade (Exeter), Ben Spencer (Saracens), Ben Te'o (Worcester), Ben Youngs (Leicester)


Back five: Tom Curry (Sale), Ben Earl(Saracens), Jonny Hill (Exeter), Nick Isiekwe (Saracens), Maro Itoje (Saracens), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins), Brad Shields (Hurricanes/Wasps), Sam Simmonds (Exeter), Billy Vunipola (Saracens), Jack Willis (Wasps), Mark Wilson (Newcastle)

Front row: Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter), Ellis Genge (Leicester), Jamie George (Saracens), Joe Marler (Harlequins), Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Harry Williams (Exeter)

Fixtures (all 17:05 kick-off)

June 9: South Africa v England, 1st Test, Johannesburg

June 16: South Africa v England, 2nd Test, Bloemfontein

June 23: South Africa v England, 3rd Test, Cape Town

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    england  |  springboks  |  eddie jones  |  danny cipriani  |  rugby


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