The 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan is now just two weeks away, and I thought I would briefly list some of the players to look out for in the England squad.
Tom Curry – The Sale Sharks flanker has stormed onto the international stage, making his senior debut in an unofficial game against the Barbarians back in November 2017 – a game in which he was named Man of the Match. He furthered his England career when he played in all of England’s 2019 Six Nations matches, scoring tries against Wales and Scotland. A player who is dominant at the front of the team, and with the ability to score tries in difficult passages of play, he is still only 21 years old. Along with his twin brother and fellow Sharks player Ben, the Curry twins are seen as part of Sale and England’s future.
Jamie George – The Saracens hooker has become England’s first choice No. 2 since 2015, after displacing Dylan Hartley in that position. He has taken to it like a duck to water, and is displaying some excellent skills at this point in time. He played in the 2019 Six Nations, scoring a try in the 57-14 rout of Italy at Twickenham. At the age of 28, this is his second World Cup, having been in the 2015 squad. He is now seen as a reliable option at hooker for his club and country.
Maro Itoje – Another Saracens player who has shot to fame following Eddie Jones’ appointment as England Head Coach. Itoje, who plays as a lock or flanker, was first called up to the England squad in 2015 for the preliminary World Cup squad, but was dropped by former boss Stuart Lancaster. He was called up by Jones for the 2016 Six Nations, making his debut against Italy and being named Man of the Match against Wales. He helped the Roses to the 2016 Grand Slam. In the 2017 edition, he started all five games at blindside flanker rather than as a lock, and helped England to defend their title. He is seen as a force and a creative player who, at the age of 24, still has even more to give to England.
Courtney Lawes – A player with over 40 caps for England, the Northampton Saints forward, who can play as a lock or flanker, is a tough player who was one of the top tacklers of the 2019 Six Nations. Those performances have seen him book a place in the squad heading to Japan this year, where he could be a really useful squad player. At the age of 30, he is now seen as someone who comes on as a substitute to shore things up, but off the back of his Six Nations performances, he could still be crucial to whether England do well or not.
Joe Cokanasiga – The Bath wing is a really exciting player. He gained a Man of the Match award for his performance against Italy in the 2019 Six Nations, and is seen as a force in the wide areas. He took the Premiership by storm in the 2018-2019 season, scoring 40 points in just 13 matches (an average of just over 3 points per match), and was always a player that needed to have an eye kept on him, as he constantly posed a threat. His performances for club and country thus far could be a real bonus for England’s World Cup campaign, although it is expected that he will be behind the likes of Jack Nowell and Jonny May in the wide player pecking order.
George Ford – The Leicester Tigers fly-half is not unknown to the world of international rugby union, as he has been part of the England set-up for a long time now. However, he is included in this list as one to watch because he is one of probably two of the Leicester squad who can’t be blamed too much for the Tigers’ slump last season when they only just avoided relegation from the Premiership. He will be competing with Owen Farrell for the fly-half spot in the starting XV, however if Farrell plays at centre, then the Ford-Farrell axis in the middle of the pitch is a good option for Eddie Jones and England to have.
Willi Heinz – The Gloucester scrum-half is an experienced player and someone who can deliver an excellent pass when needed to. At 32 years old, he has been a big part of Gloucester’s rise to be one of the titans of the Premiership in recent seasons, and has formed a good partnership with Premiership and World Player of the Year Danny Cipriani, who was a surprise omission from the World Cup squad despite having an outstanding season following his move from Wasps. It was a surprise when Heinz, who is New Zealand-born, was named in the final squad just one day after making his England debut, but that is the confidence that Eddie Jones has in him.
Jonny May – A player widely expected to be one of the first names in the starting XV, the Leicester Tigers wing has been outstanding for his club since his move from Gloucester. Along with George Ford, he is the other player who can perhaps remain blameless for Leicester’s slump last season. May can always be relied upon to get on the end of a good pass from a teammate, or to score a try from a tight angle, and will be a threat for opposing teams during the tournament in Japan.
Ruaridh McConnochie – Another Bath player who has taken to Premiership life well, McConnochie is a recent convert from Rugby Sevens. He was part of the silver medal winning team at Rio 2016, and signed a contract with Bath for the previous season. He played 15 times, scoring 20 points. His rise to the England World Cup squad is well deserved, and at the age of 27, he still has years ahead of him to make his mark on the international stage.
Henry Slade – A big part of Exeter’s rise to the top of the Premiership. The Chiefs have finished top of the Premiership in the last two years, but lost in the final to Saracens. Slade is a centre who constantly provides a threat in the middle of the park, and scores plenty of tries. He played against Uruguay in the 2015 World Cup, scoring a try, and also scored twice in the Six Nations this year, once each against Ireland and France. He is a player who, when in form, is a handful for opposing teams, and is no doubt eager to continue his Six Nations form into the World Cup. However, an injury to him and Exeter teammate Jack Nowell has limited his preparation for the tournament, which may lead to him not being a shoe-in for the first game.
Manu Tuilagi – Following a spell of being injured and then subsequently out of the England squad, Tuilagi is a player who is back to his very best. A mainstay of the Leicester Tigers midfield for the last season, he played in the 2019 Six Nations and was a key component in Eddie Jones’ squad. He scored against Italy – his first try for the Roses since the 2014 edition of the tournament. Capable of making things happen on the pitch, and smashing into defenders in order to do so, he will be a player to watch for opposing teams this tournament.
This is evidently not the full squad, which is 31 strong, but these are just a few of the players to look out for when watching England. Hopes are that they will have a better tournament than in their home tournament in 2015, especially now that the pressure of being hosts is off their shoulders. It is an exciting squad, so now we just have to wait and see what happens.