Eddie Jones & Co. have an abundance of talent in their national side's second row. We debate and analyse the top contenders, what they offer and where they stand.
Eddie Jones firmly believes that if his team are to win the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, they will need 3 world class players in each position. In Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury, Jones has four locks able to step into any world class team with little to no complaint.
In addition to the four men firmly in contention for starting berths, youngsters Charlie Ewels and Nick Isiekwe are firmly in the mind of Jones. Under the tutelage of lineout guru and former England and Saracen’s captain Steve Borthwick, Ewels and Isiekwe may well be on level pegging with their senior colleagues in a few years. On the fringes of the England squad are Bath man Dave Attwood, Worcester Warriors Will Spencer and Exeter Chiefs Mitch Lees.
Age: 22 – Height: 6ft 3in” (195cm) – Weight: 115kg (18st 1lbs)
At just 22 Itoje's CV could easily be confused with a seasoned international of 10 years. IRB Junior Player of the Year, two back to back Aviva Premiership titles, captain of an LV Cup winning side, back-to-back European Champions Cup titles, 2016 International World Player of the Year nominee, back-to-back Six Nations titles (one Grand Slam), 3-0 series victory in Australia, a two-test starter in a British and Irish Lions series draw to New Zealand and to top it off the young man has only lost 12 games in his professional career. If the Saracen’s man can keep up this pace, he could be the most decorated player in English history in a matter of years.
A menace around the field, in the lineout and a strong scrummager, Itoje has showed skills above and beyond your average second row. Able to play at blindside flanker, the versatility of the man speaks volumes for the type of player he is, and will be. Itoje has a rounded skill set and is still improving. During the second and third test, he called the lineouts against New Zealand, an impressive feat considering only a few months earlier with England he was calling lineouts for the first time at international level. One thing we know for certain is that Itoje has nailed down a starting spot in the team and will be the first name on the teamsheet. It is now for the rest of the England second rows to contend for his locking partner.
Notable Achievements- 2 x Premiership champion, 2 x European champion, 2014 U20 World Player of the Year, 2 x Six Nations Champion (One Grandslam), Series Victory in Australia, 2016 World Player of the Year Nominee, British and Irish Lions tourist (one tour) and captain of LV-Cup winning campaign.
Age: 27 – Height: 6ft 4in” (198cm) – Weight: 112kg (17st 8lbs)
Saracen’s and current starting England teammate of Itoje, Kruis, is a very different kind of player. International quality in the tight, Kruis’s area of speciality is the lineout. Often compared to lineout mastermind Borthwick, Kruis runs the England and Saracen’s lineout to great affect. Now a British and Irish Lion, 27-year-old Kruis complements Itoje in the engine room for both club and country.
It should not be forgotten that Kruis is also heavily decorated, sharing with Itoje back-to-back Premiership and European titles, a Six Nations grandslam, a 3-0 series victory in Australia and Lions series draw.
Notable Achievements– 3 x Premiership champion, 2 x European champion, 2 x Six Nations Champion (One Grandslam), Series Victory in Australia, British and Irish Lion (one tour)
Age: 28 – Height: 6ft 5in” (201cm) – Weight: 111kg (17st 6lbs)
The Northampton Saint’s man was touted for greatness since his debut under Martin Johnson in 2010. In the last 12 months Lawes has managed to find a sustained level of fitness, something relatively unheard of for this Saints man up until this point in his career. Known for his monstrous fly-half killing tackles, Lawes has recently improved his all-round skill set, including very impressive lineout jumping and improved carrying. The versatile 58-cap man is able to play at blindside flanker and lock, similarly to Itoje. Lawes is fast becoming one of Eddie Jones’s mainstay in a match day 23. If not for George Kruis’s impeccable line out calling, Lawes could find himself packing down as Itoje’s second row colleague. Now that the young Itoje has called lineouts for the Lions, Lawes may well leap frog Kruis. Lawes would bring an increased level of physicality to the England team, this is the kind of pressure the best teams in history have consisted of.
Notable Achievements– 1 x Premiership Champion, 3 x Six Nations Champion (One Grandslam), Series Victory in Australia, British and Irish Lion (one tour).
Age: 26 – Height: 6ft 4in” (196cm) – Weight: 118kg (18st 8lbs)
The Wasps captain has started many tests in the last 12 months for England after injuries to George Kruis and Chris Robshaw opened up two spots in the second row. With Maro Itoje shifting to 6, Launchbury has started the last 7 of England’s games and picked up two man of the match performances. It is astonishing that a player of Launchbury’s calibre is still continuing to be the third/fourth choice second row in the England setup. Having captained Wasps this last season, his stand out attribute over his competitors is his leadership. Many pundits and fans suggested he could take over from former England captain Chris Robshaw after the 2015 Rugby World Cup debacle. Launchbury may not look the most athletic second row, but regularly makes key interventions all over the pitch. Often seen ankle tapping outside backs, cutting attacking play dead in its tracks.
Notable Achievements– 2 x Six Nations Champion (One Grandslam), Series Victory in Australia and Argentina.
Age: 22 – Height: 6ft 5″(199cm) – Weight: 108kg (17st 0lbs)
Young Bath second row and former England U20 locking partner of Itoje, Ewels, was one name some found a surprise inclusion in Eddie Jones’s squad. The Bath man has impressed in the premiership since stepping up to senior level. Clear leadership ability and lineout nous are the key attributes that caught Jones’s attention. Ewels made the most of three England absentees during the Lions tour, starting 3 matches against the Barbarians and Argentina in late 2017. In addition to his lineout calling, Ewels showcased impressive handling skills, offloading in key attacking moments in his three starts.
Ewels may be years away from being a regular in the England 23, but is one for the future. Very much in the Martin Johnson mould, the former England U20 captain is more action than words.
Notable Achievements– 1 x U20 Rugby World Cup Winner, 1 x U20 Six Nations Champion, 1 x Six Nations Champion (One Grandslam), Series Victory in Argentina.
Age: 19 – Height: 6ft 5in” (199cm) – Weight: 113kg (17st 11lbs)
Touted as the next Itoje, the Saracens academy man was included in Eddie Jones’s squad to tour Argentina. After starting at Twickenham against the Barbarians and coming off the bench for his first full cap in San Juan, Isiekwe has shown glimpses of physical dominance and rugby intellect at senior level. He is set to have his most involved premiership season in the next few months but will have to contend with the likes of Itoje, Kruis, Will Skelton and Dominic Day for a starting berth. Isiekwe will no doubt have plenty of involvement in the 2017/18 Anglo-Welsh Cup and may well find himself captaining the side as part of his development, something Saracens have been well known for when nurturing their young talent.
Similarly to Ewels, he may be making his full England start any time soon, but is another one for England’s future. If the youngster can rise to the expectations many have laid at his feet, he could well be the next in the series of world class players Saracens seem to be churning out yearly.
Notable Achievements– Series victory in Argentina
Will Spencer, Dave Atwood, Mitch Lees
Notable mentions must go to Worcester Warriors Will Spencer, Bath’s Dave Atwood and Exeter Chiefs Mitch Lees. Spencer is a deceptively strong grafter in the pack. The former Bath man’s career has been plagued by injures. In the season just passed, Spencer impressed the England coaching set up and earned his place on the Argentina tour, but did not feature. It is hard to predict where Spencer stands in Eddie Jones’s and Steve Borthwick’s mind, but hopefully a full season fit in the 2017-18 campaign will allow us a better insight.
Dave Atwood is a man who emerged into the England set up under Martin Johnson. Atwood is a large strong shire horse of a man, but lacks the mobility and handling skills of his England counterparts. Experience and leadership abilities are the standouts for the 24-capped former Gloucester man. It is hard to see Attwood step into the England 23 outside a major injury crisis to the second row.
Similarly to Kruis, Itoje and Lawes, Mitch Lees is able to play at both lock and blindside flanker. The Australian born Exeter lock is a giant of a man. At 1.96cm/6ft 5″ and 123kg/19st 3lbs, he is heavier than current England barnstorming loose head Mako Vunipola and only 3kg lighter than the destructive England 8 and brother of Mako, Billy Vunipola. Lees’ size and carrying ability are key to his game and he possesses a surprising level of mobility for a man of his size. Lees initially suffered injuries at the time of his first England senior squad inclusion. Having toured with the England Saxons against South Africa A in June 2016, Lees is probably not likely to be at the forefront of Jones’s mind, alongside Attwood and Spencer.
So there it is, our round up of the main contenders for the England second row. Now it’s your turn, we want to know your thoughts. Did we overlook anyone? Are we underestimating any of the aforementioned names? Or have we hit the nail on the head? Leave a comment, share and debate, your opinion as a reader is as important as our writers.