After a long awaited return from injury, Exeter Chiefs' hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie and loosehead Alec Hepburn sets their sights on an England 23 spot alongside club mate Harry Williams.
Over the last month we have seen the Exeter Chiefs front-row trio Alec Hepburn, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Harry Williams reunited after long injury spells for the former two players. Tighthead Williams has already broken into an England 23 following Kyle Sinklers ban for gouging. As for Hepburn and Cowan-Dickie, they face a more challenging task for their time in the spotlight.
Williams has enjoyed a run in the England side following Sinkler's ban, but will have to continue developing his attacking play if he wants to keep the Quins man out of the 23. Sinkler leapfrogged current England starter Dan Cole in last Summer's Lions tests, proving his ability as a game breaker to be a vital part of the Lions series draw.
With Williams part of a top of the table Chiefs side, Sinkler's indiscipline could be his downfall and will have to ensure what he offers on the pitch continues to overshadow his tendency to snap.
Thus far the contest at hooker has been a two horse race between Dylan Hartley and Jamie George. Cowan-Dickie's return to fitness will see a third thoroughbred rejoin the
conversation. During his first year in charge, Jones capped the Chiefs' man three times following a bicep injury to George. The 24-year-old came off the bench against Wales, France and Australia.
Cowan-Dickie offers a level of dynamism ball-in-hand that even the impressive George can't match. His athleticism and tenacity is second only to loosehead Ellis Genge, making him ideal for one of Jones famed 'finishers'. While he may not be challenging for a starting role, if he can break into the match day 23 against the likes of Italy or South Africa in 2018, he may stave off the competition of Bath's Tom Dunn, Wasps' Tommy Taylor and Worcester's Jack Singleton for the third hooker spot in 2019.
Completing the hopeful Chiefs' trio is loosehead prop Alec Hepburn, who recently returned to fitness following a long-term knee cartilage injury. Hepburn first impressed on the international scene during the England Saxons tour to South Africa in 2016, proving he could handle himself at scrum time and around the park. Similarly to Cowan-Dickie, Hepburn offers plenty in the loose, often seen linking up with the Exeter backline.
If not for an injury to the aforementioned Genge, we may not have been discussing Hepburn. Genge currently faces a race to return to fitness in time for the Six Nations after undergoing shoulder surgery earlier this month.
The concept of an all Exeter front-row on England's bench leaves plenty for Chiefs' fans to be excited about. When you take into account that Sam Simmonds, Henry Slade and Jack Nowell all look set to be in the match day 23 after injuries to Ben Te'o and Billy Vunipola, there may be up to six Chiefs out of the possible eight bench spots. While you may not want to hold your breath for it, far stranger things happen. You only have to look at Edinburgh's Daryl Marfo, who went from being part of a liquidated London Welsh side to starting against the All Blacks in a matter of months.
Two years is a long time in rugby and plenty can change, it's up to Cowan-Dickie, Williams and Hepburn to persuade Jones their skillsets are a must for a successful 2019 campaign.