Exeter prop Alec Hepburn faces oppourtunity to step into the England fold following injuries to Ellis Genge and Matt Mullan
After the recent news of Leicester Tigers' and England loosehead Ellis Genge undergoing shoulder surgery, the Bristol born prop faces a race against time to regain fitness in time for England's 2018 Six Nations campaign. In lieu of Genge's destructive presence, Eddie Jones must consider options for his third choice loosehead should Genge not return in time.
Over the last two years, Jones has selected Wasps' Matt Mullan as his next man inline. Although, with Mullan currently injured also and set to return just in time for the England squad announcement, there is no guarantee he will hold that position.
We turn now to another man plagued by injury in recent times who is, however, fit at the moment. Exeter Chiefs' Alec Hepburn impressed Jones enough to warrant a place on the England Saxons' tour to South Africa in 2016. Closer to the Genge mould, Hepburn possesses destructive carrying, in addition to a solid set piece. Hepburn does however possess handling skills second only to Mako Vunipola, an aspect that may help him edge out a recently fit Mullan or Genge for an England spot.
Hepburn will not be alone in this race, Sale Sharks loosehead Ross Harrison has been the bedrock of the Sale front row for the last few seasons. While Harrison does not offer the same skills ball-in-hand as Hepburn, he offers a similar role to Harlequins Joe Marler. Reliable scrummager, solid in defence and durability are the bred and butter for international props, if he can prove his prop pedigree is better than that of Hepburns, he may leapfrog the Chiefs' man.
Exeter Chiefs' fans may be treated to an England bench with five Chiefs in the impending Six Nations. The return to fitness of hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie and Lions' winger Jack Nowell could see the duo join the likes of Hepburn, Harry Williams and Sam Simmonds as England's finishers. Exeter head coach Rob Baxter's success has slowly been leaking into the England squad, but now it seems the dam has burst and similar to Saracens, the Devon side will be supplying the national team with a large quantity of recent Premiership and European champions.