A summer filled to the rafters with Test matches kicks off this weekend with the traditional international appetiser at Twickenham where England will face the Barbarians.
In usual fashion, England are missing key players to the teams qualifying for the Premiership final and must select a side filled with uncapped, fresh faces. Last year we saw Nathan Earle, Sam James, Alex Lozowski, Josh Beaumont, Sam Underhill, Nick Isiekwe, Will Collier, Jack Singleton and Ellis Genge earn their first shot at impressing on the international scene.
This year, it seems England boss Eddie Jones is set to select a team mirroring a first-choice Test side, taking the fixture far more seriously than we have seen in previous years. Jones is noticeably eager to get the ball rolling again after losing three straight games on the bounce in England's worst Six Nations campaign in half a century. However, if the Australian truly wants to ensure the success of his side by the time the much talked about 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan comes around, he must hand starts to players with the potential to take England’s game to the next level.
Ali Stokes' England side to face the Barbarians
1. Ellis Genge
2. Jack Singleton
3. Kyle Sinckler
4. Joe Launchbury ©
5. Elliot Stooke
6. Mark Wilson
7. Tom Curry
8. Zach Mercer
9. Dan Robson
10. Danny Cipriani
11. Denny Solomona
12. Ben Te’o
13. Henry Trinder
14. Joe Cokanasiga
15. Jason Woodward
While Jones may be tempted to start the likes of Joe Marler, Chris Robshaw, Ben Youngs, George Ford, Jonny May, Elliot Daly and Mike Brown, he must opt for newer faces. The likes of Mark Wilson, Zach Mercer, Dan Robson, Danny Cipriani, Henry Trinder and Jason Woodward must all feature in the starting XV and be allowed to state their case against an all-star Barbarians side.
England have looked decidedly pedestrian in attack this season and have the chance to test the potentially scintillating combination of Robson, Cipriani, Trinder and Woodward in the same backline. Equally, with an expectedly physical three-Test series coming up in South Africa, resting first team regulars will do no harm to England’s summer ambitions. In this fixture last year, both Sam Underhill and Chris Robshaw were ruled out of England's first Test in Argentina with injuries sustained at Twickenham. At this point, the cons seem to heavily outweigh the pros, and after all, how much can they glean from a Barbarians fixture that they don’t already know?
Robshaw has been tireless in his efforts for England and Harlequins this season and at 31, this workload can take its toll when not properly managed. The closest like-for-like replacement for Robshaw is Newcastle Falcons' Mark Wilson, who can fill in for the former England captain and have the chance to build upon his solitary Test start against Argentina last summer.
After missing out on his debut in Rome earlier this year due to a chest infection, distinguished Bath number eight Zach Mercer must finally earn his first crack at international rugby. Nathan Hughes seemed some way off full match-fitness during his return from injury with Wasps last weekend and clearly needs time to catch up. When fit, Mercer has been a stand-out in the Premiership at just 20-years-old, demonstrating some exceptional displays in both attack and defence.
There is no doubt in my mind that Mercer is ready to prove himself for England.
To ensure a steady ship, Joe Launchbury, Ben Te’o and Kyle Sinckler should all remain in the starting XV, doing their part in securing an otherwise untested unit.
This is the perfect time for Eddie Jones to introduce certain individuals full of potential whilst allowing his usual war dogs valuable time off. The 58-year-old admitted himself that he should have introduced new faces during the Six Nations and is currently staring down the barrel of a prime opportunity to make amends this weekend.
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