Crashball Rugby's editor Alistair Stokes discusses the inclusion of Gary Graham and what it tells us about Eddie Jones' plans for England.
On the first day of a brand new shiny year, Newcastle Falcons' flanker Gary Graham enjoyed his first England camp involvement at Brighton College in traditionally miserable January conditions. Head coach Eddie Jones has been impressed with Graham's toughness and hunger, comparing him to Chris Robshaw as not quite an out-and-out seven.
Graham's call-up seems to me to lay the final marker down on what Jones wants from his flankers. The inclusions of Teimana Harrison and Jack Clifford in Jones' first year in charge, and more recently Tom Curry, had suggested a lean towards a more dynamic openside. However, it seems now the attacking tributes of Curry are simply a bonus and to be selected for England at six or seven requires a more workmanlike style of play. Jones is not after the type of all court flankers trialled in the past. Harrison and Clifford would be well suited to a game of 7's but are a stark contrast to the likes of Chris Robshaw, James Haskell and Sam Underhill. Work rate, work rate, work rate is the order of the day and Graham is the latest addition to England's backrow options.
It also explains the selection of Sale Sharks' openside Tom Curry but the exclusion of twin brother Ben. Tom seems to have been deemed more capable of enduring the rigours of test level rugby, edging closer to the Graham mould. Ben, meanwhile, draws an increased similarity to Clifford with his slightly slimmer frame and ability ball-in-hand.
So it seems Jones is happy with the depth being built on the flanks, with Robshaw and Sam Underhill backed up by Haskell, Graham, Tom Curry, Mark Wilson and second rows Courtney Lawes and Maro Itoje.
One question now lingers in my mind, is Jones building a pack that offers enough in attack to win a World Cup? While a physically dominant forwards unit will win most games, there will be times when the best a team can achieve with their opposition is parity. England's loss in the final round of last year's Six Nations saw the England forwards bested up front by Ireland's pack, struggling to impose their game plan on the Irish and ultimately losing the heavy weight clash in Dublin. If England are faced with a side matching them in a similar fashion in 2019, are there enough individuals in the pack and the backline with the type of game breaking ability it takes to swing the momentum in their favour? Next month's Six Nations rematch with Ireland and the much awaited November clash with the All Blacks will give us our answers.