Andy Farrell is essential to the Lions chances in New Zealand this summer.

Andy Farrell as the Lions Defence Coach in Australia in 2013.
Andy Farrell as the Lions Defence Coach in Australia in 2013.

After England’s terrible performances in the 2015 Rugby World Cup Andy Farrell, then serving as England’s defence coach, was sacked along with the rest of the coaching team: Head Coach Stuart Lancaster, Forwards Coach Graham Rowntree, and Backs Coach Mike Catt. England’s Defence had been pretty strong during Farrell’s tenure and therefore it was no surprise to see him snapped up as a consultant for Munster Rugby soon after his sacking, and for him to then progress to working as Ireland’s Defence Coach following the 2016 Six Nations Championship (which was the earliest point at which his contract would allow him to work for another international side).

Following his taking the role with Ireland, Farrell has continued his strong defensive work, helping Ireland Head Coach Joe Schmidt to mastermind victories over the All Blacks in Chicago, and last week beating Australia. Along with his achievements whilst coaching England, and his previous achievements with Saracens and on the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour to Australia, Farrell should be the first person who Lions Head Coach Warren Gatland ensures is on the plane to New Zealand in the Summer — his place is arguably as important (or perhaps even more important) than any of the players who are in the running for this summer’s tour.

The reason for this is Farrell’s relationship with the players. One of the difficulties with the Lions is building a rapport and trust between players and coaching staff and building partnerships between players in such a short space of time. This was one of the reasons why Warren Gatland, who was successful as a coach on the last tour and was also successful as the Forwards Coach on the 2009 tour to Australia, was retained as Head Coach this time around. Farrell offers similar benefits, because he worked on the 2013 tour, but also because he has experience with both the England and Ireland players whom, given the form of their respective sides, look set to make up the bulk of the touring side this summer.

Nowhere will Farrell’s influence be more important than in the backs, where his defensive coaching and relationship with the players will be hugely important. Conor Murray, Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell, and Jonny Sexton all toured with the Lions in 2013 and were coached by Farrell, I would expect all four of these players to tour this time around. If they retain their current form then I would expect Jonathan Joseph, Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose, George Ford, and Jonny May to also be on the plane to New Zealand — all of these players have also been coached by Farrell at a recent point in their careers. Ford, Joseph, and May were in the England squad at the 2015 World Cup, whilst Henshaw and Ringrose are in the current Ireland team.

Whilst the partnerships built between players are hugely important on a Lions Tour, the partnerships between players and coaches are equally important.

With this in mind, Andy Farrell is the first person that Warren Gatland should be calling when he begins to put his coaching team together next week.

Why on earth has Chris Froome not been nominated for Sports Personality of the Year?

Pete Goding via Press Association Images File Photo: Team Sky 2014 Tour de France Team Announcement Chris Froome Sky Procycling team wins the 100th Tour de France i
Tour de France winner, Chris Froome. 

Yesterday evening the shortlist (arguably a longlist given that it contained sixteen names) was announced for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year Award, with the winner due to be announced on 18 December.

When I saw the shortlist, to my consternation, cyclist Chris Froome had not been nominated. In 2016, Froome won his third Tour de France title, in the process becoming the first athlete to legitimately retain the title since Spaniard Miguel Indurain in 1995 (obviously I’m not including Lance Armstrong whose results have now been expunged from the record books). Given that Le Tour is considering amongst the most demanding events in the sporting calendar, to have retained it, particularly in the swashbuckling style that Froome did, is a phenomenal achievement. Prior to his win in the Tour he won the Criterium du Dauphine Libere (also considered one of the foremost road races in the world) for the second year running, and later in the year he finished second in another Grand Tour, this time the Vuelta a Espana. In addition, he managed a Bronze medal in the Time Trial at the Rio Olympics. Given the scale of these achievements you could make a case for Froome as the winner of the award, but in fact he hasn’t even made the shortlist.

Now, it’s understandable that in Olympic years the SPOTY shortlist is pretty focused on those who have won gold medals at the Olympic Games, but this year they increased the size of the shortlist to sixteen in order to factor that in. One of those nominees is Leicester and England striker Jamie Vardy who is one of two footballers on the list, the other being Welshman Gareth Bale. Bale’s nomination is understandable given his key role in Wales’ fairytale role to the semi-finals of Euro 2016, with Wales being knocked out by eventual winners Portugal, however Vardy’s is less so. Although his Leicester side won the Premier League, with Vardy scoring 24 goals in the process, it is debatable whether this should qualify him for inclusion. Vardy’s big achievement was equally the record for having scored in the most consecutive Premier League games. This was an impressive feat but, it happened in 2015, meaning that it would have made more sense had he been nominated last year. As for his contributions later in the year, he wasn’t even voted as the best player in his club side, with that accolade going to Riyadh Mahrez, and the less said about his contributions to England’s terrible Euro 2016 campaign the better. Instead, Froome should have been nominated.

More than anything else, his not being nominated is perhaps a symptom of the latent distrust for road cycling which still exists following the Lance Armstrong scandal, and which has reared its ugly head again his year with the revelations about Bradley Wiggins’ use of controversial Therapeutic Use Exemptions. However, Wiggins has not actually been found to have done anything wrong, and Froome has been a trailblazer for clean cycling, and so the way in which the sport is somewhat tainted shouldn’t count against him given his phenomenal achievements.

Spare a thought as well for rugby player Maro Itoje who also failed to be nomination for the award. This year was the first season that Itoje featured in the England side, and the twenty-two year old ended it by being nominated for the World Player of the Year Award. Last season, Itoje didn’t lose a single match in which he started for club and country, and typically he was an important part of those wins, playing a significant role as England won a Six Nations Grand Slam and whitewashed Australia away from home. His omission is also extremely unlucky, but perhaps of it being an Olympic year more than anything else.

Of those selected it would unsurprising if Andy Murray retained the award having won Wimbledon, an Olympic Gold, and finished the year as the world number one. However, despite Murray’s undoubted achievements, it would be a bit of a shame if the same athlete won the award in two consecutive years. For this reason, Mo Farah, Sophie Christiansen, Max Whitlock, and Jason Kenny should all be considered deserved winners — as should Froome, even though he wasn’t even nominated.

Under Eddie Jones England could once again reach the heights of 2003.

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Eddie Jones is in the process of turning the England team into world beaters. 

 

On Saturday, the England rugby team continued their perfect record under coach Eddie Jones with a 58–15 victory over Fiji at Twickenham. If we include the thrashing of Uruguay at the end of the 2015 World Cup (Stuart Lancaster’s last match in charge of the side), England’s winning streak now stands at twelve matches, and in that time they have won a Six Nations Grand Slam, defeated Australia three times, and beaten South Africa for the first time in ten years.

These exploits have led to the team already being considered one of the favourites to win the 2019 World Cup in Japan, and emulating the England team which became world champions thirteen years ago today. There are a lot of similarities between the side that became world champions thirteen years ago, and the team which Eddie Jones is in the process of sculpting at this moment.

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This team looks as though it could emulate England’s 2003 World Cup winners. 

 

Similarly to the current team which suffered heartbreak in crashing out of the 2015 world cup on home soil having failed to advance beyond the group stage, the 2003 squad suffered a similar failure. In the 1999 World Cup, the England side which contained many of the players who would go on to become world champions were demolished by South Africa in the quarter finals. This loss bred a desire and focus in the side which hadn’t been quite so evident before, and all the evidence suggests that the 2015 debacle has had a similar effect on the current side.

In addition, the current side has a similarly phenomenal depth of talent as the 2003 side had. In 2003, head coach Clive Woodward was able to leave players of the quality of Graham Rowntree, Simon Shaw, Austin Healey, and James Simpson-Daniel out of his final 30-man world cup squad without this impacting upon quality, such was the depth of talent from which he could pick. Eddie Jones has the similar luxury of a deep talent pool today. Prior to the ongoing Autumn Internationals, several key first team players had been ruled out of action. Despite missing James Haskell, Maro Itoje, Jack Clifford, Manu Tuilagi, Jack Nowell, and Anthony Watson among others, England have still managed to field a side that would be considered the envy of many other nations. Even with all the injuries players of the quality of Danny Cipriani, Dan Robson, Joe Simpson, Christian Wade, Matt Kvesic, Matt Symons, Paul Hill, and Jackson Wray don’t make the cut. For Eddie Jones, such a selection dilemma is a brilliant luxury to have.

All the signs suggest that this England side is destined for greatness, and for that a lot of credit should go to Eddie Jones who has got the team playing the an exciting and dynamic fashion that they have got close to in the recent past. However, some credit should also be reserved for his predecessors in the role, particularly Stuart Lancaster who unceremoniously left the role of head coach following the World Cup. The nucleus of the current side were capped for the first time under Lancaster, and he should be given some much deserved credit for their rise to prominence. It was Lancaster who placed faith in Owen Farrell and capped him as a twenty year old in the 2012 Six Nations Championship, Farrell now has 45 caps and has been twice nominated for the IRB World Player of the Year, meaning that he is widely considered one of the best in the world in his current position. Equally, the likes of Joe Launchbury, George Ford, George Kruis, Mako and Billy Vunipola, Chris Robshaw, Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson, Jonny May, Alex Goode, and Jack Nowell, all first established themselves under Lancaster, and it was in Lancaster’s team that they properly learned the ways of international rugby. Lancaster is often denigrated for his time as England coach, but in fact he achieved a lot, it was simply a case of him lacking the experience to take England to that next level, which is what Eddie Jones has done. Equally, the likes of Ben Youngs, Danny Care, James Haskell, new captain Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes, and Dan Cole, first established themselves under Martin Johnson, and with these players now comprising the nucleus of such a good team, he should also take some credit for their rise. As I said previously it was simply that someone like Eddie Jones was required to move England into the world class bracket, and put them in with a chance of properly competing for the World Cup in 2019.

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Stuart Lancaster deserves credit for blooding most of England’s star players. 

Overall, this England team is one that could be remembered as one of the best England teams in history. With such a great talent pool to pick from, and a brilliant coaching team of Jones along with Steve Borthwick, Neal Hatley, and Paul Gustard, it is a team that is going to go far.

It is rare for an England supporter in any sport to begin watching a match expecting to win, but the quality of this England team is such, that that is exactly what every England supporter will be feeling when they tune into Saturday’s match against Argentina.

The Lions Tour 2017: Runners and Riders.

With the first match of the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour just over one year away, I take a look at the players (and coaching staff) in pole position to board the plane to New Zealand.

The Head Coach:

In 2013, Wales Head Coach Warren Gatland led the Lions to Australia. With a coaching team including Rob Howley, and then England coaching staff Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell, Gatland led the Lions to a 2–1 series victory. Their first test series victory since 1997.

This time around, Warren Gatland appears once again to be in pole position to be appointed as Head Coach for the Lions Tour to New Zealand. It is rare for a coach to lead multiple Lions tour but despite this, Gatland seems the only credible candidate to lead the tour to New Zealand. For a time, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt looked likely, but Ireland’s mediocre performances in the 2016 RBS Six Nations Championship may have damaged his chances. England coach Eddie Jones has ruled himself out of coaching the Lions. Vern Cotter has overseen radical improvement in the performances of the Scottish national side but still feels like a long-shot. Overall, Warren Gatland seems exceedingly likely to be named as the head coach for a second consecutive Lions tour.

Prediction: Warren Gatland.

The Captain:

In 2013, Sam Warburton became the youngest ever captain of the British and Irish Lions at the age of just 24. Warburton captained the side in the first and second test before injury forced him to miss the deciding fixture. For this final match his Wales teammate Alun Wyn Jones took over the captaincy. The smart money would be on one of these two men to be named the captain this time around. Despite this, the name of Dylan Hartley should also be mentioned after he led England impressively in their Grand Slam Six Nations campaign. It should also be noted that Hartley plays in a less competitive position than both Warburton and Wyn Jones which, in theory at least, makes his place in the team more secure. In addition, Greig Laidlaw’s captaincy of Scotland has been increasingly impressive since he took over the job in 2011, this was particularly illustrated by his leadership in Scotland’s 2015 World Cup campaign. However, with so many options available to the Lions at scrum-half, there is no guarantee that Laidlaw will even be named in the final squad, let alone be named the captain. This brings us back to Warburton and Wyn Jones. Both players lead by example, and can be considered to be amongst the best in the world in their respective positions. But it is Wyn Jones who would be my choice. He would be assured of his place in the side and would lead from the front. He will be going on his third Lions tour, and he has experience in leading the Lions to a test series victory in that final match of the 2013 tour against Australia. It is a tough call but, for me, it has to be Alun Wyn Jones.

  • Prediction: Alun Wyn Jones.
  • In with a shot: Sam Warburton.
  • Wildcard: Dylan Hartley.

Forwards:

Props:

In 2013, the Lions selected six props in their original touring party. I would expect them to select the same number this time around. The undoubted star of the last tour was Alex Corbisiero who was called up as a replacement for Cian Healy and starred in both test wins. Unfortunately, Corbisiero is taking a break from rugby after numerous injury problems and will be unavailable for selection.

As for the props who will be selected, the best tightheads on show in this years Six Nations were England’s Dan Cole, and Scotland’s WP Nel. Barring a significant loss of form, both these players will travel to New Zealand. I would also expect Mako Vunipola to be selected for his second Lions tour. While Mako may not start in the test matches, his impact from the bench is second to none and I would happily select him for this alone. As for the rest of the party, Welshman Samson Lee has a good chance of making the squad, as do Irishmen Cian Healy and Jack McGrath. In addition, the likes of Alasdair Dickinson, Kieran Brookes, Paul Hill, and Ellis Genge should not be rule out of contention.

  • Prediction: Dan Cole, WP Nel, Mako Vunipola, Cian Healy, Jack McGrath, Samson Lee.
  • In with a shot: Alasdair Dickinson, Kieran Brookes, Joe Marler.
  • Wildcards: Paul Hill, Ellis Genge, Kyle Sinckler.

Hookers:

In 2013, the Lions originally selected Dylan Hartley, Tom Youngs, and Richard Hibbard as hookers. Rory Best was then called up after Dylan Hartley’s suspension following his red card in the Premiership final.

Based on recent performances, Dylan Hartley is currently the outstanding hooker in the British Isles and their seems to be minimal competition for the starting jersey on the Lions tour. If the rapid progress of Jamie George continues then I would expect him to be the second-choice on next year’s tour. The third place would then be between Rory Best and Sean Cronin of Ireland, and Scott Baldwin of Wales.

  • Prediction: Dylan Hartley, Jamie George, Scott Baldwin.
  • In with a shot: Rory Best, Sean Cronin, Ross Ford.
  • Wildcards: Ken Owens, Luke Cowan-Dickie.

Second Row:

In 2013 the Lions took five second row players with Ian Evans, Richie Gray, Alun Wyn Jones, and Geoff Parling making the trip. Of these, only Alun Wyn Jones looks certain to make the trip. In the 2016 Six Nations Championship, the outstanding second row pairing was England’s George Kruis and Maro Itoje, and both should be as good as assured of their place on the plane. The advantage of Itoje, in particular, is that he is equally comfortable playing blindside flanker which would allow the Lions an extra lineout option in their forward pack. England are a team with significant depth in this position and the likes of Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes should also both be seen as being in with a shot. Jonny Gray of Scotland has been one of the outstanding second rows in the Northern Hemisphere for several years ago with his outstanding defensive workrate and to see him make the squad would be expected. Brother Richie, who travelled in 2013, would be less sure of his place. But his athleticism could be ideal off the bench and therefore he should definitely be considered. Likewise, Irishmen Devin Toner, Iain Henderson, and Ultan Dillane have been impressive in recent seasons and should be considered.

  • Prediction: Alun Wyn Jones, George Kruis, Maro Itoje, Joe Launchbury, Jonny Gray.
  • In with a shot: Luke Charteris, Richie Gray, Devin Toner, Iain Henderson.
  • Wildcards: Ultan Dillane, Matt Symons.

Flankers:

In 2013 the Lions selected five flankers: Sam Warburton, Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric, Sean O’Brien, and Tom Croft. Barring injury, you would expect Warburton and O’Brien to both be selected this time around, given that they are have been the outstanding flankers in the Northern Hemisphere for some time. In addition, Gatland is a huge fan of Dan Lydiate which gives him a strong chance of making the trip. Fellow Welshman Justin Tipuric provides express pace which could be invaluable off the bench. During the Six Nations, England’s flankers were Chris Robshaw and James Haskell. While both put in strong performances in this campaign, they have been criticised in the past by Gatland and would appear to be fighting a losing battle when it comes to selection for this tour. Despite this, if the pair can replicate their performances of the past year in the run-up to the tour, they would be undeniably deserving of selection. New Zealand born John Hardie has been very impressive since being selected for the Scottish national side and must be considered a strong possibility for this tour. Not least because of his experience playing in New Zealand and his ability to play as a genuine openside flanker. CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony have both been impressive for Ireland is recent seasons and would also merit consideration for the tour.

  • Predicted: Sam Warburton, Sean O’Brien, John Hardie, Dan Lydiate, Chris Robshaw.
  • In with a shot: Justin Tipuric, CJ Stander, James Haskell, Peter O’Mahony.
  • Wildcards: Tom Croft, Sam Underhill.

Number Eight:

Based on performances in the past few years, there seems to be only one candidate for the position of first choice number eight on this tour, and that is Taulupe Faletau. He is arguably second only to Kieran Read as the world’s best number eight (bear in mind I am not including David Pocock in this, as he is a flanker who happens to currently be playing number eight). In the 2016 Six Nations, the outstanding number eight was Billy Vunipola, and he should also make the trip. Expect competition from the experienced Jamie Heaslip, David Denton, and Nathan Hughes (who will by then have qualified for selection for England and the Lions). But it seems highly likely that it will be Faletau and Vunipola who travel to New Zealand.

  • Prediction: Taulupe Faletau, Billy Vunipola.
  • In with a shot: Jamie Heaslip, David Denton, Nathan Hughes.
  • Wildcard: Jack Clifford.

Backs:

Scrum-Half:

In 2013, the Lions selected Mike Phillips, Conor Murray, and Ben Youngs as the three scrum-halves for the tour. I would suggest that Murray and Youngs both have a good chance of also making the tour this time around. But, in my opinion, the outstanding scrum-half available for selection is, Rhys Webb. His pace and accuracy of passing, as well as his understanding with likely test starters Faletau and Dan Bigger will prove invaluable to the Lions side. England’s Danny Care is perhaps the most like-for-like replacement available for Webb, and for this reason he should also be considered. Whilst Conor Murray offers something different with his excellent tactical kicking game. I would also expect the likes of Greig Laidlaw and Ben Youngs to be considered, whilst the excellent form shown by Kieran Marmion for Connacht this season may yet catapult him into the Ireland team and a Lions call-up.

  • Predicted: Rhys Webb, Conor Murray, Danny Care.
  • In with a shot: Ben Youngs, Greig Laidlaw, Gareth Davies.
  • Wildcards: Kieran Marmion, Dan Robson.

Fly-half:

After this phenomenal performances in the 2015 World Cup, and his excellent showing following the tournament, the consensus seems to be that Dan Biggar is the presumptive test match fly-half for next year’s Lions tour. This is not a view which I am going to argue with. The much more interesting battle is for the second slot in the squad. Jonny Sexton started all three test matches in 2013, and although he has been somewhat disappointing this season, he showed signs of a return to his best form in the recent Pro12 playoffs. Owen Farrell, who also toured in 2013, has been the outstanding fly-half in the Aviva Premiership this season, and looks set to start for England in their upcoming test series against Australia. Both these players have strong cases for inclusion this time around. Despite his loss of form this season, we should not rule George Ford out of selection, whilst Finn Russell offers a completely different game from Biggar. Ultimately though, if Gatland is coach the expect Farrell to be selected, as Gatland is a big fan of his abrasive edge.

  • Predicted: Dan Biggar, Owen Farrell.
  • In with a shot: Jonny Sexton, George Ford.
  • Wildcards: Finn Russell, Danny Cipriani.

Centres:

In 2013 the Lions selected four centres in their original party, Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies, Brian O’Driscoll, and Manu Tuilagi. It would be a surprise if they chose to take more this time, as any more than this makes the forging of partnerships rather difficult. The brilliance of Jamie Roberts, both in defence and attack, and the need of a powerful centre to take on Sonny Bill Williams, surely makes his selection a formality. The other outstanding inside-centre of the past couple of seasons has been Robbie Henshaw and I would expect him to also make the tour. That is not to say that there is not chance for the likes of Alex Dunbar and Henry Slade if they are able to establish themselves in their national sides and show strong form between now and the announcement of the squad. As for outside-centre, if Jonathan Davies is fit and firing then it would be a huge surprise if he wasn’t named in the squad. In terms of weight of tries then Jonathan Joseph should be considered whilst Elliot Daly is battling him for the England 13 shirt and both must be in with a shot. Scotland’s Mark Bennett should also be strongly considered, during the 2015 World Cup he looked like he was capable of becoming the new Brian O’Driscoll, and if he can regain this form he should have a good chance of making the tour. Duncan Taylor has also been quietly impressive in his appearances for Scotland, whilst if Manu Tuilagi can regain the form that saw him make the tour in 2013 then he must be in with a shot. Speaking for the new Brian O’Driscoll, 21 year-old Garry Ringrose has looked mightily impressive since breaking into the Leinster side and could be considered a long-shot for the squad.

  • Predicted: Jamie Roberts, Robbie Henshaw, Jonathan Davies, Mark Bennett.
  • In with a shot: Jonathan Joseph, Elliot Daly, Alex Dunbar, Henry Slade, Duncan Taylor, Manu Tuilagi.
  • Wildcards: Ben Te’o, Garry Ringrose.

Wingers:

In 2013, the Lions selected four wingers: George North, Alex Cuthbert, Tommy Bowe, and Sean Maitland. At his best, George North remains the most destructive winger in the Northern Hemisphere and, barring injury, he is a certainty to make the tour. Tommy Bowe is currently suffering from a long-term injury but, if he can regain his fitness then he can be one of the best wingers in the world and I would select him in a heartbeat. Scotland’s Tommy Seymour has also proved himself to be a very impressive winger, whilst Anthony Watson has shown himself to be one of the most deadly finishers in the world. Both would make my squad. The eye for the try line shared by both Jack Nowell and Tim Visser would merit consideration. The same can be said of the creativity of Simon Zebo, the reliability of Dave Kearney, and the ability to create something out of nothing demonstrated on a regular basis by Jonny May and Christian Wade. But, North, Bowe, Watson, and Seymour are the most accomplished wings in the British Isles and consequently should be selected.

  • Prediction: George North, Tommy Bowe, Tommy Seymour, Anthony Watson.
  • In with a shot: Jack Nowell, Dave Kearney, Tim Visser, Jonny May.
  • Wildcards: Christian Wade, Semesa Rokoduguni, Chris Ashton.

Fullback:

In 2013, the Lions selected Leigh Halfpenny, Rob Kearney, and Stuart Hogg as their three fullbacks for the tour. Leigh Halfpenny’s performances on tour earned him the Player of the Series Award. Despite this, Stuart Hogg has made significant progress in the last few seasons and he should be considered the presumptive starting fullback for the test series. Hogg is currently the best fullback in the Northern Hemisphere, closely followed by Liam Williams who has been superb for Wales in the absence of Leigh Halfpenny. Both Hogg and Williams are guaranteed a place in the touring squad. I would also select Halfpenny although I do not feel that he is a guaranteed starter any longer. With Dan Biggar in the side, Halfpenny’s goal kicking is no longer as important to the team as it was in 2013. Therefore, the Lions have the luxury of being able to pick one of two brilliant counter-attacking players: Hogg or Williams. I would potentially find a place for Halfpenny on the wing, but he would ultimately travel as a back-up player unless his form on the tour demanded test match selection. Rob Kearney is still an excellent player, but given the competition in his position he would just miss out on this occasion. Mike Brown in also a good player, but for reasons outlined in a previous story, he wouldn’t make the cut. I would also consider Alex Goode as being in with a shot, but ultimately another player who would just miss out.

  • Predicted: Stuart Hogg, Liam Williams, Leigh Halfpenny.
  • In with a shot: Rob Kearney.
  • Wildcard: Stuart Olding.

So there you go, at this moment these are the players who will be making the trip to New Zealand with the Lions next summer:

Forwards: Dylan Hartley, Jamie George, Scott Baldwin; Dan Cole, WP Nel, Samson Lee, Cian Healy, Jack McGrath, Mako Vunipola; Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Joe Launchbury, Jonny Gray; Sam Warburton, Sean O’Brien, John Hardie, Dan Lydiate, Chris Robshaw; Taulupe Faletau, Billy Vunipola.

Backs: Rhys Webb, Conor Murray, Danny Care; Dan Biggar, Owen Farrell; Jamie Roberts, Robbie Henshaw, Jonathan Davies, Mark Bennett; George North, Tommy Seymour, Tommy Bowe, Anthony Watson; Stuart Hogg, Liam Williams, Leigh Halfpenny.

I will revisit this following the conclusion of this year’s summer tours where others pay have put their hand’s up for selection.

Why Alex Goode could be England’s missing link.

On Saturday, Alex Goode will line up at fullback for Saracens in their Aviva Premiership final match against Exeter Chiefs at Twickenham. Goode has been one of the standout players of Saracens stellar season which has seen them triumph in the European Champions Cup and reach the final of the Aviva Premiership, for which they are overwhelming favourites. Goode’s season was capped when he clinched the Premiership Player of the Year Award.

Despite these accolades, Goode remains second choice England fullback behind long-term incumbent Mike Brown of Harlequins. Brown’s ability is not in question. He has won 48 caps for England, scoring nine tries in the process. Throughout this period he has regularly been cited as one of England’s outstanding players, winning the player of the championship award in the 2014 RBS Six Nations. In addition, Brown plays with his heart on his sleeve and brings outstanding leadership skills to the table. In short, Brown has done little wrong during his time as England’s fullback.

However, Goode brings something different to the table. His background as a fly-half means that he can demonstrate outstanding distribution skills, allied with excellent tactical kicking; as well as being able to serve as an auxiliary goal kicker if required. In addition, Goode’s pace and his ability to create space for his wingers to score tries marks him out as an outstanding fullback. This skill has gone some way to helping Chris Ashton score ten tries in eight games upon his return from a ban. Ashton himself was inexplicably omitted from England’s squad to tour Australia, likely due to concerns held by Eddie Jones over his defensive attributes. However, the likelihood is that Goode would be able to form a partnership with England’s current wingers: Jack Nowell and Anthony Watson. Nowell and Watson share Ashton’s excellent finishing ability, and would surely benefit from the distribution skills of Alex Goode.

                                              Alex Goode (Photo: PA).

Part of the appeal of Alex Goode lies in a desire to balance the England team sheet by including at least two players with strong distribution skills. In England’s victorious campaign in the 2016 RBS Six Nations, George Ford played at fly-half whilst Owen Farrell played outside him as inside centre. However, subsequently, Owen Farrell’s performances for Saracens have marked him out as perhaps the best fly-half in Europe. On the evidence of his recent performances, Eddie Jones must start Farrell at fly-half in the First Test against Australia on 11 June. As George Ford only tends to play fly-half, Eddie Jones would have no choice but to look elsewhere for his second playmaker.

For this he has two options. Firstly, he could bring in Exeter Chiefs’ Henry Slade who missed the Six Nations with injury but has long been seen as one of the best talents in English Rugby. This would allow England to deploy pretty much the same system as they did in the Six Nations, albeit with Farrell playing fly-half instead of inside centre. However, instead Eddie Jones should select Alex Goode at fullback. In the 2015 World Cup, Australia showed that they now possess a pack of forwards who can compete with anyone at the scrum, and they are also able to field both David Pocock and Michael Hooper, two of the best back-row forwards in the world. This means that England cannot rely on winning games through penalties and that they must look to score tries. Fielding Alex Goode at fullback will significantly help to achieve this aim. This ability to link up with his wingers and create space for them to score is unparalleled in the English game. With Goode’s ability to distribute the ball, Anthony Watson could become the deadliest winger in international rugby union.

The other benefit of fielding Alex Goode at fullback is that it frees up a place in the midfield for rugby league convert Ben Te’o. Te’o has impressed at centre for Leinster in the Pro12 this season, and next season he will move to Worcester Warriors in the Aviva Premiership. Te’o’s ability to break the line as well as his strong tackling will be of huge benefit when facing an Australia side featuring the hugely physical Tevita Kuridrani. Ultimately, this change will allow the England side to become significantly more balanced.

Therefore, Eddie Jones must give Alex Goode a chance to start at fullback in the upcoming test series in Australia. Goode as all the skills to be England’s next great fullback, and to turn England into one of the most exciting attacking sides in world rugby.