Jones shakes up established order with new England squad

6:04 PM GMT

Fifteen uncapped players, four teenagers and a 31-man party with an average age of 24; Eddie Jones’ England squad serves two purposes. Firstly, it gives him a chance to assess the future of English rugby both up to and beyond the 2019 Rugby World Cup. But secondly, it gives him the chance to give almost everyone with international aspirations, old and new, the most monumental boot up the backside.

Jones would not take questions on the British & Irish Lions announcement when he sat there minutes after confirming England’s squad for their two-Test tour of Argentina, but what he did say was that he wants this bunch of fresh faced — some barely shaving — to be challenging the Lions select. They have 16 players heading on Lions duty, but Jones will give them little thought. Even if Warren Gatland comes calling for injury replacement, they don’t really have contingency plans instead, just a “considerable” standby list, as Jones put it.

He knows roughly 75 percent of his 2019 World Cup squad. There is room for bolters, a chance – with England now midway through this World Cup cycle – for those who have been in the shadows, or just finding their feet, to force their way up the pecking order.

Even those on the Lions tour are not guaranteed of slotting straight back into the England set up for the end-of-year Tests.

“We have focused particularly on youth because we want to find players who are going to be better than the 16 players who are going on the Lions tour,” Jones said. “We have looked at trying to discover the best young talent in England and see how we can bring them through. To win the World Cup, we need to have the best talent; that is our ultimate destiny.”

A long-term mission, but Jones is punchy about his aims in Argentina. He dismissed any notion that players with Lions aspirations who missed out on selection will feel like they have been given a ticket to an inferior party – “If they’re not keen to tour they won’t play for England again, it’s as simple as that” — and similarly he would scoff at suggestions that development over results is more important on this trip to Argentina.

Jones is establishing a three-tier pecking order within England now. You have the Lions, those who have featured for England but miss out on this trip to Argentina and then the youngsters with huge futures.

(Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

For players like Marland Yarde, Teimana Harrison, Tommy Taylor and Mike Williams who have been in and around the England mix but will spend the summer on the beach, Jones tells them the door is not closed, but the promotion and elevation of youth sends another reminder that little is guaranteed under Jones. “Work harder,” was Jones’ message to them. “Get more desperate. Get more obsessed with being better.”

Even with 16 players on Lions duty, Jones still springs selection surprises. The youngsters – including Sale’s back-row Curry twins who Jones is looking forward to working with – will be given the chance to impress and he wants them to “push the envelope” in the squad environment, rather than waiting for the senior players to show them the way.

But even if some struggle in the national environment, Jones won’t merely cast them aside. “There’s always floaties, for those who sink, so we’ll find floaties for them,” Jones said. “They’ll be alright.”

Two other eye-catching names in the squad are Blues fly-half Piers Francis and Sam Underhill, currently with the Ospreys. Both will be joining Aviva Premiership teams at the end of the campaign and such is the intricacies of the Premiership Rugby-RFU agreement, Jones had to get approval to pick the pair. But he has been watching their progress from afar and both are fast-tracked into the England mix.

There is a huge element of the unknown about this squad. Jones has also mixed up his coaching team so they are taking on new roles; everyone is being kept on their toes.

The Curry twins are tipped for big things for both club and country (Photo by David Rogers РRFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

England’s next generation have the chance to state their claim to be mainstays for the next decade on May 28 against the Barbarians before then travelling to face the Pumas. All the meanwhile, there will be a group of players desperate to improve who have been left out and those on New Zealand duty with the Lions.

“It is exciting, it is a great opportunity for us because you don’t usually get this opportunity to bring in a bunch of young, enthusiastic and good players into the squad at one time,” Jones said. “We have got a nice period with the BaaBaas game, so we can do some good work with them.

“The coaching staff has changed as well which brings some new challenges. It is quite exciting, we can really take the squad forward.

“If I can develop three or four of these guys better than the Lions guys it will be an enormously successful tour, that’s what we are looking for.”

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Jones shakes up established order with new England squad
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