Before the British and Irish Lions squad hit their first Test match against New Zealand, Eddie Jones’ developmental England team face a two-Test tour to Argentina.
With 17 players involved with the Lions, including Ben Youngs and Billy Vunipola who have withdrawn from touring, England coach Jones is seeking to uncover the hidden gems in his ranks with the 2019 Rugby World Cup in mind.
Argentina, who have been drawn in the same group as England for the Japan event alongside France, pose an interesting challenge for a squad of many first-time tourists; 15 of 31 selected being uncapped before a showpiece showdown with the Barbarians at Twickenham this Sunday. It will be a physical tour, but in recent times the Pumas have offered flashes of scintillating running rugby too.
Sunday’s outing against the BaaBaas offered plenty of encouragement to Jones, though; a 28-14 victory, but more importantly, young guns establishing their name on the international scene.
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) May 28, 2017
Sunday, for many, will have been their first glimpse of Sale Sharks flanker Tom Curry who collected Man of the Match recognition for his debut performance, despite not even being included in the intial squad. The 18-year-old was only added to the bench when brother Ben had a back spasm in training, and a shoulder injury to Sam Underhill saw him introduced on 36 minutes – from there on in he shone.
But what exactly is Jones looking for in Argentina? “We need some more size in the backs, that’s one thing I’m convinced of,” says Jones. “We’ve got a very small backline and we don’t have any player over 94kg. To play against the best teams in the world you need some size in your backline.”
Centres Sam James, Joe Marchant both match the 94kg mark, but wings Nathan Earle and Joe Cokanasiga weigh in excess of 100kg. Make no mistake, Jones’ ideal style of play is simple, run fast and hit harder.
Earle demonstrated exceptional pace and beautiful interplay with James to score his first try against the BaaBaas, the duo producing an impressive opening salvo to their international carriers, while up front hooker Jack Singleton, and back rowers Curry and Josh Beaumont inspired the Twickenham crowd on a dank Bank Holiday weekend.
Add to the unknown quantities of youth the experience of Dylan Hartley, Chris Robshaw and axis pairing Danny Care and George Ford and you have the perfect blend for an enthralling tour.
While the Lions are away, it’s time for the cubs to step up to plate and take out the Pumas.