Ollie Phillips: England’s autumn squad has the look of World Cup winners

Ollie Phillips
Follow Ollie
Leicester Tigers v Exeter Chiefs - Aviva Premiership
Jonny May has been on fire for Leicester this season (Source: Getty)

Ever since he took over as head coach in 2015, Eddie Jones has spoken about England becoming the No1 side in the world. They have done incredibly well but now is the time for them to kick on and prove they are the real deal.

In 12 months’ time, when we’re only a year away from the World Cup, Jones will want to be honing his squad rather than tinkering with it and be focused solely on playing fantastic rugby as the countdown to Japan continues.

They have to take another step forward next month, produce formidable performances against their autumn opponents and show how good they are as the No1-elect team on the planet. Put another way, they need to be putting teams like Argentina, Australia and Samoa to the sword.

I look at the squad Jones selected yesterday with a lot of excitement. When you scroll through the names there are some fabulous players and a lot of talent will be heading to Portugal on Sunday for a pre-series training camp.

Wasps v Bath Rugby - Aviva Premiership
Bath's Sam Underhill reminds me of Richard Hill (Source: Getty)

Bearing in mind England have injuries and suspensions to contend with, and the likes of Ben Te’o, Manu Tuilagi and Billy Vunipola – X-factor individuals – to potentially return, the pool of players at Jones’s disposal has the look of World Cup winners.

There are no real surprises or curveballs in the 34-man party; there is a good blend of experience and youth and Jones has simply picked quality players who are performing at a consistently high level in the Premiership.

One player who I feel has a real chance at international level is Bath flanker Sam Underhill. The 21-year-old is playing excellently domestically. He is so powerful and dominant and could well be playing himself into an England jersey.

The amount of tackles he gets through in a game is crazy. He reminds me of Richard Hill. He’s not necessarily doing the bright, sexy stuff but is so effective and undoubtedly one of the cornerstones of Bath’s improvement this term.

Exeter Chiefs v London Irish - Aviva Premiership
Sam Simmonds of Exeter is an hugely dynamic player (Source: Getty)

Another one I’m looking forward to seeing is No8 Sam Simmonds, who has been world class for Exeter. The 22-year-old is quick, dynamic and dangerous and looks as though he has as much footballing ability as any back.

The only thing which may count against him starting for England is his height. He is not a line-out option and if Jones opts for him then they will need to pick someone else in the back row with the line-out in mind.

Talking of form players, Leicester wing Jonny May is dynamite at the minute and red hot for the Tigers with nine tries in eight games. If he is not in the starting XV for the clash with Argentina on 11 November, I’d be very surprised.

Centre Henry Slade, too. I really hope he gets the nod this autumn. He’s a tremendous footballer and I reckon he would complement the George Ford-Owen Farrell axis at No10 and No12 enormously.

Worcester Warriors v Exeter Chiefs - Aviva Premiership
I hope we get to see Henry Slade in an England jersey this autumn (Source: Getty)

But the biggest conundrum for Jones will be the back row, which is without James Haskell. While he is a good friend of mine, Haskell simply hasn’t been playing well enough to be selected. He’ll be desperate to get back in there and he’s proved people wrong before.

All in all, though, it is going to be a cracking autumn. I’m really pleased that Australia beat New Zealand at the weekend. That adds a lot of spice to the clash on 18 November and lessens the disappointment of England not facing the All Blacks. I cannot wait.

Ollie Phillips is a former England Sevens captain and now a director at PwC, focusing on organisational, cultural and technological change.@OlliePhillips11

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

Related articles