Ollie Phillips: England's squad is depleted and undercooked but, on paper, still the strongest in Six Nations

 
Ollie Phillips
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England Squad Announcement
Eddie Jones has picked the best squad available to him at the present time (Source: Getty)

Eddie Jones may be without 13 players through injury and suspension but the squad he has picked is still the strongest, on paper at least, of any of England’s Six Nations rivals and they remain my favourites for the championship.

It is a worry, however, that a lot of their senior players will enter the tournament a little undercooked as they are either returning from injury or simply not hitting the heights they usually do for their clubs.

Much has been made of the eight uncapped players included in the 35-man party for England’s opening game against Italy in Rome on 4 February, but I don’t think there will be many surprises in the starting XV Jones opts for.

In fact, you could probably name the team now, give or take a few question marks such as whether Maro Itoje, fit again after his jaw injury, plays at No6 given England’s back-row problems.

Read more: Maro Itoje interview: Hunger and desire is name of the game

There are plenty of the more inexperienced players – they are all exciting talents – who could make an appearance or produce something special off the bench, but the majority are there for experience.

There are no staggering exclusions from the squad, although I’m always a little surprised that there aren’t more players from defending champions and current Premiership leaders Exeter, in particular Don Armand.

Montpellier v Exeter Chiefs -  Champions Cup
Don Armand has been an extremely consistent performer for Exeter (Source: Getty)

Every time I see the 29-year-old he is brilliant and I thought he might have earned a place in the wider squad, especially given England are light in the back row, but for whatever reason Jones just doesn’t fancy him.

On the whole, though, the group Jones has selected is pretty much the best bunch he could have picked at the present time. Their strength in depth is being tested, but it’s still going to be a dangerous team with no obvious weak links.

The other big news this week was Jones signing a two-year contract extension with the Rugby Football Union, which means he is set to remain in his role with England until 2021.

That is great news as England are playing a fabulous brand of rugby and, with 22 wins from 23 Tests while in charge, the Australian is proving himself to be one of the most successful coaches in global sport.

The idea of Jones mentoring his successor for part of that additional two years is an interesting concept and in theory it is a cracking idea, although it remains to be seen whether it works in practice.

Unless the successor is someone from within the current coaching structure, is someone like Rob Baxter, for instance, who is doing fantastic work at Exeter, going to be happy playing understudy and being groomed by Jones?

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