On Monday morning, England head coach Steve Borthwick will name his initial training squad for this year’s Rugby World Cup.
Though players from the four sides who made the Premiership semi-finals will not be included in the first squad of the summer, it’s hard to get excited given some of England’s selection woes.
Today I will take a look at the front row and midfield, saving some of the bigger calls for another time.
England front row
I wrote a list of the loosehead, tighthead and hookers available to England this autumn and, I have to say, I was disappointed.
We all know Bristol’s Ellis Genge will be there but out of the others, who is there?
Mako Vunipola of Saracens is secure and we know what to expect from him, but I do think England should at least look at Gloucester’s Val Rapava-Ruskin. The loosehead is exciting on and off the ball but he’s not experienced at international level – something Borthwick will want given that he, too, is in his first World Cup in his current role.
At tighthead, Kyle Sinckler will be there, as will the likes Will Stuart and Will Collier, I imagine.
I would like to see Biyi Alo – currently in Paris – at least given a shot in the wider squad but he is, like Rapava-Ruskin, inexperienced at this level.
Options at hooker are fascinating. I imagine Jamie George will go to the World Cup but behind the Saracens No2 it’s wide open.
You could see George’s team-mate Theo Dan there – he was so exciting in the Premiership final – and there could be room for George McGuiggan and Jack Singleton of Gloucester, as well as potential bolter Alfie Barbeary.
But the overwhelming feeling is that we’re just a bit weak in the front row. There are opportunities aplenty for the fringe lads but we look beatable there.
I think Owen Farrell is pretty much nailed on as England’s No10 given his performance against George Ford in the Premiership final and the fractious season Marcus Smith has experienced.
But with Farrell, England simply must go with Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade in the centres.
I would love to see Ollie Lawrence in there – and he is likely to be in the training squad next week – but he with Tuilagi would be too one-dimensional to play in the same backline.
The wider squad should see the likes of Luke Northmore involved and – when semi-finalists can be picked – include Fraser Dingwall and Guy Porter.
I would love to say that Gloucester’s Mark Atkinson would make the squad but he is getting on a bit and has been injured for a number of months – but his offloading ability alongside Lawrence would mimic the brilliant Brad Barritt and Tuilagi combo of old.
One of the James brothers at Sale, Sam and Luke, should be given consideration going forward and I would like to see England revisit Alex Lozowski but there’s a feeling that England will stick to what they know.
England have the chance to go completely wild in their first training squad ahead of the World Cup but I fear they will be a little bit tame.
I hope there’s some fresh ideas and impetus in the selection. The issue is, however, that they just don’t look very scary.
There will be fewer teams starting next season’s Premiership than began this year’s due to a number of clubs going bust.
It is a horrible shame and it leaves so many academy and full-time players looking for pastures new.
What it does do is show how much of a farce England’s policy is of not picking overseas players.
If we cannot sustain a Premiership with enough spots for English hopefuls, what’s the point in the policy? It will only damage our international future.
Something has got to change, and we need to start being able to pick overseas players.
French rugby heads south to Spain and San Sebastian this weekend for the Top14 semi-finals. Bordeaux and Racing 92 won their quarters and will face La Rochelle and Toulouse respectively for places in the final.
I do not see either challenger getting past the European champions or Toulouse this weekend and expect Ronan O’Gara’s men and Toulouse’s galacticos to face off in Paris in the final.
I am, of course, gutted to see my former club Stade Francais fall at the quarter-final stage but they’ll be back, I am sure.
Former England Sevens captain Ollie Phillips is the founder of Optimist Performance, experts in leadership development and behavioural change. Follow Ollie on Twitter and on LinkedIn.