BY Ruaraidh Britton.
World Cup winner Jason Robinson has predicted his starting back three for England as they prepare for the 2019 tournament in Japan.
Eddie Jones announced the 31 man squad surprisingly early despite his September deadline for choosing his players, and now preparations are fully underway after two bruising encounters with Wales.
Robinson scored 28 tries for England in his 51-cap career, with his most famous score coming against the Wallabies in their inaugural World Cup win in 2003.
Now working with Mastercard as an ambassador for Rugby World Cup, Robinson predicts a fight for a place on the wing between the returning Anthony Watson, Ruaridh McConnochie, Joe Cokanasiga, and Jack Nowel.
ROBINSON PICKS HIS BACK THREE:
“The way it looks for me, Daly will be the 15, I can see Jonny May having one wing slot due to his form for England over the last 18 months, and then I think there’s a shootout.
“Elliot Daly for me is not even a discussion, because he’s proved over the last few years that he is one of England’s key players.
“Cokanasiga is just a monster. Watching him last week against Wales and some of the collisions with George North who’s a big fella was interesting, so having the pace of May on one wing and the strength of Joe on another is certainly good to bring in.
“Not many people know McConnochie and what he’s about but he’ll certainly get his opportunity, and I’ve watched him in sevens and he’s been fantastic, and he’s had a great season with Bath whilst transitioning from sevens to fifteens
“Nowell is always going to be up there but we just need him back fit and raring to go, but Watson had a good game. The difference between Watson and the other three is the ability to play 15, so if Daly goes down, Watson is the natural stand-in, and it was great to see him back.”
THOUGHTS ON THE SQUAD:
England have the chance to become the first northern hemisphere team to win two World Cups, and there is justification for excitement given England’s revival in the 2018-19 season.
A dreadful run of results in the 2018 Six Nations and a 2-1 series loss to South Africa the following summer had people questioning if Jones was the right man to lead them to Japan, but Eddie went on to rebuild and refresh his side, with new faces like the aforementioned Cokanasiga and McConnochie popping up in the side.
Now, after months of hard work, Robinson is impressed by the squad selected, but highlights that it may not be the last we have seen of some regular faces who missed out on selection despite Jones picking a group of versatile players.
“I’ve been down to see the squad train, and they look in great shape. They’ve been away to Portugal and Italy just trying to get used to the heat and what to expect in Japan. Obviously, Eddie Jones has got a lot of experience in Japan and knows the culture and traditions, but this is an exciting time.
“There’s always a chance of injuries in World Cups so it wouldn’t surprise me to see a Cipriani or a Care or a Hartley in the squad midway through the tournament due to the physical nature of the game.
“A lot of players now are almost utility players, but now you have to be able to cover multiple positions due to injuries and reshuffling teams and in many ways, it could be a gamble but Eddie’s got the experience and the ability to deliver and I hope he’s got it right.
“England have got a great opportunity to go and do something special, but I hope they go out and enjoy the experience and enjoy Japan.”
England opens their campaign against Tonga on Sunday 22 September, with the US looking to dent their hopes of a quarter-final four days later.
Given the test the French will put in front of them, it’ll hardly be surprising to see a few experimental combinations in the early stages, but as the days countdown, England fans will be relishing the prospect of what this new-look England side can do on the biggest stage in rugby.