Bath's World Cup Hopefuls
By P G Tips
July 10 2019
Six Bath Rugby players are now pushing their claims for a place in England’s World Cup Squad. Some are established internationals, others rookies, even ‘bolters’ but none appeared in this year’s 6 Nations. Three did feature in the 2018 Autumn Internationals; two others are Lions, with credit in the bank. They have until 2 September, when teams must be submitted, to make their mark. Bath have averaged 5 representatives at the last 3 World Cups, so how many will make the trip this time?
Eddie Jones’ must whittle his current squad of 38 down to 31 by 2 September. The past season suggests that several of the Rec contingent have ground to make up to make the cut. His capricious selections are well known however (he has already jettisoned long standing favourites Robshaw, Care and Brown) and the notorious attrition rate of his training camps could force his hand. Wales also have Bath star Taulupe Faletau in contention, but his injury –enforced absence from the 6 Nations allowed Josh Navidi and fellow Lion Ross Moriarty to shine. So-none can count on a place and prediction is risky, but here is my take on the chances for the men in Blue, Black and White.
Fifth choice in a position of strength for England. Has nudged ahead of Nick Isiekwe to make the squad, primarily in case George Kruis fails to regain fitness in time. Will graft in training and warm up matches and never let the squad down but unlikely to make the final 31 if all rivals are fit.
Verdict: Could be a late, in-tournament call-up if injury strikes.
Being named Man of the Match against the All Blacks can be a poisoned chalice, as Bath forwards Paul Simpson and Nigel Redman before him discovered. After last November’s stellar performance, injury struck, opening the door for rival Tom Curry to star in the 6 Nations. Still, Sam at his best is reminiscent of Peter Winterbottom. Has recently added a potent carrying game to his destructive tackling, so is also beginning to emulate mentor Richard Hill. Should be in the squad.
Verdict: Battle royal with Curry for No 7 shirt. Could feature alongside him at 6 in some games.
An ever present under Eddie until injury struck. Now behind Henry Slade at 13. Showed in late season that he is getting back to form at the right time. Highly valuable, not only for his outside breaks but also rush defence and occasional interceptions. Likely to be selected for Japan.
Verdict: To start at 13 in the “easier” pool games. Has a chance to displace Slade for the KO stages.
Another ever present under Eddie, he lost a season to injury and his England place to Daly. Coming back to the form that made him an automatic selection for Lions’ tests, but faces a steep challenge to force his way into the first choice starting XV. Surely bound for Japan if fit, his elusiveness and counter attacking vision could be a key weapon for England.
Verdict: To start in the key matches, but where- wing or fullback?
A “secret weapon” for Jones? Hardly! All the pundits are backing him to be the “X factor” that England need. Lacks experience at this level but possesses raw power, pace and dash. A must have choice as an additional power option.
Verdict: Should get an early run in the warm-up games. If he seizes his chance could be a key strike weapon in the latter stages.
Eddie calls him ‘an extra present under the tree’. There has been almost as much excitement among commentators as Bath supporters at the former England 7s man’s inclusion in Eddie Jones’ plans. That excitement should be tempered with realism. There will probably only be five back three players in the final squad. With May, Daly and Nowell (if fit) near certainties to travel, Ruaridh’s best chance could be at the expense of a Bath team mate. Certainly looks the part of the “bolter” many fans hope will enliven the tournament.
Verdict: Will need a big slice of luck to make the plane. If he does, he could be the surprise package.
Has featured in several training squads over the past two seasons, usually when more experienced hookers are injured. Must have been unfortunate to miss out to Singleton, but three hookers will be needed and Eddie has said ‘the door is never closed’, so he is not out of contention yet, if one of the chosen three is injured and Hartley fails to recover.
Verdict: Would need misfortune to disrupt the chosen squad to get his chance. Would give his all if required.
RWC 2019 has come too early for Zach Mercer who has (perhaps unfairly) slipped from favour following England’s lacklustre autumn showing against Japan. Eddie seems to have forgotten his sterling 10 minutes in the rear-guard defence of a one point lead (11 tackles) against the Springboks. One for the future, his time will surely come. Semesa Rokodoguni can count himself similarly unfortunate, after Eddie hinted at 50 caps then cast him aside. Four tries in four England caps are not enough. Sadly, has missed the boat.
One of the stars of the 2017 Lions, he has seldom been seen at his best for Bath, with injury dogging his past 3 seasons. Warren Gatland will want him in his squad though and will give him plenty of time to recover from his (twice) broken arm. Bound to travel if fit.
Verdict: A starter for the key matches – if he makes it to Japan.
South Africa - Francois Louw
Omitted from the World Cup training squad after featuring fitfully in the Rugby Championship, this could be the end of the line for the veteran Springbok, who will retire at the end of next season. However, his experience and dependability has seen him called up to solve injury crises in recent years.
Verdict: Unlikely to make it 3 World Cups, but could be on the standby list.
Unlike in previous years, Bath have no squad members pushing for places in squads of the emerging nations. Parochial interest therefore focuses solely on England and Wales. The 2019 6 Nations, the Gatland factor and the draw suggest Wales may progress further than England. For the moment though I will hold on team predictions until after the warm up matches. For now, suffice it to say that Faletau, Underhill, Watson and Joseph could all star. The biggest impact though, could come from a new boy- Big Joe or Ruaridh.
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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2019:07:24:09:19:47 by P G Tips.
I suspect not a lot. Eddie remains deliberately enigmatic in his PR. Maybe he wants to see a bit more of what Tom Dunn can do -I certainly hope so- but it remains to be seen if Anthony and Sam's detachment to "extra conditioning" implies any reduction in status.
Both have had interrupted seasons, maybe they have niggles to manage?
They have both been key parts of his plans, so we wait and see how they will fare.
Ewels has to be next in line if injury disrupts the second row.
Francois Louw has seen action in the Rugby Championship and could yet make the Springbok squad.
Of England's 31 players, Bath has the 3rd highest number after Saracens (8) and Leicester (6). In a break with tradition of the past 4 decades, the majority of those Tigers are backs. If Leicester can sort out their pack issues and Mike Ford can produce the sort of clever strike moves he had Bath using in 2015, they will not be languishing at the bottom of the Prem for long!