Itoje made his club debut at the age of 19 (which is pretty unheard of for a tight 5 forward, but he was an International shot putter at Under 17 level so hardly lacked for physical presence or strength as a teenager) and he was called up to the England Saxons squad as a 20 year old. Itoge is the name most forward thinking journalists have put forward to lead Eddie Jones’ new England era and it’s difficult to argue against that plan, he captained England Under 20’s to a Junior Rugby World Cup trophy in New Zealand in 2014 and was also the Captain of a very successful Saracens LV Cup campaign last season. The major obstacle standing between any newcomer and the Captain’s armband is the knee jerk reaction which lead the RFU to fire the last man who tried to grow along with and develop a new England side using youngsters. England’s last 2 Head Coaches have essentially been dispensed with because they failed to win a RWC, while Martin Johnson’s naivety and misplaced trust in a group of frankly puerile players (which included Dylan Hartley remember) ultimately cost him his job Stuart Lancaster’s main failure seemed to be that he didn’t live up to the bizarrely high expectations of the English rugby media. England lost a nail biter to Wales when referee’s decisions were fairly instrumental to the final result and then lost to eventual finalists Australia, so no shame there then really, unless you write for an English newspaper and were obsessed with Sam Burgess. If Eddie Jones feels that he’s only got 4 years to prove that he’s the man for to turn England into the powerhouse the press seems to think they should be then he may become as discombobulated as Stuart Lancaster ended up.
In the back row there could be an even stronger Saracens influence with a real chance that all 3 could be from the Barnet based side as the new management team will surely learn from the previous regime’s mistakes and plump for a balanced back row rather than trying to crowbar their 3 favourite players into the same unit regardless of the final group dynamic. Billy Vunipola is just 23 years old but the 19 stone number 8 already has 21 caps to his name and until Nathan Hughes’ English residency period is complete Vunipola is really the only stand out prospect at 8. Will Fraser is as close to Sam Warburton as England have but he unfortunately has an even worse injury record than the Wales’ skipper. He’s 27 but has played just 48 games since 2011, he’s incredibly strong over the ball, a very good ball player for a forward and more importantly having missed virtually all of last season he’s fit and playing regularly this term. There are a number of alternative applicants for the 7 jersey though, Matt Kvesic has been sensational for Gloucester this year as his front 5 have finally found a platform from which he can launch. There’s always Steff Armitage, but whether Eddie Jones will be allowed to pick players outside the Aviva Premiership is a whole different conversation (remember the ton of crap he has to wade through?). Leicester Tigers new boy Brendan O’Connor is English qualified despite being a Junior Rugby World Cup winner with New Zealand Under 20’s in 2009 so he might be a controversial inclusion. Another slightly leftfield choice for the number 7 short would be Jack Clifford, not because the 22 year old Australian born flanker doesn’t always make a great impact for Harlequins but because he’s only featured for their first team 26 times. He has scored 6 times in those games though and has represented England in the IRB World 7’s Series, like Itoje he Captained England Under 20’s to a Junior Rugby World Cup, Clifford’s side including Nowell, Slade, Watson, Hill, Cowan-Dickie and Barrow won it in 2013 as they became the first England side to win the trophy so he’s bound to bring character and leadership to the squad. Saracens blind side Jackson Wray has been excellent whenever he’s played this season and he must be pushing hard for a first senior cap, Wray is just over 6 feet tall but what he lacks in physical presence he more than makes up for in mobility and the uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time, he’s usually the ball carrier at the back of rolling mauls and he’s recorded an impressive 11 tries in 85 games for Saracens, even more impressive is the fact that Saracens have won 75% of all the games in which he has been involved. Wray plays a key role in the Saracens much vaunted “Wolfpack” defence that Paul Gustard has been hired to install with England so Wray’s inclusion would be no surprise particularly given his impressive domination of the breakdown this season. There are alternatives available for Jones and his coaching team though and if they are looking for a physically dominant and almost overpowering presence they may well look at Wray’s fellow Essex boy Matt Garvey form Bath, the 6 feet 6 man mountain hasn’t quite reached the level he was at before his ankle injuries in 2014 but his ability to play in both the second row and back row would be appealing to the coaching staff. Jamie Gibson is almost an English Kieran Read, the only problem with having a back rower who can run with backs is that they occasionally neglect their primary responsibility of winning the ball so the show ponies in the backline can actually have some ball to run with in the first place.
There are definitely more than enough talented players for Eddie Jones to pick from if he wants to try and emulate the style and panache with which his Japan team played at the Rugby World Cup, but he could always go down the Warren Gatland road and develop a gameplan, select the biggest and strongest players available and try to amalgamate them together in sort of unsightly emulsion. With half of his coaching team already in place and fewer than 50 days before the 6 Nations Championship begins this and other important decisions need to be made quickly. The most important decision he needs to make is who will be England’s next conditioning coach because if there was one area where they were found wanting in the Rugby World Cup it was their decision making late in games which was surely a result of tired minds as well as tired bodies.