England contenders: half a dozen Eddie Jones should consider for Six Nations

The Bath wing has not played for England since winning his first, and only, cap against New Zealand in November 2014, but with Eddie Jones considering a midfield of George Ford, Owen Farrell and Jonathan Joseph, the Fijian-born soldier would offer midfield thrust as well as finishing ability.

Semesa Rokoduguni

He was close to making the final cut for England’s training squad for the World Cup after David Strettle pulled out and has started every match for Bath this season, scoring three tries, and he is more aware in defence. Jonny May, rather than Anthony Watson, would be the most likely sacrifice for Rokoduguni with Mike Brown remaining at full-back, something that would be reviewed once Manu Tuilagi returns – which could be as soon as early next month – to action.

Elliot Daly

With Tuilagi on his way back and Jonathan Joseph one of England’s most impressive players in the 2015 Six Nations, outside-centre is not the position causing Jones concern, but Daly has made himself a contender by the strength of his performances with Wasps and provides a left-footed option in midfield. It is five years since he made his debut for Wasps as a schoolboy and at the age of 23 he has reached the point in his career where his decisions are based more on experience than hope. An ever-present for his club this season, maximising the attacking threat of Charles Piutau, Christian Wade and Frank Halai out wide, Daly is not a wrecking ball midfielder. But he has other skills such as his kicking ability – notching seven penalties this season, and a 60m range that means he can slot goal-kicks from distance – and he has worked on his defence. With Jones emphasising the importance of players being smart, Daly’s performances will have been noted.

Matt Mullan

The scrum should have been the foundation for England at the World Cup but it proved their weakness as Australia achieved revenge for any number of grass-munching outings handed out to their front rows at Twickenham over the years. England are not short of loosehead props, even with Alex Corbisiero’s unavailability, and Mullan, whose nine international appearances have all been made from the bench, starts behind Joe Marler and Mako Vunipola. His scrummaging has been a factor in Wasps’ improved form in the big matches this season and he has an impact at the breakdown, another area where Jones will be looking for a significant improvement. Mullan is not as conspicuous as his rivals, neither a metre-pounding ball-carrier nor a big-hitter, but his overall contribution makes him the most consistent and steady.

Ed Slater

The Leicester captain returned to action last month after a knee injury that robbed him of virtually an entire season just as he had broken into the England squad. At the age of 27 he is mature for an uncapped player, but his senior career started late after he spent four years in Australia. A second row, he has played at blindside flanker in the Tigers’ last two matches, proving his versatility, but it is in the boilerhouse where his international future lies. Jones has called on Joe Launchbury to bring more of an edge to his game and Slater has an abrasive quality while staying on the right line. He leads by example, powerful in the loose and set-pieces, taking the game to the opposition. Again, not a position where England are short of contenders – Dave Attwood, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes and Geoff Parling are all vying to partner Launchbury – but Slater does add a difference.

Jack Clifford

No position is vexing Jones more than openside flanker. Chris Robshaw has worn the jersey for the past four years but his international future lies on the blindside, where he has featured for Harlequins for most of the season. Clifford has only worn the No7 jersey once for Quins this campaign, starting at six and featuring at No8 in the past two weeks, but he has caught the eye of the England head coach ahead of Matt Kvesic, Brendon O’Connor and Will Fraser. Clifford captained England when they won the Under-20 World Cup in 2013 and the side contained a number of players who have gone on to play Test rugby, including Jack Nowell, Anthony Watson, Henry Slade and Ross Moriarty. As the Test game evolves and places more emphasis on pace and skill, so the breakdown, and winning turnovers, becomes an area England have to become far more proficient in. And so they need a seven.

Danny Care

Care and Ben Youngs spent the Stuart Lancaster era jockeying for favour at scrum-half, both getting a run of games and then giving way to the other. Care played a tackle-bag role in the World Cup until it was all over bar the Uruguay romp, his first England start for 11 months. England’s mien will change under Jones as it did when Lancaster arrived, the Bash Street kids of the 2011 World Cup brought to order in a grammar school set-up. But the next few years promise to be more like Grange Hill, players with attitude. Care lost his place after the 2014 defeats to New Zealand and South Africa because his kicking game was not deemed accurate enough and he did not offer enough control, but his willingness to get in the faces of opponents and speed the game up will make him a contender again. Joe Simpson has impressed with Wasps, but he lacks international experience and the see-saw ride for Care and Youngs should continue.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Paul Rees, for The Observer on Saturday 26th December 2015 22.00 Europe/London

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