World Cup warm-ups: Wales, Ireland and England, where to look?

It’s here! The World Cup warm-ups are here and fans can, at last, analyse, criticise or commend the various national coaches’ selections and non-selections in the first weekend of summer matches in the Northern Hemisphere, mirrored by the final round of Rugby Championship action south of the equator. The Rugby Magazine takes a peek at the teams being fielded by England, Wales and Ireland this weekend and where you should be looking.


By Alistair Stokes
10th August
By Alistair Stokes
10th August

England

Not to miss out on an opportunity to spread discontent amongst the public, Eddie Jones has once again befuddled just about every onlooker with his latest set of selections. Despite being safe in the knowledge that this is merely a warm-up team with plenty of real changes to come, the vice-captaincy of uncapped Gloucester scrum-half Willi Heinz has upturned the apple cart.
 
Heinz, who qualifies for England through an English grandmother, may have seen his selection against Wales labelled as merely a trial for the third-place scrum-half role behind incumbent Ben Youngs and in-form Saracens man Ben Spencer. However, Heinz’s vice-captaincy suggests that Jones may be fast-tracking the Gloucester scrum-half into a bench role at the World Cup, at Spencer’s expense. There are shades of Sam Burgess’s infamous leapfrogging of Luther Burrell in Stuart Lancaster’s squad of 2015, with the more experienced (internationally) man who has spent far greater time around the squad jettisoned at the whim of an England head coach’s last-minute changes.
 
Heinz is a man to watch at Twickenham this weekend, both in his leadership role behind skipper George Ford, now the only vice-captain with Sam Underhill ruled out last-minute this morning. Reports say Underhill picked up a toe injury, but this writer's gut says Eddie is playing games again.
 
While we’re mentioning the burgeoning Bath openside, he's been replaced in the dual-fetching flanking pairing by Northampton's Lewis Ludlam, an energiser bunny of a flanker capable at 6, 7 and 8; and a lineout option. He'll pair Tom Curry, who shifts from 6 to 7, either side of the bullocking Billy Vunipola at number eight. If anything, this England team tomorrow is more exciting with Ludlam starting at blindside. The 23-year-old is perhaps the closest thing England has to a Michael Hooper. Relentless in the contact area, vocal, a pest at the breakdown and tireless. This uncapped openside shifted to the blindside is an exciting addition and the type of player and personality that could force himself into a World Cup squad; an individual that could provide a point of difference.
 
Playing two opensides came into vogue a few years ago when the international scene saw Australia’s Pocock and Hooper, Wales’s Tipuric and Warburton and Scotland’s Barclay and Watson pilfering ball left, right and centre. Fashionably late to the party, now the fetcher stores have been replenished, England are trying their hand in the dual openside market. The balance these two young sevens bring in a backrow either side of the bullocking Billy Vunipola at eight is one of the more interesting dynamics in this weekend’s action.
 
There are enough selection permutations to write a short book about in this England 23, but mentions in dispatches must first go to the starting role for Piers Francis at inside centre. Having fallen out of favour in 2018 and storming back to form with Northampton Saints this season, Francis forms the dual play-making axis with George Ford at 10 and 12, pairing Jonathan Joseph after Henry Slade was also ruled out with injury.

A nod must also go to Harlequins centre Joe Marchant on the bench. A highly skilful centre, he'll be looking to come on late in the game to replace starting outside centre Jonathan Joseph.

The final late selection call sees promising Bath wing Ruaridh McConnochie replaced by clubmate and England's largest back Joe Cokanasiga on the right touchline. Cokanasiga is pushing hard to persuade Eddie Jones to hand him a starting role, a 6ft4", 122kg monster of a wing that will provide the Ford-Francis axis with some serious firepower, to work with against Wales. With Tuilagi placed on the bench, instead of supplying the muscle in the midfield, Cokanasiga might be able to serve the role Samu Kerevi did for Australia in their victory over the All Blacks this morning and push Jones closer to opting for the Fijian-born wing in his first-choice XV.

Uncapped hooker Jack Singleton, meanwhile, has a genuine shot of making it to Japan, jumping ahead of Bath’s Tom Dunn to the third-place hooking spot behind Jamie George and Luke Cowan-Dickie, the latter of whose’s erratic lineout-throwing will be put to its toughest challenge yet in a first-ever Test start.
 
England 23 to face Wales
15. Elliot Daly
14. Ruaridh McConnochie
13. Henry Slade
12. Piers Francis
11. Anthony Watson
10. George Ford (c)
9. Willi Heinz (
vc)
8. Billy Vunipola
7. Sam Underhill (
vc)
6. Tom Curry
5. Charlie Ewels
4. Joe Launchbury
3. Dan Cole
2. Luke Cowan-Dickie
1. Ellis Genge
 
16. Jack Singleton
17. Joe Marler
18. Harry Williams
19. George Kruis
20. Lewis Ludlam
21. Ben Youngs
22. Joe Marchant
23. Joe Cokanasiga

 
 

Wales

On the other side of the Twickenham turf this weekend, Wales’ 14-game winning streak is just four games short of equalising England and New Zealand’s joint record of 18 games unbeaten, and the strength of the side Warren Gatland has picked this weekend signals his clear intent to head into the World Cup in possession of that record.
 
Aside from injuries, this is perhaps Wales’ first-choice team, gunning for one of those elusive Twickenham scalps. The only real selection up for debate is the decision between Ospreys centre pairing Owen Watkins and Scott Williams, both of whom are competing for the right to serve as backup to the Grand Slam-winning partnership of Hadleigh Parkes and Jonathan Davies. Watkin takes the 23 jersey ahead of Scott Williams and will be using any time he is handed from the bench as a chance to prove he should get the nod ahead of the 57-cap Williams and a regular role in the matchday 23.
 
Given the traditionally emotionally charged nature of England-Wales matches, there will be plenty of concern from onlookers over potential injuries Gatland’s side could sustain in their hopeful sacking of Twickenham. In contrast to England, who boast up to five regular starters, Wales run a risk of losing key men in yet another World Cup warm-up period.
 
 
Wales 23 to face England
1.    Nicky Smith
2.    Ken Owens
3.    Tomas Francis
4.    Adam Beard
5.    Alun-Wyn Jones
6.    Aaron Wainwright
7.    Justin Tipuric
8.    Ross Moriarty
9.    Gareth Davies
10. Gareth Anscombe
11. Josh Adams
12. 12. Hadleigh Parkes
13. Jonathan Davies
14. George North
15. Liam Williams
 
16. Elliot Dee
17. Wyn Jones
18. Dillon Lewis
19. Jake Ball
20. Aaron Shingler
21. Tomos Williams
22. Dan Biggar
23. Owen Watkin
 


Ireland

In a team closer in strength to England than Wales’, Ireland have opted for a side consisting of just two first-choice players to face Italy, seeing second row Devin Toner and outside centre Gary Ringrose start in an otherwise second and third-string team.
 
Notable selections in the run-on team that should pique your interest include the starting debut for Munster’s South African-born second row Jean Kleyn and the shift to inside centre for fellow Munsterman Chris Farrell; who has shone for club and country at outside centre. Kleyn will come in behind Toner, James Ryan and Iain Henderson in the Irish pecking order, but is nipping at the heels of yet another Munsterman, Tadhg Beirne. Beirne, who dons the 20 jersey this weekend, has proven himself as destructive at the breakdown as any Irish backrower despite his 6ft6” frame. How well Kleyn can impose himself on the Italians will determine how much additional pressure the hard-hitting lock can place on his provincial teammate, standing in more of the traditional tighthead lock mould than Beirne.
 
Despite owning 54 Irish and three British and Irish Lions caps, loosehead prop Jack McGrath will have to impress Schmidt this weekend if he is to harbour hopes of securing a place on the plane to Japan. Having fallen from grace somewhat since his days as Ireland’s first-choice loosehead in 2017, David Kilcoyne is currently standing between McGrath and the second loosehead prop role in Japan, with the prediction that Ireland will take just two loosehead and three tighthead props to the World Cup.

Finally, there is a shot for once Sale now Munster fullback Mike Haley, who will make his Test bow should he make an appearance from the bench. Haley is currently behind Rob Kearney and today’s starting 15 Jordan Larmour, at least, for Ireland, but will also compete with fellow Munsterman Andrew Conway, who starts on the right wing. Haley is unlikely to head to Japan outside of injuries, but Wales and Ireland’s torrid time in 2015 with players dropping like flies reminds us that the chance to step into a key World Cup role can come around in an instant. An impressive showing from the bench, and potentially in starts later this summer, will be where Haley proves he is the man Schmidt should call should 2015’s injury issues repeat.
 
 
Ireland 23 to face Italy
1.    Jack McGrath
2.    Rob Herring
3.    Andrew Porter
4.    Devin Toner
5.    Jean Kleyn
6.    Rhys Ruddock
7.    Tommy O’Donnell
8.    Jordi Murphy
9.    Luke McGrath
10. Joey Carbery
11. Dave Kearney
12. Chris Farrell
13. Gary Ringrose
14. Andrew Conway
15. Jordan Larmour
 
16. Niall Scannell
17. Cian Healy
18. John Ryan
19. Iain Henderson
20. Tadhg Beirne
21. Kieran Marmion
22. Jack Carty
23. Mike Haley

There is little to be gleaned from the win/loss ratios during warm-up matches, so keep an eye on how each coach used his squad instead, you may be able to deduce a few of Schmidt's, Gatland's and Jones's thought processes from afar.

The Rugby Magazine

Filed under: International, Rugby World Cup, England, Ireland, Wales
Written by: Alistair Stokes
Follow: @alistokesrugby · @therugbymag

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