Things don’t seem to be getting any easier for England coach Eddie Jones at the moment, with injuries to a number of frequent national starters. The Australian has the biggest headache for sure when it comes to the number 8 position, going into the autumn internationals. The question that stands however is who will take up the key mantle for Jones? And who will solve Eddie Jones’s number 8 headache?
Dropping Like Flies
With Jones’ number one for 8, Billy Vunipola far away from any match fitness – with a four-month knee injury. The search for a replacement normally wouldn’t go too far with back-up Nathan Hughes the next man in line, however he will be likely to miss the tests against Argentina, Australia and Samoa with his own niggling injury set-back.
Beyond those two then there would be the likes of Harlequins’ Jack Clifford, but guess what? Yet again another injury stricken number 8 bit of news slams on Jones’ desk. The versatile back-row is believed to have dislocated his shoulder during his sides win over Sale Sharks at the weekend.
Billy Vunipola is facing a race to be fit for the Six Nations after being ruled out for FOUR MONTHS!! His injury record isn't great… pic.twitter.com/AQbC9ltvBv
— Sport360° (@Sport360) September 25, 2017
So now things get interesting, with all of Jones’ likely options facing lengthy stints away from the pitch the England coach has this one big headache to try and remedy very quickly with little time before the finalised squad needs to be readied by the Australian boss. With only three, yes three English number 8’s having played over last weekend’s fixtures – Exeter’s Sam Simmonds, Saracens’ Jackson Wray and Northampton’s Sam Dickinson – Jones will also have a small pool in which to fish for his new talent.
The Call to Action
But the debate surrounding the important position comes in the form of Exeter’s Simmonds, the 22-year-old, who by the way is only filling in at 8 this season with a long lay-off for the Chiefs starter Thomas Waldrom. But the youngster has been in fine form – Eight tries in 12 – and his speed and power were shown at their very brightest during Chiefs weekend win over Newcastle with a sublime individual try, showing off his skills.
So, things would seem to point in Simmonds favour, right? With his name the one being thrown into the hat by the media and pundits alike. But things don’t sit too favourably for the young Englishman when it comes to coach Jones’ preferences at 8, which is the man he ultimately needs to prove himself too.
Jones has historically favoured great strength and stature with his 8’s, after all it is a vital position with most at the elite level being colossus of game and scary big blokes. Simmonds is only six feet tall and weighs just over 100kg, compare that to the likes of Vunipola – who sits 6 ft 2, 130kg – or Hughes – 6 ft 5 and 125kg – statistically you can see why Jones would be concerned over Simmonds size when it comes to facing other giants in the role. He is dwarfed in size by his competition (when fit) but Jones doesn’t have the choice to be fussy when he is so hamstrung over his selection.
Sam Simmonds just out paced Van de Merve the Falcons winger… is there anything that boy can’t do?
— Angus McIntosh (@iMcAngus) October 7, 2017
Who's that knocking on the England door…'Sam Simmonds ' is.
— James (@StTropezBoy) October 7, 2017
With Simmonds himself confessing to preferring to work on his speed rather than his size at this stage of his career now and impressing so far this season in the Premiership, it is up to Jones whether or not he chooses the young man at the end of the day.
But with a deadline looming and a need for an impressive number 8, will Simmonds be the man to succeed as replacement to Vunipola and stamp his name into this England team? Will shall soon get our answer, but whatever the call from Jones, it will certainly be a big one.