Replacing Jack Nowell: How Will England’s Back Three Look In The Autumn Internationals?

Callum Walker

With Billy Vunipola and Manu Tuilagi already confirmed to be out of England’s autumn internationals, head coach Eddie Jones’ preparations have been further hampered by the news that Exeter Chiefs wing Jack Nowell faces up to two months on the sidelines after fracturing his cheek and eye socket in the game against Newcastle Falcons last weekend.

There is just under a month to go until England face Argentina in the first Test – with Australia and Samoa following on successive weekends – and it seems almost certain that Nowell will have to undergo surgery. This will rule him out of all three games. So, how will England go about replacing him?

Nowell will be a big miss

Nowell himself has had a few rough years with injury, but managed to remain relatively fit last season to claim a place on the 2017 Lions tour where he generally impressed. It is likely Nowell would have started the first Test given that he has been a regular under Jones since the Aussie became head coach in 2015. Moreover, his form at club level for Exeter in the past few months has been nothing short of exceptional.

Of course, Nowell’s absence does give others an opportunity to impress Jones ahead of the Six Nations, where England will be looking for their third consecutive triumph. And England do have a plethora of options available on the wing with the likes of Jonny May, Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson and Marland Yarde vying for the two slots.

Selection headache for Jones

Nowell’s absence does give Eddie Jones a selection headache then, especially as Jones planned to rest Anthony Watson for the whole autumn after his rigorous summer calendar with the British & Irish Lions earlier this summer. But with first-choice Nowell also out, Jones may well push Watson to the front of the queue. Another option is Elliot Daly. Although Daly also started all three Lions Tests, he was rested from the first fortnight of the season and is thus refreshed enough to possibly start on one wing, despite playing outside centre for his club, Wasps.

May and Yarde possible replacements

The door has also swung open for Jonny May and Marland Yarde, who have both been named in Jones’ initial 33-man training squad, to impress the Australian and put themselves in contention for a starting berth or at least a place in the 23-man match-day squad. Both players are different to Nowell, but whilst they do not offer the versatility or defensive qualities of the hard-hitting Exeter man, both have pace to burn, which could cause problems for the teams England will face over the autumn.

And, with Semesa Rokoduguni and Denny Solomona – the latter having previously sent home from England’s training camp due to “culture issues” –  no longer in Jones’s thoughts, both May and Yarde can push forward their case even further. Jonny May could therefore possibly partner Daly on the other wing, despite the fact that both prefer to play on the left.

No Nowell means no tinkering at the back

It would have been interesting to see whether or not Jones would have experimented with Nowell – had he been fit – alongside Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly in England’s back-three. All three have staked their claim for the wing spot in the past with impressive performances, but the trio are also capable of playing at full-back and do offer an alternative to the inconsistent and recently injured Mike Brown.

With Nowell out of contention, the number 15 shirt is now likely to be occupied by Brown once again, with Watson and Daly lining up on the wings. No pundit or supporter can say that this is not a strong looking back-three even without Nowell occupying one of the wing spots. England fans will be waiting with anticipation for the squad for the autumn internationals which Eddie Jones will announce on 26 October and, with such an abundance of “back-three” talent waiting in the wings, it is a very exciting prospect.

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