Ruaraidh Britton is a fan and player of rugby, here he looks at the international fixtures ahead this summer.
If you can forget the Lions tour for more than five minutes, you may have heard there are international matches coming up between some other pretty decent teams this summer. The Scots are heading to Singapore for Gregor Townsend’s first match in charge against Italy, the Springboks are aiming to revive their status as a top five side in a best-of-three with the French, and the English are touring Argentina, a team they’re becoming all to familiar with.
The World Cup in 2019 will see England take on Argentina and France in Pool C, with some calling it a group of death and others calling it the more exciting groups in recent years. England made pretty light work of the French back in their opening Six Nations match this year, but every rugby fan knows how France can be somewhat of a dark horse at the World Cup. So at least the English can practice against Argentina not once, but twice in June. They’ll play on the 10th and 17th of June, but will be missing most of their key players thanks to Warren Gatland snapping them all up for the Lions tour. But if Eddie can crack the Pumas with Farrell, Itoje, Kruis, Watson and more missing, then surely their time in Japan will be a breeze.
A lot of focus has been put on younger talents, with 15 of the 31 man squad heading to Argentina being uncapped. Nathan Earle of Saracens, Harry Williams of Exeter Chiefs, Joe Marchant of Harlequins, and Denny Solomona of Sale Sharks are just some of Jones’ diamonds in the rough who are coming forward to show their worth this summer. Some of the guys heading out there have tasted success before, with four players securing the Under 20s grand slam this year, so confidence won’t be lacking in this experimental side. Also regulars like Jonny May, Dylan Hartley, Joe Launchbury and Mike Brown will be hitting the international stage once again, with the intention of showing Warren Gatland just what he’s missing in New Zealand.
It’s an exciting England squad, with Northampton Saints benefiting highly from Eddie Jones’s selection. Harry Mallinder has played exceptionally all season for club and country with the under 20s, and to see him get a chance to play for England is fantastic, yet I’m sure he’ll be aware there’s hard work to be done between now and June. Tom Wood’s six week ban denies him but Piers Francis and Paul Hill are debuting in Argentina, and Dylan Hartley is leading the side onto the field once again. If I was Dylan, I’d really be looking to make a big statement, because his season with England has so far been successful, yet Jamie George has been a hot contestant for a starting place at hooker. With him out of the way with the Lions, this is Dylan’s finest opportunity to prove his worth and show just what he’s capable of as captain. If he wants to lead the team out in Japan, what better way to prove he can than by securing two victories over their opponents in pool C.
I like the look of this England team because names like Danny Care, George Ford and Nathan Hughes know what it’s like to be part of a successful side. They know what it takes to overpower their opponents, and have all featured in Six Nations wins, and victories over opponents like South Africa and Australia. They’re not unfamiliar with the international picture, and too much focus is being placed on those who are absent from duties with England. This isn’t a weak team in the slightest though, how could it be when there are at least 10 players who have won two consecutive Six Nations titles? This is a highly impressive England side with a touch of fresh talent, and I have a good feeling about the summer tour.
Keep in mind however, the Argentinian team are just as much a force to be reckoned with as any other southern hemisphere team. Sitting at ninth in the world rankings, their form has dipped in recent matches, with Scotland securing a narrow win over the Pumas back in the autumn internationals. Yet there are several names they might just want to keep an eye on when they travel to Argentina. Particularly that of Juan Pablo Estelles, the only Europe-based player of the team. The Saints boys will be rather familiar with that name and will want to watch out for him as he’ll know their style of play very well. His 10 appearances in the Premiership have been impressive, and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of influence he can give to the side. Juan Manuel Leguizamon is one name the forwards will be in fear of, with his absolutely monstrous work rate at flanker being one of Argentina’s best attributes. His performances for Jaguares in the Super Rugby league and displays at two previous World Cups are nothing short of dominant, so I’m sure a big clash with Chris Robshaw will be pretty fun to watch. Santiago Cordero is also another highly entertaining figure that needs to be kept under pressure during the games, or the Argentinian back line will do nothing but embarrass Eddie Jones’s men. Watch Cordero at the previous World Cup, his form was nothing short of phenomenal.
I still remember the hope Ireland had in the 2015 World Cup of reaching their first semi-final. I also remember seeing those hopes get crushed by a dominating Argentinian side that day. That game has stuck with me because I underestimated the damage that could be done by the Pumas, and on their day, they’ll do some serious damage. Argentina are going to be a tough opponent in June and if England want to come away with two wins, they’re going to have to hope that their new talents can do the job on the day.