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24th Nov 2015

6 players that should feature in the new England team

Could these stars make the cut?

Alex Roberts

England are going through a crisis following an embarrassing finish to the Rugby World Cup.

Mike Brown insists he no longer trusts his team-mates, Sam Burgess is heading back to rugby league, and the kit man is being investigated for allegedly pressuring players to invest in dodgy shares. Inevitably, Stuart Lancaster has been forced to resign as coach.

So with the race to succeed him already under way, who should feature in the new coach’s plans?

Nick Abendanon – Clermont Auvergne (Fullback)

Isn’t it about time England dropped the policy of only picking home-based players? Abendanon has been in scintillating form in the Top 14, and was named 2014/15 European Player of the Year.

The South African-born fullback is by no means the quickest, but compensates with a dazzling sidestep, well-timed offload and is also strong in the tackle.

His club side Clermont lost out to Toulon in the Champions Cup final, but the former Bath man did produce this moment of magic:

England have been criticised for being overly-regimented and workman-like, but this kind of play would add a new dimension.

Some of the best talents available are plying their trade abroad, with Toulon’s Steffon Armitage finding himself in the same predicament.

Maro Itoje – Saracens (Second-row)

England’s poor World Cup showing was blighted by a lack of leadership and direction. The decision not to kick for goal in the dying seconds against Wales sparked a blame game, with captain Chris Robshaw admitting full responsibility.

Itoje is only 21 but has already captained England Under-20s to World Cup glory. The current team gets stick for a lack of experience, and the critics won’t take kindly to Itoje’s age – but having actually won trophies and big matches is arguably most important.

Itoje is an extremely powerful second-rower who, at 6ft 5ins and 115kg, already dominates at the breakdown – the Londoner made the second most tackles and turnovers in the 2014/15 LV Cup.

Danny Cipriani – Sale (Flyhalf)

England have their favourites at flyhalf – Owen Farrell and George Ford providing reliable but unspectacular competition for the number 10 shirt.

Cipriani is an accomplished all-rounder and deserves to be part of the question. He made the most yards of any flyhalf in the Aviva Premiership last season, and is regularly one of the most accurate kickers in domestic and cup competitions. The former Wasps man also chips in with more than his fair share of tries and assists.

Off-field problems perhaps contributed to his omission from the recent World Cup squad, with the former Rebels player now being charged with drink-driving.

Farrell and Ford may provide more of a stable option, but Cipriani is capable of moments of magic that the former two don’t seem to have in their locker.

Kyle Eastmond – Bath (Centre)

While Sam Burgess returns to rugby league with the South Sydney Rabbitohs, his former Bath team-mate Kyle Eastmond is a league convert that has successfully switched.

England’s centre partnership came under fire during the World Cup, with injury to Jonathan Joseph leaving Burgess and Brad Barritt as first choice. This was a powerful but technically-limited pairing, and was ripped apart in the media by former greats such as Gordon D’Arcy.

Eastmond would have been a far better option at outside centre. He is pacey, steps extremely well and finishes with finesse. The former St. Helens halfback’s defence is also as effective; a low centre of gravity making him strong in the tackle and difficult to pin down.

Eastmond didn’t miss a hit during the last tour to New Zealand, so can feel hard done-by not to already be involved.

Luke Cowan-Dickie – Exeter Chiefs (Hooker)

The Chiefs are blessed with a new crop of promising players such as Henry Slade and Jack Nowell. But Luke Cowan-Dickie is arguably the stand-out – and not just due to a mullet-moustache combo which makes him look like a retro pornstar.

The hardy front-rower is a battering ram of a forward but also an excellent ball-carrier – well-equipped for the modern game. Despite being just 22, he has been in and around the Exeter first-team since 2011 and has winning experience, having lifted the Junior World Cup alongside Maro Itoje.

Semesa Rokoduguni – Bath (Wing)

The wing is perhaps the one area in which England actually do possess a decent level of creativity. Jonny May is slight but very tricky, while Anthony Watson provides sheer athleticism – pace and power.

In many ways, Watson’s Bath team-mate Semesa Rokoduguni combines both of these skill sets. He made the most metres per carry in the Aviva Premiership last season, and also beat more defenders than any other player.

The Fijian-born winger is likely to cope quite well with pressure on the international stage, too. He was previously a Lance Corporal in the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, and has completed a tour of Afghanistan.