With the 2019 Rugby World Cup kicking off today, we thought we would put our schools/age-grade rugby spin on it and fast forward four years before we are even really started.
Who might England select for the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France, will many of the current squad make it through to the next one, are there any players that could come completely out of the blue?
Below is our idea of what that squad might look like, by and large we have gone for the same split in terms of positions as Eddie Jones but with a couple of caveats, we have added an extra player to make it a 32-man squad as World Rugby will surely have to do at minimum for the next World Cup, and we have selected one few back three player and taken an extra 10 in their place (an extra 9 might be a decent idea too).
32-man England squad for France 2023
Ellis Genge (28 at next World Cup), Mako Vunipola (32), James Whitcombe (22)
Out: Joe Marler
Joe Marler is the only one of the current squad missing here, he will be 33 in 2023 and having already retired once seems unlikely to carry on for another. Ellis Genge will be right in the propping sweet spot by 2023, while even though Mako will be 32 he is an utterly unique talent. Coming in is young Leicester Tigers loosehead, James Whitcombe. This is his first year as a pro, but with Genge likely to be away with England for the next few years he will gradually get more and more game time and if his youth career is anything to go by he could be creating carnage by 22.
Alfie Barbeary (22), Luke Cowan-Dickie (30), Jamie George (32)
Out: Jack Singleton
Cowan-Dickie and George remain for us. George will be 32 and on the limit age-wise but he is streets ahead at the moment and looks set to stay there for a while. Cowan-Dickie is probably the more under threat, but at his best he is so destructive and the next four years could see him really demonstrate that. Jack Singleton misses out from the current squad for the rising force that is Alfie Barbeary. Barbeary will only be 22 in 2023 but will most likely already have bags of England experience by then. If Singleton impresses at Saracens, though, he could pressurise Cowan-Dickie and clubmate George.
Ehren Painter (25), Kyle Sinckler (30), Marcus Street (24)
Out: Dan Cole
A young group by propping standards, but Painter already has loads of Premiership experience and Street will start gathering plenty soon. Kyle Sinckler will be the experienced man at 30, and by 2023 should be the best version of himself, as destructive and skillful as now, but more mellow. Dan Cole will be 36 by than and most likely retired, while Harry Williams will only be 31 and could well be included should Painter or Street not be ready yet.
Charlie Ewels (28), Nick Isiekwe (25), Maro Itoje (28), Joel Kpoku (24)
Out: George Kruis, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes
George Kruis, Joe Launchbury, and Courtney Lawes will be 33, 32, and 34 respectively by 2023. Kruis and Lawes will probably not be involved, while for Launchbury it is probably 50/50. We have assumed though that the only lock of the current squad to remain will be Maro Itoje who, rather scarily for the rest of the world, will only be 28. Charlie Ewels will be the same age and having been around the squad for a few years could well be a more major part by then. Alongside those two we have opted for the Saracens pair of Nick Isiekwe and Joel Kpoku, who at 25 and 24 could be tearing up trees at that point.
Ben Curry (25), Tom Curry (25), Ben Earl (25), Lewis Ludlam (27), Billy Vunipola (30)
Out: Sam Underhill, Mark Wilson
Controversially of the group picked for this World Cup, we have left out Sam Underhill from this squad, despite the fact that he will be just 27. That is for two reasons; his body has copped some serious punishment and in four years time that could have an impact, and at some point an England coach is going to have to accept that it is difficult to justify having one Curry twin and not the other. Both Currys therefore make the squad, with Lewis Ludlam keeping his place. Billy Vunipola will also be back for more…he will still only be 30. Mark Wilson’s time will likely have passed by then, and in his place we had a bit of a toss up between Ben Earl and Zach Mercer, Earl making it for his versatility and the fact that another four years at Saracens will surely see his game rise and rise. The likes of Ted Hill and the Willis brothers are among many that could challenge for a spot here too though.
Ben Specner (31), Ben White (25)
Out: Willi Heinz, Ben Youngs
A third 9 would be nice but we have opted to give ourselves a third ten instead. At 36 and 34, Willi Heinz and Ben Youngs will almost certainly be out of the frame by 2023, paving the way for two new 9s. Ben White feels a pretty safe bet to us, the Leicester Tiger has already gained good experience and has a really balanced game – and learning under Youngs at Leicester will do him no harm. Ben Spencer’s experience by that point gets him the nod as the other scrum half, but look out too for his young Saracens teammate Tom Whiteley. Whiteley will be 27 by France, so you might expect him to have more front line experience by now in order to make the bridge to international rugby, but a deeper look at Saracens’ development of scrum halves suggests that he could make the leap. With Richard Wigglesworth and Neil de Kock at the helm for years it took a long time before Saracens gave Spencer sustained game time, but once they did he shot up the England pecking order. Whiteley has been in the same situation now behind Wigglesworth and Spencer, but with Wigglesworth nearing the end and Saracens allowing Henry Taylor to leave, Whiteley’s time could be coming, he is also Scotland qualified. Scrum half feels like a very open position though and the likes of Alex Mitchell, Harry Randall, and the Maunder brothers, Jack and Sam, are just some of the names that could challenge.
Owen Farrell (31), Max Malins (26), Marcus Smith (24)
Out: George Ford
The big call here really is leaving out George Ford, who is a year younger than Farrell. The reason being though that with Smith and Ford having broadly similar skillsets, Smith should be entering his prime while Ford may just be on the way out – and at some point Marcus Smith is going to have to be given his chance, surely. Owen Farrell stays despite being older because at 31 he should still offer plenty, and as a leader he will be right at the height of his powers by then, still with the same relentless drive, but with a calmness that that maturity should bring. We have opted for Max Malins as our third 10, his ability to play at 10 and 15 will be an asset and under Farrell and Goode at Saracens he will have two of the very best to mentor him. The likes of Joe Simmonds, Tom Curtis, and James Grayson could well have a big shout too though.
Ollie Lawrence (24), Joe Marchant (27), Cameron Redpath (23), Henry Slade (30)
Out: Piers Francis, Jonathan Joseph, Manu Tuilagi
Only Henry Slade of the current group of centres remain, both Jonathan Joseph and Manu Tuilagi would still be in contention at just 32, however we have left out Tuilagi on account of the chances of his body sustaining another four years at this level, and Joseph because with a broadly similar skillset Joe Marchant may just have the edge on him by 2023. Cameron Redpath comes in as the ball-playing midfielder, akin to Piers Francis in the current squad, unless Scotland manage to convince him over before he is capped. The fourth spot for us was a toss-up between Fraser Dingwall and Ollie Lawrence. Both will be 24 but with the balance of the quartet needed a carrier so Lawrence gets the nod. Fully expect both to be capped though, although again Scotland will surely be moving heaven and earth to try to get to the ear of Dingwall, too.
Joe Cokanasiga (25), Elliot Daly (30), Gabriel Ibitoye (25), Jack Nowell (30), Anthony Watson (29)
Out: Jonny May, Ruaridh McConnochie
Sadly Jonny May misses out, when pace is your greatest asset 33 starts to look a little too old for a spot in the squad. So too does Ruaridh McConnochie, although with so little time in an England shirt to date he has plenty of time to demonstrate that he will still be the right man in 2023. In his place we bring Harlequins’ Gabriel Ibitoye, but the number of young wingers or full backs that could challenge for a place in this squad is huge. The likes of Tom Parton and Ben Loader at London Irish, Nathan Earle at Harlequins, Aaron Reed at Sale Sharks, Matt Gallagher at Saracens to name just a few. Elliot Daly, Jack Nowell, and Anthony Watson all keep their spots, three top class players who should still be right in their peaks come the next World Cup.
That’s our 32 for the 2023 Rugby World Cup, bookmark it so that you can tell us in four years time just how wide of the mark we were!
In the meantime, which players do you think might be starring for England, or any other nation, at France 2023? Send us a message on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram with your thoughts!