Will Greenwood: Injuries and suspension give England youth a chance
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Last Updated: 18/10/18 11:48am
England coach Eddie Jones has been forced to dig deep into the reserve pools with at least 11 players injured or suspended for Tests against South Africa, New Zealand, Japan and Australia.
The 36-man squad contains eight uncapped players but once again there is no place for Danny Cipriani or Alex Goode.
Ben Morgan makes his first appearance in an England squad since the 2015 World Cup as a result of the crisis at No 8 that has seen Billy Vunipola and Sam Simmonds ruled out of the entire series by injury and Nathan Hughes miss all but the final match due to suspension.
The injuries are far from ideal, however Will Greenwood believes it is a chance for the younger players to stake a claim for the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
"The reality is that you don't want both your front line players to be missing - one for injury and one for a citing issue. To lose Billy and Nathan means that you are in numbers three and four - it's going to difficult but not terminal and it is a cracking opportunity for two men. Ben Morgan who has not played for three years and the other kid Zach Mercer.
"Mercer has matured so much over the course of six months from being a nice, young player who was perhaps a loose, sinewy, old school Andy Ripley style No 8, to a big ball carrying, gain line player who has not lost his ball skills.
"His opportunity has been fast-tracked and the people who will benefit from the missing players are the youngsters like Zach Mercer."
England also have problems at loosehead prop, with Mako Vunipola ruled out through a calf injury and Joe Marler having retired from international duty.
"I think Alex Hepburn, who is the Exeter Chief prop, will be at loose-head," added Greenwood.
"On the tighthead side, well it's a tough battle. I am a big fan of Harry Williams - also of Exeter Chiefs, but Kyle Sinckler has been Eddie's number two behind Dan Cole, then the guy who scrum aficionado's tell me is the best scrummaging tighthead in the Premiership is Worcester's Nick Schonert. Worcester are on the charge at the moment and he is the bedrock of that team."
The omission of Cipriani will no doubt make all the headlines, but Greenwood says that he is not surprised that the Gloucester fly-half was once again not named in the squad.
"If Eddie Jones had not picked Danny five weeks ago when he was playing in his mercurial fashion and lightning up the Premiership, then he was not going to pick him now," explained Greenwood.
"There is nothing he wasn't doing then that he is doing now - he is still playing magnificently well but it is Eddie's squad and he believes Ford and Farrell are his options at 10 and 12."
Greenwood is also interested to see what combination Eddie Jones opts for in the midfield - Manu Tuilagi has overcome a succession of injuries to win inclusion as has Ben Te'o - who has not played this season because of thigh and ankle problems.
"If you were playing fantasy rugby, then I would be tempted to move Owen Farrell to ten and play Henry Slade and Alex Lozowski in midfield - put Slade close to the ball at 12 and get the gas of Alex Lozowski at 13 - he's tough as well.
"The reality is that it is not about fantasy rugby, Eddie understands the hard-nosed nature of the midfield which is one of the hardest places to play on the field. Manu and Ben Te'o are the obvious answer to fill that block buster style, wall demolishing role."
One player that Greenwood is excited to see in action is Bath's Joe Cokanasiga, who could well light up Twickenham this autumn.
"Joe Cokanasiga has played really well, his hands are so big he makes the rugby ball look like a tangerine. He is confident and has looked defensively strong - he is going to get some game time this autumn, and I think the rugby playing public will love him.
"It is going to be awesome, the best of the best are coming to Twickenham!
#Followtherose this autumn with all of England's Tests live on Sky Sports throughout November. The action starts on Saturday November 3 against South Africa before clashes against New Zealand, Japan and Australia.