Newcastle's rapid wing Adam Radwan is one of 11 uncapped players in the starting XV

Credit: GETTY IMAGES

For the first England ‘A’ match in five years since the side played in South Africa, new England ‘A’ head coach John Mitchell has selected 11 uncapped players and a new captain.

England A squad

Injuries

Sam Underhill (concussion) and Fraser Dingwall (calf) were both unavailable for selection following injuries in training. There’s no word on when either player will be available for selection but the fact that neither has been ruled out of the squad would suggest they could return in time for next Sunday’s Test against the USA.

For Underhill, who missed the start of the Six Nations recovering from injury and then because of team protocols was unable to link up with the squad later in the tournament, it’s another unwanted setback. Dingwall stood out in Northampton’s final matches of the Premiership season, starting at both inside and outside centre.
Uncapped captain

Eddie Jones – not the head coach for his game, with those responsibilities going to John Mitchell – was asked about the captaincy for the summer on Thursday and said the following:

We will decide who the captain is, they will get the chance to do the job and see how they can do it and if they do it well they can continue and if they don’t they will be rotated.

Which sends a message to Lewis Ludlow that if all goes well on Sunday, he could keep the captaincy for the two Test matches. The Gloucester captain is revered at his club for his work-rate and finished the season as the Premiership’s top tackler with 280 – over 50 more than the next highest player.

England might have gone with Underhill or could have leaned on a veteran such as Charlie Ewels, a favourite of Jones and Bath’s club captain, or maybe even Ellis Genge. Instead they’ve gone for the uncapped Ludlow, who won’t let anyone down. Genge and Ewels do both start and will in such an inexperienced side – they are the only players with caps in double figures – will have key roles to play.

Saxons survivors

Interestingly, there are two players in Sunday’s matchday 23 who featured in the last Saxons matches five years ago in South Africa.

Ewels after that tour has established himself as a regular member of England’s squads – making his Test debut for England later in 2016 against Fiji after the Saxons games – despite the top competition at lock with Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Joe Launchbury, now Jonny Hill and previously George Kruis. 

Dan Robson had to wait a little longer but has been a firm part of England’s matchday 23 since the Rugby World Cup, bouncing back from the serious health scare he suffered at the start of 2019 when blood clots were discovered in his leg. Robson now has 12 Test caps and is named on the bench.

Leicester rewarded

After back-to-back 11th-place finishes Leicester are seemingly back on track under Steve Borthwick, finishing sixth in the Premiership and gradually clearing out a mish-mash of a squad. The success of their young players this season has been rewarded. 

Freddie Steward was not far away from winning the young player of the season award, while centre Dan Kelly, the former Ireland Under-20s back, has been a revelation. Joe Heyes’ scrummaging continues to improve – he was at the heart of that impressive assault on Bristol’s pack the other week – while Harry Wells at lock is to catch the eye. John Mitchell described Wells as "hard-working, gritty, physical", which all sounds very Leicester.

All four players start on familiar ground at Welford Road on Sunday – along with Genge – in what has to be viewed as a sign of significant progress made by Leicester after a couple of drab seasons. Jones has repeated this year that he’s looking for players who can break into the England Test squad for the 2023 Rugby World Cup, and of the four uncapped players, Steward and Heyes may have the best chance.

Umaga starts, Furbank covering 10

Given he was the only specialist No 10 selected for this contest it’s no surprise to see Jacob Umaga starting at fly-half. The nephew of former All Blacks captain Tana finished the season in good touch for Wasps, thriving in their astonishing comeback win against London Irish which helped secure Champions Cup rugby. There are legitimate questions regarding his goalkicking but at 22, Umaga is still a raw talent on an upward curve.

What’s more interesting is that George Furbank, called up this week, is being used as fly-half cover again by England, with the Northampton Saints full-back training there again as he has in the past under Jones. 

Marcus Smith and Joe Simmonds will be available next week following the Premiership final, meaning that Umaga – and perhaps Furbank if he gets time on the field – have to impress.

Semi-finalists involved

Despite less training time with the squad Jones hasn’t held back from adding players from Bristol and Sale into his line-up after their Premiership semi-final defeats last weekend. Harry Randall seemed on track to win a cap during the Six Nations until he was injured in England training, while Max Malins is now a regular and started in the win over France.

Curtis Langdon has backed up Akker van der Merwe well this season at Sale but for Ben Curry this feels like a huge summer. Luck with injuries has gone against him in the past with the national side – and this season after three months out with a shoulder injury – but with brother Tom away on the Lions tour and Underhill currently sidelined, this is a big opportunity for Curry to impress.

Radwan’s pace

Newcastle’s presence in this squad deserves recognition and their numbers mainly come in the pack, with Callum Chick starting at No 8 and props Jamie Blamire and Trevor Davidson selected on the bench. If there is a potential breakout superstar in this England ‘A’ side however, it might be Radwan.

Searingly quick, Radwan tore up the Championship last season before turning heads in the Premiership when he left (England’s second-highest try scorer) Jonny May in the dust with a long-range try for the Falcons against Gloucester. 

Adam Radwan = Pace 🏃‍♂️💨

What a try from the Newcastle man 👏 pic.twitter.com/VsStkPL4vq

— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) January 9, 2021

Radwan finished the season with seven tries in 11 matches for Newcastle, including four in his last three games, and if given time and space could become the star attraction with his speed against Scotland ‘A’.