Marcus Smith and Joe Simmonds have been challenged to stake their claims for the England No 10 jersey when they square off in the Premiership final between Harlequins and Exeter on Saturday, with Eddie Jones expected to monitor the fly-half duel at Twickenham.
Wasps’ Jacob Umaga and Northampton’s George Furbank are fighting it out to start at fly-half for England A against Scotland A on Sunday, but Smith and Simmonds will be available for the subsequent Tests against USA and Canada with their domestic commitments over. Both have been impressive this season though neither has won an England cap yet and their individual battle on Saturday will go a significant way to determining the outcome of the final. Jones is looking to unearth fresh talent and, with George Ford rested and Owen Farrell away with the British & Irish Lions, fly-half is a position in which he will be looking to develop depth.
Soon after England’s disappointing Six Nations campaign, Jones specifically referenced Smith and Simmonds as candidates this summer for what he described as “the toughest position in world rugby”. Jones, who is expected to attend the final on Saturday, revealed their performances will determine whether they are selected.
“Jacob [Umaga] and George Furbank have been training there, they’re vying for the position on the weekend,” said England’s head coach, who will hand the coaching reins to his assistant, John Mitchell, for the A match on Sunday. “Then we’ll get possibly two [fly-halves] back from the two finalists, those guys are in contention depending on their performance on Saturday.”
Jones has more than 20 uncapped players in his squad with Harlequins and Exeter players to be added to the ranks next week and he has urged all of them to put England’s more senior players – either those rested or those away with the Lions – under pressure for their places. “They have the opportunity to become the permanent starter in their position,” he said.
“So we’re assessing the talent very carefully, putting them through the hoops and we’ll see what comes out of it. When opportunity knocks you’ve got to take it.”
On Sunday Jones added Manu Tuilagi as one of the few senior players in his squad with the 30-year-old centre only recently returning from another long injury layoff. Tuilagi subsequently had to pull out with a hamstring injury but Jones expects him to benefit from a full pre-season along with Billy Vunipola, another senior player he has decided to give the summer off.
“[For Manu] it’s a slight hamstring injury, he’ll be out for a couple of weeks, we won’t play him this series,” Jones said. “And we’ve been really pleased with his progress. I think it’s been very positive for him to come back from his achilles and play with such vim and vigour. He’s been outstanding, so it’s just a small, little setback.
“We felt it was best to rest [Billy]. He needs to find the best of himself, he knows that, he is another one who needs to get into the best physical condition. It has been tough for those Sarries boys – I underestimated how much it made things difficult for them to be at their best. This is an opportunity for those guys who missed out on the Lions to have a really good pre-season with their club and to come back ready to challenge for an England shirt in the autumn.”