Who Is Next? The England Flyhalves In Waiting

Who Is Next? The England Flyhalves In Waiting

England has regularly had an excellent playmaker running things from the #10 jersey at test level with George Ford and Owen Farrell currently bossing the position since their respective debuts.

The likes of Rob Andrew, Paul Grayson, Toby Flood, Charlie Hodgson and Jonny Wilkinson also all enjoyed their time in the limelight while others haven't quite made the jump to test rugby as seamlessly. 

Owen Farrell and Goerge Ford have been the go-to men in the role for almost a decade with Farrell debut in 2012 and Ford in 2014 with Eddie Jones often starting the pair in the same lineup. 

After signing a new contract as England head coach, Jones noted that around 60% of his Rugby World Cup squad in 2019 wouldn't make it to the next showpiece in France and although Farrell and Ford would still be fresh enough at 32 and 31 respectively, Jones may just look at blooding a few backups for the pair. A player to challenge the pair while also being primed and ready to step in if need be.

During the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Jones selected just the two pivots mentioned with the knowledge that he was covered by the likes of Henry Slade and Eliot Daly as emergency scrum-halves.

2021 could be the ideal time for Jones to experiment with Owen Farrell a shoo-in for a call up to the British and Irish Lions squad to tour to South Africa with George Ford in with a chance - at least.

With all this in mind, we take a look at some of the out and out flyhalves who might just be able to force their way into the England 23 in the coming years. 

Joe Simmonds - Exeter Chiefs

Under the stewardship of Gareth Steenson at Exeter Chiefs, Joe Simmonds has developed into one of the Premierships finest flyhalves. He has since taken over the jersey from Steenson over the past two seasons and thrived with the extra responsibilities.  At 23, Simmonds plays with a cool head beyond his years and is more than capable of taking the game by the scruff of the neck and guiding his side to victory. 

Simmonds ticks all the boxes needed for a test flyhalf with a handy boot, solid defence and an excellent tactical and running game.

Marcus Smith - Harlequins

Apart from Danny Cipriani, Marcus Smith is an excellent example of how difficult it is to break into Eddie Jones' England squad as a halfback. Smith has been involved in a number of England camps but has not been able to convince Jones to hand him his debut.

It already feels as if Smith has been around the Premiership for some time but is still just 21 having broken into the Harlequins senior squad and made his debut at just 18 years of age and 200 days becoming the youngest fly-half to start in the top flight since a 17-year old George Ford.

Like Simmonds, Smith displays all the attributes to be a test flyhalf and has turned a game in Harlequins' favour countless times. Smith is gifted with an excellent step and turn of pace, they may just set him apart from the other candidates on this list.

During the 2017 Lions tour, Eddie Jones opted to take Alex Lozoskwi and Piers Francis as cover for George Ford to Argentina and he could just turn to Smith during the 2021 tour. He has impressed Jones enough to be included in training squads and could finally track the nod.

Jacob Umaga - Wasps

The son of Mike and nephew of legendary New Zealand centre Tana, Jacob Umaga has royal rugby blood running through his veins - and he shows it.

Umaga grew up in England and earned youth honours at u18, u19 and u20 before heading back to where his father was born and his uncle is coaching, Auckland. He ground out a season in New Zealand's Mitre 10 Cup season, a move that has seen his rise and rise as he burst into the Wasps' senior squad.

13 games into the 2019/20 season Umaga signed his first first-team deal with the club after impressing enough to take over the 10 jersey from former All Black Lima Sopoaga.  

As you can see in the video above, Umaga runs superb support lines off of line breaks with his ability to comfortably play fullback a big positive in his play, with Eddie Jones favouring utility players during his tenure.

Umaga has caught the eye of Jones, who included him in his inital squad for the 2020 Six Nations and certainly has the ability to make the step up.

Manu Vunipola - Saracens

The should say it all. Manu might not be as brutally physical as his cousins Mako and Billy but what he doesn't have in size and strength he makes up with his agility, vision and tactical nous.

An incredibly talented playmaker, Vunipola is another flyhalf who is playing beyond his years. 2021 may be too soon for the 19-year-old Vunipola but don't be too surprised to see three Vunipolas representing England at the 2023 World Cup.

Injuries to Max Malins and Alex Goode saw Vunipola get an unprecedented amount of time in the starting jersey at Saracens this season with Owen Farrell on England duty. Vunipola is likely to be tasked of guiding Saracens most of the way back to promotion to the Premiership, a crucial role with the side at such a young age could accelerate his development even if it is not in England's top flight.

Tom Hardwick - Leicester Tigers

If Eddie Jones is looking for a pair to back up the Ford-Farrell combination, he wouldn't be too far off in testing the combination of Smith and Hardwick who combined well for the England u20s. Hardwick is comfortable in the #10 and #12 channel and has started making waves at the struggling Tigers, particularly this season. A bit more of a work in progress compared to some of the other players mentioned in this list but working day in and out with George Ford at the Tigers. 

Johnny Williams - Newcastle Falcons 

At 23, Williams still has plenty of time to force his way back to full fitness and earn a full England cap having represented the side against the Barbarians before being diagnosed with testicular cancer. His form earned him a call up and his ability to interchange between flyhalf and centre will excite Jones. 

A product of London Irish's famed Academy, Williams had all the attributes to thrive at test level and a call up to the squad could all depend on how he continues to perform on his return to rugby and Newcastle's return to the Premiership.

Callum Sheedy - Bristol Bears

Cardiff born-and-raised, Sheedy has been on the Wales radar in recent times with his form during 2019 earning him a place In the England XV to face the Barbarians.

Sheedy has continued to shine for Bristol this season and a place in the England squad during the Lions tour but it could all depend on where his loyalties line with Wales potentially dealing with the same problem.

George Barton - Gloucester

Rugby runs in Barton family so it was only a matter of time before he made his mark on the game. The Gloucester Rugby fly half’s father, Simon, played for England Colts, while his mother Gillian represented England Student Ladies and his sister Chloe plays for Worcester Valkyries in the Tyrrells Premier 15s.

Barton has a natural approach to the flyhalf role and has looked comfortable at u20s level with a step up to the Premiership imminent. He does have the likes of Danny Cipriani and Llyod Evans ahead of him at club level but the battle to get him into the side will certainly make him a better player.

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