Eddie Jones, currently running the national side from self isolation, has included the uncapped Wasps back Paolo Odogwu and Bristol scrum-half Harry Randall in a 28-man squad for the forthcoming Six Nations championship. Jones says he wants England to be an “impossible” team to play against but will be without both his first-choice props, Kyle Sinckler and Mako Vunipola, for the opening game against Scotland on 6 February because of suspension and injury respectively.
The experienced Jonathan Joseph has also been omitted, with the selection of Odogwu and Randall, both aged 23, clearly an attempt to try and enhance England’s line-breaking ability with ball in hand. Jones is a fan of the former’s ball-carrying power and enthusiasm and has been monitoring the alert, nippy Randall’s development for some time. Both players are potentially still eligible for other nations, which may partly explain Jones’s sudden enthusiasm to see them in a white jersey. Odugwu’s father is half Italian while Randall grew up in Wales, attended Llandovery College and was once man of the match playing for Wales against England in an under-16 international.
Randall’s sharp form for Bristol and Odogwu’s six tries in eight games this season, however, have prompted Jones to pick them in the same week the Bath centre Cameron Redpath decided to represent Scotland ahead of England. “We want boys who are desperate to play for England,” said Jones, stressing his team would not be tiptoeing into the tournament. “We want to continually develop our game and be an impossible team to play against.”
Odogwu, easily recognisable by his red-tipped dreadlocks, was born in Coventry and represented England at both under-18 and under-20 level but, having struggled to feature regularly at Sale, has shot to prominence with some spectacular displays for Wasps in recent weeks. To date he has started just 18 Premiership games and, in total, has scored seven tries in 27 league appearances but his two tries against Bath earlier this month showcased the lower-body strength that confounded, among others, England’s best tackler Sam Underhill, and underlined his rising confidence regardless of the number on his back.
“I was lucky enough to be coached by [the former Wallabies coach] Bob Dwyer and one of the things he always taught me about selection was to look for those players that can be world class at something,” said Jones. “He [Odogwu] can be world class in terms of line-breaking and that’s the thing that has caught my attention.
The fleet-footed Randall is also a player who likes to challenge the opposition with ball in hand, despite standing just 5ft 8in tall. He has only started 24 out of his 44 league appearances for Bristol, having previously left the Scarlets academy and moved to study at Hartpury College, but is a livewire scrum-half capable of lifting the tempo of England’s game.
Up front, meanwhile, Courtney Lawes and Mark Wilson are both back involved having missed the autumn series, with Charlie Ewels and Jack Willis missing out for now. With his options slightly affected by the Covid-19 related agreement to pick a smaller than normal squad to reduce movement in and out of the England camp, Jones has named the latter pair and Joseph in a 12-strong shadow squad who will be on standby in case of injuries and undergo the same testing protocols as the senior side.
That list, which includes the up-and-coming Wasps fly-half Charlie Atkinson and Leicester forward George Martin, does not include Sinckler, however. The Bristol prop will have to serve his suspension for disrespecting the referee earlier this month before Jones decides whether or not to rush him back, while Mako Vunipola is still rehabilitating after a calf injury. On a number of fronts it has been a challenging Six Nations build-up for the head coach, with his forwards coach, Matt Proudfoot, having tested positive for Covid-19 and both Jones and his attack coach, Simon Amor forced to isolate until next Thursday, 24 hours after the players have gathered at St. George’s Park in Staffordshire.
The squad’s Saracens contingent, including England’s captain Owen Farrell, will also have played no competitive rugby for two months when they take the field for the Calcutta Cup clash two weeks’ today. Jones, though, insists they will benefit from the rest – “This period is almost like a godsend to them” – and is adamant his own current isolation will have minimal influence on his squad’s preparations. The testing errors that wrongly forced Bath to shut down their training ground this week also mean there are no issues about the club’s England contingent – uncapped prop Beno Obano, Anthony Watson, Underhill and Will Stuart – joining the squad.