Eddie Jones admits there is now ferocious competition for places after England’s young guns surpassed expectations during a successful autumn.
Emerging prospects Freddie Steward, Marcus Smith, Jamie Blamire and Bevan Rodd – each of them capped for the first time since the start of the summer – shone as Tonga, Australia and South Africa were dispatched at Twickenham.
Full-back Steward and fly-half Smith are shaping up to be mainstays of England’s backline for years to come, emerging from Saturday’s 27-26 win against the Springboks with their reputations enhanced.
Jones insists the rate of progress has been quicker than expected to place “enormous competitive strains” on the squad ahead of their Six Nations opener against Scotland on February 5.
“It’s been really positive. Over the last two weeks we’ve beaten the third-best team in the world (Australia) and the best team in the world (South Africa),” Jones said.
“We’ve had our challenges in terms of Covid and a number of injuries, so maybe some young guys we thought weren’t ready to play at that level of game have been given their opportunity and acquitted themselves really well.
“So we’ve added to the depth, we’ve added to the competition and we’ve also added to the hunger of the side, which is really important.
“The development of some of the younger players being quicker than maybe we thought they were going to be puts enormous competitive strains on getting selected, which is a good position to be in.
“I think we’ve had 23 new caps this season and a lot of those players are going to have great careers ahead of them.
“If they keep working hard and keep that hunger to want to get better, they are all going to have very good careers.”
While 21-year-old Steward was a colossal presence in the backfield and the 22-year-old Smith showed he is now ready to direct operations, Jones alighted on a less heralded newcomer for his find of the campaign.
Nic Dolly was playing in the Championship last season but impressed following his move to Leicester in March, culminating in his Test debut off the bench against South Africa.
“If you want me to highlight one player I will, and that’s Nic Dolly,” said Jones of the 22-year-old Australian-born hooker.
“If you consider where he’s come from – he was going back to play for Coventry, he got a call up from Leicester Tigers and played four or five games for them.
“He then finds himself in the England squad and finds himself coming up against the best pack in the world and making his debut in front of 82,000 people at Twickenham.
“What a story in terms of resilience, in terms of just keep doing your work and when the opportunity comes – take it.”
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