Earlier in the season, we championed the bolter philosophy for squad selection across the international scene, not just for the Lions tour. We want to see rough diamonds, s***houses and everything in between get a crack at the highest level, not just for curiosity's sake, but to break this tired stigma of, 'they're a great Premiership player, but dunno about them internationally'... How could you possibly tell? A squad's make up, strategy and management is built around maximising every asset across that first 15, and further 8. If a star showcases great form in a struggling Premiership side, then surely pushing them into garb's should only further intensify those talents? Well... Not always, but it's fun to hypothesise!
This years England tour is incredibly different to years gone past, not only with the context of the Lions and Eddie losing some of his star players to that chunky squad, but also because Saracens are still stuck in the Championship dregs, many sides are still competing domestically for top honours and have players on tired legs waging war, and the tour is against tier two nations. Also you even have England A vs Scotland A to contend with, you're effectively reaching your limit when it comes to how many folks you can call up! So, let's talk bolters, let's talk completely rogue choices who could find themselves in an England jersey this summer; I'm not talking your David Ribbans', your Marcus Smith's or your Ollie Lawrence's, they are pretty much fixed to start, I'm talking those players who you would never have pegged for international call ups despite putting in fantastic season-long performances... Let's go...
5. Josh Bassett (Wasps)
In 100 Premiership starts for Wasps, Josh Bassett has scored 43 tries, that's nearly a try every other game. For a winger that's still known for his size, directness and stability, it's often forgotten that he's an excellent finisher; he's made the third most clean breaks this season with a tidy 26 and has the third most tries scored with 9, he's clearly both a creator and a key try scorer. He's also 9th in the league for metres made with 837, comfortably more than his spotlighted colleagues Odogwu and Umaga. No matter the form of that Wasps side, he always maintains an immense consistency that is often overlooked in favour of moments of brilliance inside of him. The weirdest part, is that Bassett has been on the end/created some absolute worldies over the past few years, often being put forward for the Try of the Month awards. He's very strong in the air, something that has become a bit of a rarity for England back-three players most recently, he tackles well, and he reads the game like a centre; there is a reason he keeps making so many interceptions. What he doesn't have in speed, he makes up for with match intelligence; he plays smart. At 29 years old, it looks like Bassett might be clutching at straws for a first England call up, but the knowledge and stylistic qualities he could implant on young players such as Hassell Collins and Thorley in defence could prove invaluable. At 6ft 2 and 209lbs, he certainly has the physique to match the bulkier wingers; although he's far from being a crash bang, he does possess a certain Cohen-esque quality to his style of play, that could prove lucrative against scatter-gun sides like Canada and the USA.
4. Raffi Quirke (Sale Sharks)
I have really, really high hopes for Raffi Quirke in this England side. He is immensely talented for someone of his age, and that should only be intensified by sitting around experienced heads in an England dressing room. I know a lot of talk and hype has been around Harry Randall, but the guy has been out injured pretty much season long, and Uren has performed really well in his absence; another player that doesn't get the respect he deserves. But Quirke has made 11 appearances this season, winning 9 out of those games during some pretty testing times for this Sale side in the Diamond/Sanderson transition. With 36 carries and 15 defenders beaten, he also has real quality with ball in hand, something that England urgently need to reintroduce into their half back pairing. Can you imagine Robson going full tilt for 60 minutes with this whipper coming on to finish you off? The opposition 9 would be run ragged! 223 Metres gained from 244 minutes of in-game activity; that's mental from Scrum Half! With Faf De Klerk proving as a world class mentor at the top of his game, Quirke has the environment there to be a real winner; with De Klerk's pragmatism, kicking ability and bombastic physical qualities, and Robson's excellent support lines, cracking eye for a gap and speed off of the deck, Quirke could take this experience and become a real complete number 9.
3. Lewis Ludlow (Gloucester Rugby)
Another player who's seemingly disrespected by pundits and selectors alike, Ludlow has been a mainstay in that Gloucester side for the last few years, putting in over 1500 minutes of on-field action in 21 starts this season alone. The guy tops the tackle charts with a whopping 280 hits this season, nearly 60 ahead of the nearest person.
If you take the last two months out of the equation, Gloucester have been pretty diabolical this season, which was to be expected with the turnover of players, the turnover of staff and covid really impacting their squad; the recent covid cases haven't helped either. However, Ludlow constantly goes out there and puts on an absolute show for Gloucester fans to tune into. He hits like a freight train, jackals well, proves himself as an excellent captains, makes the right decisions, and has pretty decent disciplinary record; especially in this climate. At just 26, it really proves our embarrassment of riches in the backrow that he's barely considered a prospect at international level as we already have 5/6 players much younger in a similar position who could also do a job. Ludlow definitely has a Tom Wood like demeanour around him; old school, snub nosed, a handful, all the things you want your flanker to be. He's had a cracking season and if anyone deserves a call up, it's probably him.
2. Freddie Steward (Leicester Tigers)
You know who else has put in over 1500 minutes of Rugby this season? The 20 year old, skyscraper Full Back that is Freddie Steward. Maybe he's not really a bolter, as the consensus is that he's the future of that England 15 jersey, but Steward hasn't been getting the hype he perhaps deserves ahead of this tour. 6ft 5 and over 100kg's, Steward is an anomaly at Full Back, closer to an Israel Folau than he is an Elliot Daly. It's really shown as well, as he's eighth in the league for defenders beaten with 49; a really high stat for a Full Back. It's not just about the defenders beaten though, as he also clocks in at 10th for most metres gained this season; he's dangerously close to Piutau territory. I'm pretty confident in stating that he's the best 15 in the country, and despite Anthony Watson's sheer flair and brilliance with ball in hand, he's still too much of a defensive liability for both Bath and England for me to put him in the top bracket for international Full Backs. Steward is a unit, and someone we've sorely missed in this England backline since Tuilagi's departure; if England's future is with an axis of Smith, Lawrence and Slade, then a Steward inclusion would surely bolster the size deficit you lose from taking Farrell and Tuilagi out of the mix.
1. Miles Reid (Bath)
Miles Reid is someone that we can't stop gushing about towards the back end of this season; with Underhill unfortunately having an injury prone season and coming back to fairly poor form, Reid has absolutely excelled in his absence. Another young, upstart from the South West, Miles Reid has often been Bath's player of the match over and over again, putting in some top-level performances against Northampton, Wasps and Newcastle earlier this season. 5th for tackles completed this season with 200, joint 13th for turnovers this season, two tries scored, only three penalties conceded, nearly 2m's gained per carry, the guy is a complete flanker for one of the most unsettled back rows in the league. Despite the immense prospects we have in that England back row, each player at times can seem a little one dimensional. Tom Curry is an excellent carrier and decent jackaler, but not a great lineout option, not the most dominant tackler and occasionally a little penalty prone, Underhill is a ferocious tackler and surprisingly good ball carrier, but not the best over the ruck, not a great lineout option and doesn't have the best gas tank, Willis is a world class rucking expert, a fantastic ball carrier, but again not a lineout option, occasionally gets on the wrong side of referee's and is unfortunately injury prone, Ben Earl is a great ball carrier, jackaler and good in the air, but a little clumsy, has yet to make any impact on the international scene and is often out-shone in that Bristol back row... Miles Reid is pretty strong and just about every aspect of being a modern-day Flanker. I'm not saying that he's immediately going to jump into Curry or Underhill's starting jersey, but it's great to have options that can push them all of the way. For every Richard Hill there was a Joe Worsley, for every Neil Back there was a Lewis Moody; that how these things work!