England’s reliance on Ben Youngs and Willi Heinz as their premier scrum-half tandem is beginning to wear on former London Irish and Gloucester No.9 Pete Richards.
Head coach Eddie Jones stuck by World Cup pairing Young and Heinz, who helped England to reach the final in Japan, but change could be in the winds given the call-up of Northampton’s Alex Mitchell as apprentice for the Six Nations.
Richards shares his view on Mitchell and which other Premiership scrum-halves boast the right attributes to take England forward in their attacking game.
But for now, it is Wasps star Dan Robson who Richards believes is deserving of showcasing what he can do for England.
“Dan’s the guy I’d like to see in that England jersey more than any of the other challengers,” Richards, capped 13 times for England, told TRP.
“He didn’t get a chance to express himself during last year’s Six Nations and then he had his leg issue, but you see him back to his best for Wasps now in an open, attacking team and he’s been fantastic.
“In terms of his kicking ability he’s probably the best of the lot now, not just in accuracy but in distance and attacking kicks.”
Peter Richards rates England’s other scrum-half options
Ben Spencer – Saracens
Spencer’s become England’s forgotten man since being rushed out for the World Cup final. But maybe if he goes to Bath, he can experience another way of playing and if he can pin down a starting spot and be part of another successful team, it will put him in the shop window.
As part of his development, it will be great to play behind a different pack. He’s not going to have five British and Irish Lions there and he’ll not be playing on an astroturf pitch, just that bog at the Rec, so it’ll bring a different set of circumstances that might be what he needs to cop a break because he’s very talented, fast and an excellent kicker. His technical skills are brilliant.
Alex Mitchell – Northampton Saints
Was part of the Six Nations squad without ever having a chance of playing and currently has Cobus Reinach ahead of him, who, for me, is the best player in the Premiership. I’d have broken the bank to keep him at Northampton because I don’t know anyone with more of an influence on an individual team, but do Saints now recruit another big dog or back Mitchell and Henry Taylor to replace Reinach next season?
If they back Mitchell, who’s already been in and around that England set-up and obviously has huge potential, it may give him the opportunity to impress in further camps.
Jack Maunder – Exeter Chiefs
Like Mitchell, Jack needs to be starting for Chiefs but he’s had very little opportunity behind Nic White this season. Exeter also have a lot of other scrum-halves, including Stu Townsend, but with White leaving, those guys will be staking their claim.
It’s been hard for Maunder but if he can get his nose in front of Townsend and new signing Sam Hidalgo-Clyne to establish himself as Exeter’s No.1, then he will put himself in the shop window for England next season.
There’s nothing to say Exeter won’t continue to be a dominant force so those Exeter players can put their hands up time and time again.
Harry Randall – Bristol Bears
There’s good competition between Randall and Andy Uren at Bristol and they’re improving, but I currently see both of them being behind Robson and Maunder.
Randall’s a very exciting player but it’s the less obvious skills which might hold him back for a while, like the accuracy of his kicking, defensive work and his decision-making. But they’re all areas he’ll develop over time.
Ben White – Leicester Tigers
I’ve seen quite a bit of White recently and he’s definitely in that fiery Leicester scrum-half mould. Against Wasps recently he was warned by the referee a couple of times in terms of his vocality and he’s a bit like Harry Ellis use to be as that abrasive, noisy No.9. I think that’s the way they breed them at Welford Road – strong, tough-minded and uncompromising.
For him, it’ll be fantastic at the moment because although Leicester are at the lower end of the Premiership and struggling for form, the fact he’s playing a lot of rugby is brilliant. When Leicester pull themselves together and he’s part of that, it’s going to be brilliant for him.
But with Ben Youngs back, will he get enough opportunities and then be able to take them?