Sam Simmonds could hold surprise key to World Cup success – Neil Back EXCLUSIVE
Simmonds will start at No 8 against Italy today (3pm) with Vunipola and Nathan Hughes both missing through injury.
The former is widely regarded as one of the best ball-carriers in world rugby and a broken arm suffered last month left England without 20 stone of beef from the back of their scrum.
Hughes too will miss at least the first three games with knee complaint, meaning Simmonds will fill in at No 8 despite having just three caps to his name at senior level.
But Back, who was part of the England side that triumphed in the Rugby World Cup back in 2003, believes the next 20 months should be about ensuring Eddie Jones has as many as three world-class players in each position.
“They’ve got to think, in the World Cup, Billy might not even make it, whether that is because of injury, a dip in form or whatever,” Back told Express Sport.
“And in the case, you’ve just got to get on and that can’t diminish England’s belief and performance. There are other alternatives.
“We’ve got a lot of strength in depth. England have got to get on with the players they have got available and hopefully Billy gets back and fit as soon as possible.
“[Simmonds] has got that opportunity and he’s got to play so well that Eddie is questioning whether he should bring Billy back into the team.
“If we continue doing that, that’s how you create huge competition.
“To win a World Cup you’ve got to have depth in every position, in two players or possibly even three now.
“You’ve got to have huge belief in whoever comes in that they are good enough for the job.”
Flanker Back remains a legend of the game, having played 66 times for England, including at three World Cups, and played on three tours with the British & Irish Lions.
He was also part of the side that tried – and failed – to win three Six Nations titles in a row, something no team has ever achieved.
And with Jones’ side about to embark upon that same task without their talismanic ball-carrier Vunipola, a fact Back knows England must put behind them.
“Billy’s absence is one thing that England have got to mentally get on top of. If fit and well, and on form, Billy would be in England’s best back row, of course,” Back added.
“But we all know he’s not available. Some of the best club and international squads that I’ve been involved with respect and value every player that is in that squad.
“Whoever is in that 23, and particularly starting 15, when you look round that group, you trust and respect every one of them and have got absolute belief in them.”
***Join 2003 Rugby World Cup heroes Mike Tindall, Will Greenwood and Neil Back at the award-winning Wolf Run obstacle challenge in East Sussex on 28th April. Get your pack together with the buy four get one FREE offer at www.thewolfrun.com***
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