As seems to be the way with Eddie Jones’ England squads as of late, Pennyhill Park has played host to a group of youngsters, and a South African, hoping to impress their national team coach.
Gabriel Ibitoye - Harlequins
Aged 20, Gabriel Ibitoye has got to two Junior World Cup Finals with England’s U20s, made seven senior appearances for Harlequins and scored one try for his club side.
Ibitoye isn’t entirely new to an England training camp though. The young winger was named in England’s wider training squad as England prepared for the 2018 Six Nations.
In addition to this, Ibitoye has been nominated as player of the World Rugby U20 Championship each time that he has played in the tournament.
Scoring nine tries during his time in the England U20s set up, Ibitoye should have the ability to convert his age-grade success to senior rugby.
Where he would stand in the England camp is slightly unclear. England already have a number of quality wingers available for selection and the recent return of Chris Ashton to the England set-up means that the competition for places has never been higher.
It’s likely that Ibitoye will become more involved with England after the 2019 World Cup. In addition to this, he needs to play more regular rugby for Harlequins and establish himself at the Stoop. With the arrival of Nathan Earle, Ibitoye’s fight to get in the starting XV has never been harder.
Joel Kpoku – Saracens
Kpoku is another very promising young lock coming through the ranks at Saracens. Weighing in at a whopping 126kg Kpoku, at the age of 19, is already an imposing picture on the pitch. Making his England U20s debut in May 2018, Kpoku starred for England at the Junior World Championship alongside Ibitoye.
The massively combative Kpoku is a strong ball carrier and an impressive line-out coordinator. His inclusion to the squad is reminiscent of Saracens team-mate Nick Isiekwe’s selection to the England set-up and whilst Isiekwe enjoyed a massively impressive season of the back of it, it is likely that Kpoku will do the same.
He could actually suffer at club level though. Facing competition at lock from the likes Maro Itoje, George Kruis and Will Skelton, the road to the Premiership will be a long one. Kpoku’s big advantage is that time is on his side and he will probably break into the team in the next three years anyway.
There is another option open to Kpoku, if he were willing to take it. There are plenty of clubs in the Premiership with a shortage of quality locks. Newcastle Falcons and Worcester Warriors immediately spring to mind. It would be a great opportunity for the 19-year-old to develop as a rugby player and establish himself as a Premiership stalwart.
Jordan Olowofela – Leicester Tigers
Jordan Olowofela was arguably England’s standout performer at the Junior World Championship’s this summer. It didn’t matter if the Tigers man was on the wing or in a 13 jersey, he always put on a solid performance worthy of a man of the match award.
Lightning quick, Olowofela came to the attention of the Premiership fans during last season’s Premiership 7s. The back was his side’s best player and impressed viewers on his first big outing.
Plying his trade with Loughborough in National 1 for the past two seasons, Olowofela was utilised by Leicester more last term. He even ended up playing for the Tigers on three occasions and scoring one try.
This actually could be a really big season for Olowofela at Tigers. With only their fullback, scrum-half, fly-half and one winger nailed on in the backline, it is possible for the 20-year-old to become a regular at Welford Road.
Finally, Eddie Jones still hasn’t really nailed down an outside centre, so his three days in the England training camp could just be to decide which position suits the player best.
Michael Rhodes – Saracens
Unlike his counterparts on this list, Rhodes is by no means a fresh face to rugby. Playing five years of Super Rugby and seven years of domestic rugby in his native South Africa, the blindside flanker has qualified for England through residency.
He moved to Saracens in the summer of 2015 and ever since moving from the Stormers, he has been ever-present in the Sarries team. So well liked by the coaching staff, he was moved to lock, a position he never played and despite being 198cm tall, he excelled.
An option at the lineout and solid at rucks, Rhodes could be the player that England are missing. He did come to the training squad as third choice flanker, behind Haskell and Robshaw, but could be a good option in the Autumn internationals and Six Nations.
Rhodes’ biggest threat is Brad Shields. Shields was parachuted into England’s side for the second Test against South Africa, showing Jones’ intention for the Wasps man. Rhodes is three years Shields’ senior and has only played for the Barbarians on one occasion.
Probably not a long-term option for Jones, Rhodes could provide a short-term solution to England’s rucking problems and introduce more squad competition.