England’s choice: Mullan’s experience or talented Genge

Date published: January 12 2017

Mako Vunipola and Joe Marler could both return halfway through the Six Nations but Eddie Jones needs to select the right loosehead for England’s Six Nations opener against France.

Matt Mullan is the obvious choice, having deputised off the bench for Vunipola in Australia when Marler stayed at home.

Mullan has captained Wasps this season in James Haskell’s absence and is in good form with Test match experience, although very little as a starter, his sole Test start coming last year in the one-off Test against Wales at Twickenham in May.

Even that level of experience would serve England better against France than none at all, which is the case for the pair of one-cap Ellis Genge and uncapped Nathan Catt.

Genge however is tearing up trees at Leicester, viewed by the local press at the Leicester Mercury as one of the best signings the club have made in the last decade.

The 21-year-old initially joined Leicester on loan at the end of last season before making the move permanent from Bristol, who unsurprisingly were reluctant to let him go.

Naturally like all young props Genge’s development is ongoing when it comes to his work at the scrum, although on Sunday against Wasps he was outstanding in that area.

Genge’s calling card though is his ball carrying and ability to get over the gain line, something which is likely to appeal to Jones with Vunipola’s similar skill set missing from England’s attack.

Jones surprisingly dropped Genge from his Elite Player Squad on New Year’s Eve but his performances since then, and especially against Wasps, should have done enough to make him a viable option to make his Test debut next month.

What Jones has to decide on is whether handing Genge a first start against France would be too much of an ask for the former England U20 front-row. Uini Atonio and Rabah Slimani offer size and experience in equal measure in an improving French pack.

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Catt meanwhile is England’s third option and one of the surprise picks in the Six Nations training squad, although that is not to say his call-up was undeserved given the 28-year-old’s good form for Bath.

Catt did tour New Zealand with England back in 2014 but wasn’t capped, and since then has spent months sidelined with neck and shoulder injuries until the end of last season.

Should Genge continue to impress then Catt in all likelihood would be squeezed out of the matchday 23, but to start Genge over Mullan, somewhat ignoring pecking order as a result, would be one of the biggest calls made by Jones since he took over.

Jones at least having lost both Vunipola and Marler can see that England’s resources at loosehead run deep, as he settles on a solution both in that position as well as on a new back-row.

Chris Robshaw and Billy Vunipola will play no part in the tournament which opens the door to Maro Itoje playing at six and Nathan Hughes at number eight, with Jack Clifford and Teimana Harrison hovering in the background for a chance.

Positive updates this week regarding Joe Launchbury and George Kruis do mean that England’s second-row will not be as depleted as other areas of England’s pack.

Whether those injuries to Robshaw and the Vunipolas, normally all starters, derail England’s Six Nations title ambitions or not will depend on whether those players coming in step up to the challenge. All in all, being without them is a bad situation that could be much worse.

by Ben Coles

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