Earl rises from Eddie Jones reject to World XV contender

PARIS: It was a long and frustrating climb to become an England starter for Ben Earl but once established, he has moved into overdrive and is preparing for a World Cup semi-final as his team's player of the tournament.

Earl always seemed destined for a stellar international career after representing England at age-group levels, including playing in a World Under-20s final defeat by New Zealand

After two years of being included in Eddie Jones' England squads, the athletic number eight made his debut off the bench in 2020.

Remarkably, over the next three years he won 14 more caps but all as a replacement. Jones, wary of his lack of bulk, then ditched him altogether, despite Earl playing superbly for Saracens and being named Premiership player of the year in 2022.

When Steve Borthwick took over Earl still seemed to be on the periphery but he was included in the World Cup squad and finally started a game for his country in the last August warm-up against Wales.

How Billy Vunipola will come to rue the high tackle-ban that opened the door for his long-time understudy in France.

Earl started strongly against Argentina, improved through the tournament and was fantastic against Fiji when his two superb late breaks set up England's winning kicks.

England's squad statistics tell their own story. Earl has the most carries (48), most metres made (372), most line breaks (5), most defenders beaten (17) and his 60 tackles is 16 ahead of the next-best player.

England defence coach Kevin Sinfield said this week that Earl would be close to making a current World XV.

"He's someone I've so much respect for on and off the pitch so that's always nice to hear," Earl said on Thursday.

"But I've not really had a chance to look back. It's all happened quite quickly, it's not something I've taken for granted, I've loved it."


Earl is not a typical number eight and the contrast could not be greater than on Saturday when he will concede 18kg to South African opposite number Duane Vermeulen.

"Anyone who's played against him says he's one of the smartest players as well as the biggest," Earl said.

"I'll really relish that battle. It's sink or swim. Let's hope I swim.

"I've got to bring the best of myself and play to my strengths. I never compare myself to Billy but I've learned a huge amount from him having played with him for club and country. I try to do my own thing."

Earl showed against Fiji that the ability to last 80 minutes and to have real energy is key, and England are planning to be in touch in the final quarter against an overwhelmingly favoured Springbok team.

"We know test matches for 60 minutes are normally nip and tuck. It's almost always now down to that final 20 and that's not lost on us," he said.

"Some of the guys coming off the bench have played in the biggest tournaments and biggest games in the world. Hopefully, we are in a position where they can come on and get us over the line." --REUTERS

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