Ben Earl says he is learning from the best as he patiently waits to make his first England start.
All six of Earl’s caps have been won off the bench where he has been a fixture since England’s last defeat, against France in February, with Eddie Jones seeing his value as a versatile replacement capable of covering the back row, centre and even wing.
Blocking his path into the starting XV are outstanding flankers Tom Curry and Sam Underhill and number eight Billy Vunipola, while behind him he is fending off pressure from Jack Willis and Lewis Ludlam, however, Earl reveals that while the competition is fierce, they are always looking to develop each other.
“People looking from the outside probably think everyone is trying to get one up on each other in this group, however it really is not like that,” said Earl.
“Everyone is really trying to help each other – we know if we are all trying to grow as players then we are going to become a better team and a better unit. There is some amazing talent here and for me personally, it is something that I am trying to tap into.
“Whether it is Billy’s experience, Sam’s defending or Tom’s breakdown, it is all something that I am trying to learn from.”
While Earl is biding his time for a starting berth, he has some sympathy for Exeter’s Sam Simmonds who, despite some outstanding performances for the Premiership and European Champions, has been overlooked by Eddie Jones.
“Sam with the ball is one of the best I have seen, he is so quick and so explosive, and he has brought in defence into his game as well.
“I guess there are only four or five of us who can be in the mix each week – I am sure he is very hungry to get in – I know if he gets a chance, he will make the group better.”
Earl is the poster boy for Jones’ hybrid player theory, although since recently floating the idea of interchanging players with the capability to play in the forwards or backs, England’s head coach has yet to commit to it on the field.
In training on Tuesday, Earl spent time at inside centre and on the wing, but the 22-year-old is certain of where his speciality lies, knowing that his versatility could result in an international career spent on the bench.
“First and foremost I think I’m an openside a flanker and I’ve got to keep pushing my skills on that position whether it’s defensively or offensively,” said Earl, who has never started in the threequarters before.
“If there was a massive injury crisis on matchday and you can slot in to ease the burden, then I’m happy to do that.
“Obviously I’m just happy to play in whatever position or capacity, as long as I’m contributing I’m happy.”