Eddie Jones has named the 31 players he will take to Japan – we look at the hot topics
Talking points from the England World Cup squad announcement
Eddie Jones named his 31-man squad for the Rugby World Cup in Japan on Monday afternoon. There are no major shocks – we already knew from previous training squad announcements that the likes of Danny Cipriani and Alex Goode would not be involved – but there are a few talking points…
Two nines policy still in place
Jones has regularly selected only two scrum-halves in his England squads and he has stuck with that policy for the World Cup. And one of those nines is Willi Heinz, who made his debut against Wales at the weekend.
So Ben Youngs and Heinz will be involved in the match-day 23 for every game at the tournament in Japan. It’s a huge risk, both in terms of the chances of burnout and the issues that will occur if either player picks up an injury.
For example, if Youngs or Heinz picks up a serious injury in the opening pool game against Tonga, a replacement will have to be flown out and will only have a couple of days to acclimatise to Japan and get up to speed with team tactics before the game against USA four days later.
Yet Jones suggested that England may use George Ford to cover nine if need be. The coach said: “We’ve got contingency in George Ford, who has played a little bit at half-back. He’s been doing some training there and he’ll continue to do that. If we need a third half-back then we feel he can fill the role for a period of time.”
Who is Ruaridh McConnochie?
A member of the silver medal-winning Great Britain sevens squad at the 2016 Olympics, McConnochie is the real bolter in this squad. He’s the only uncapped player in the 31, injury having ruled him out of the first World Cup warm-up match at the weekend, and was something of a surprise inclusion in Jones’s first training squad.
Yet the 27-year-old winger has clearly impressed over the summer after his first season back in the 15-a-side code at Bath. He shouldn’t be considered a sevens convert because he started out in 15s at Nuneaton, but it is a boon for the abbreviated game to see a player make the crossover and achieve selection for the World Cup. The ‘pathway’ so often espoused has actually reached the ultimate destination.
Jones said: “We’ve been watching him quite closely through the club season. I was impressed by him. Once he came into camp, he cemented our impression of him. He’s a very good worker, a very good communicator.
“He’s a mature boy who has played a number of positions, so he was a pretty easy selection in the end.”
Possible tight spot at tighthead
While McConnochie is one of six back-three players in Eddie’s 31, there are only five props – Dan Cole, Ellis Genge, Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler and Mako Vunipola.
Of those five, only two are tightheads – Cole and Sinckler. Like with scrum-half, this means those two players will be involved in the 23 for every match, unless they move someone across to act as cover. That’s quite a workload for a front-rower.
Marler has reportedly trained at tighthead but it seems a big ask for him to cover the position at a World Cup.
A really tough call on Harry Williams.
Ben Te’o left out in the cold
Ben Te’o was taken on England’s tour to Australia in 2016 before even playing a game in the Premiership and has been a mainstay in midfield under Jones. Yet there is no place for him in this World Cup squad.
Whether the decision is to do with his form, the versatility offered by Piers Francis or the off-field altercation with Mike Brown reported in The Times over the weekend, Jones would not confirm.
“I’m not going into the reasons why he’s not been selected. We’ve had a conversation with Ben. He’s not in our top 31 players at the moment. Whether he agrees with it is another matter.”
As well as not making the plane to Japan, the New Zealand-born centre is also currently without a club. He’ll be hoping his fortunes change over the coming weeks.
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