England back-rower Jack Willis confirms his move to the Top 14
England back-rower Jack Willis has confirmed on social media that he is now officially a Toulouse player until the end of the 2022/23 Top 14 season. The forward was one of 167 players and staff made redundant when Wasps collapsed on October 17 and he was listed on the England squad list in recent weeks as an unattached player.
However, having been released by Eddie Jones on Tuesday evening when the Test squad was cut from 36 to 26 players ahead of this Saturday’s Autumn Nations Series clash with Springboks, Willis put his exclusion to good use by flying to France and shaking hands with Toulouse on a deal that has secured his short-term future.
Willis was a twice-used replacement during two of the recent England matches, playing five minutes in the series-opening loss to Argentina and then getting a 14-minute run last Saturday in the dramatic draw with the All Blacks. However, having not played a club match with Wasps since their final game on October 9 before their RFU suspension, he wasn’t at the top of his form and it counted against him this week.
With England coach Jones upping his lineout options for this weekend’s more pronounced set-piece collision with the Springboks, Alex Coles was named as the starting blindside with Sam Simmonds providing cover from the bench spot left vacant by the exclusion of Willis.
After fellow ex-Wasps forward Joe Launchbury confirmed his club future over the weekend by announcing a deal with Toyota Verblitz for the 2023 Top League season before joining Harlequins for the 2023/24 Premiership, it left Willis as the biggest profile name from his old club’s roster who still hadn’t sorted out a deal elsewhere.
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That situation has now been resolved, with Willis confirming on social media on Thursday evening that he was now a Toulouse player. “Incredibly excited and grateful for the opportunity to play for Toulouse,” he wrote alongside a picture that showed him wearing a Toulouse top and shaking hands with club president Didier Lacroix.
A statement on the Toulouse website read: “Jack Willis is now a Stadiste. As an additional player, the English international joins Stade Toulousain until the end of this 2022/2023 season. 25-year-old Jack Willis is a back row who has played over 80 games for his former club, Wasps. With his high-level experience acquired with England (five selections), he will strengthen the red and black pack with his power and dynamism. Welcome to Stade Toulousain, Jack!”
Lacroix added: “We are very happy to welcome a player like Jack Willis to our squad. We know his qualities as a rugby player and appreciate that he shows us his confidence. The whole club welcomes him to Toulouse.”
While England usually have a rule that bars them from selecting players who are not based in the Premiership, an RFU exception was apparently agreed to accommodate any Wasps or Worcester player if they had to move outside the league to source new employment due to the collapse of both top-flight clubs.
That clause would mean that Willis can be called up by England for the upcoming Guinness Six Nations, but his overall availability would still be restricted by World Rugby’s regulation nine which governs the release of players not attached to clubs outside their country.
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