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How 'a dumb play or two' could have hurt Jonny Hill with England

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Paul Harding/Getty Images)

Jonny Hill was the big-name casualty on Tuesday evening when Steve Borthwick trimmed his England squad from 36 to 29 ahead of this Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations opener at home to Scotland. The 28-year-old lock, who joined Sale from Exeter for the 2022/23 club season, had been a firm favourite under Eddie Jones, Borthwick’s predecessor as England boss.

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For instance, he started all seven of Jones’ last games in charge, returning for the July 2022 tour to Australia and continuing to be a first-choice Autumn Nations Series pick in a year that had started with him missing the entire Six Nations through a high ankle injury.

Hill now finds himself out of the England picture again with the latest Six Nations campaign set to start at Twickenham and how he reacts to his release by Borthwick will be interesting.

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There was some media criticism of the second row for his concession of three penalties in the November finale loss to the Springboks, and his indiscipline was again commented on when Sale were knocked out of the Heineken Champions Cup with their January 21 loss at Ulster.

It was something that Sale boss Alex Sanderson referenced in his media briefing last week ahead of the league win over Bath, the upside and the downside of players such as Hill being so heavily involved in hectic contests. The DoR admitted that his player had made a couple of dumb plays in Belfast, an observation that also referenced Hill’s reportedly gigantic tackle count on the night.

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Asked about the discipline of some of his senior players, including Hill, in being guilty of putting Sale in positions they didn’t want to be in during that European match in Ireland, Sanderson replied at the time: “Discipline, you are talking about Jonny, he made a dumb play or two that had a huge momentum swing in the game – I think you are referring to a penalty around the 50th minute, 55th minute where we struggled to get out of our half.

“That is on the back of him making 28 tackles which is a record since 2017 so I have heard. You can’t say that is alright because he makes 28 tackles, but all that intensity has to be controlled, the physicality has to be underpinned by decent discipline and the more dominant you are, and that was one of our less physically dominant performances that we have had, the more pressure you are under, the more likely you are going to make poorly decision and you fall across that line into indiscipline.

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“So there are two ways of looking at it. If you are overthinking, you’re losing intensity. If you’re not dominant physically through your set-piece or through some of your collisions, then you run that risk of being on the back foot and trying to make a play rather than let defensive systems and physicality take care of it.

“So it’s how you picture it really. Everyone talks about discipline and you automatically think of the negative where if you do the good things better it doesn’t even come into it.”

Hill was one of two Sale forwards released by Borthwick after a week and a half preparing for the England round one Six Nations game, their first outing with the ex-Leicester boss now in charge in place of Jones. The Toulouse-based Jack Willis was also cut as was Leicester prop Joe Heyes. The three backs omitted were Northampton’s Alex Mitchell, Leicester’s Guy Porter and Harlequins’ Cadan Murley.

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