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How England view Mako Vunipola after his latest selection snub

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by PA)

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England scrum coach Matt Proudfoot has reflected on where the out-of-favour Mako Vunipola now stands in the Test squad pecking order after another Autumn Nations Series matchweek selection unfolded with the Saracens loosehead nowhere to be seen even though Ellis Genge and Joe Marler are both still in isolation after they contracted Covid-19 last week.   

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Genge, the starter at No1 versus Tonga in the series opener, will still be in isolation by the time of next Saturday’s November finale against the Springboks while Marler, a sub in that victory over the Pacific islanders, will only be able to start training with the squad again at this Friday’s captain’s run.

The virus outbreak, which initially affected just Marler, left England relying on calling in the uncapped Bevan Rodd in midweek last week and he was chosen on the bench on Thursday to face the Wallabies. However, that situation quickly altered with Genge ruled out on Friday morning and it resulted in Rodd making his debut as the starter against Australia with the bench cover provided by the one-cap Trevor Davison.

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The scrum survived this inexperience and rather than send an SOS call to the ousted Vunipola ahead of the match-up versus the Springboks, England boss Eddie Jones has opted to stick with Rodd and Davison in training for most of the week and the pair will be joined on Friday by the isolation-free Marler. 

The situation suggests that the Test career of the soon-to-be 31-year-old Vunipola is likely over given that the virus outbreak at loosehead didn’t get him back in the England November mix, but Proudfoot isn’t writing off the 2019 World Cup final starter completely just yet. 

“He is an incredible player and we think long and hard before we make selections,” explained Proudfoot, who was part of the Springboks staff for that final two years ago before switching to England. “Mako is right there. What Mako needs is to play, to play regularly, to put some performances back together which I think he has. So he is right in the pecking order. We think very long and hard about it and as we all know selection is Eddie’s prerogative.

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“We give our advice to Eddie, we give our opinions to Eddie, we give evidence to Eddie and then he sits and makes the best decision that is right for the team and that is the most important thing is that selection is what is right for the team.”

Will Marler feature in the matchday 23 despite his lack of training? “That is a decision Eddie will make late in the week depending on where we feel the squad is. Joe, it’s not just the value he adds on the field, it’s what he adds off the field. The front row has been in contact, we have been working together as a front row with Joe involved, giving guys advice. 

“Ellis has been giving advice. We try to keep it as tight as possible in the front row and there is a lot of knowledge to be passed on. What advice I give and what advice a player gives that is just reinforcing it, so the players have been really open to that which has been good.”

With hooker Jamie George now also unavailable through injury following his starts against Tonga and Australia, the three-cap Jamie Blamire, a try-scorer off the bench against the Wallabies, is potentially set to start against the Springboks alongside Rodd and tighthead Kyle Sinckler.      

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“It’s significant losing any senior player. I feel really gutted for Jamie,” said Proudfoot about England losing George for the final match of the series. “He has worked incredibly hard, has played really well in the two games he has been in, so I feel for him. It creates an opportunity for a young guy and that energy is what we have been harnessing this week in training. The young guys are really looking forward to the opportunity. I suppose what you lose you gain in a different capacity.

“They have been fantastic. Jamie has really taken his opportunity, he plays to his strengths, is a really good defensive, attacking playing. He has played really well when getting an opportunity late in games and making an impact and that is exactly what we wanted. 

“I thought Bevan was exceptional last week, first game, came in, make a great impact. To take on a player [James Slipper] who had 112 Test caps and not to be daunted by it and to accept the challenge that was the thing I was really pleased about. We had a couple of good days training with him and he will only benefit from the more time he has in camp.”  

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