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Jack Willis cut loose by England as Jones reduces his squad to 26

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Free agent Jack Willis was the highest-profile casualty on Tuesday evening when Eddie Jones cut his England squad to 26 ahead of Saturday’s Autumn Nations Series finale against the Springboks. The ex-Wasps back-rower came off the bench last weekend during the fightback that eventually clinched a 25-all draw with the All Blacks

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However, having played twice as a replacement in the three England matches so far this November, the Toulouse-linked forward has now been omitted and the uncapped Hugh Tizard has been kept on instead with Jones placing a greater focus on the lineout area of the game this week. 

“Set piece, we were disappointed we didn’t get an advantage, we were probably shaded by the All Blacks in that area so we will need to do some good work on our set-piece and just tidy things up for next Saturday,” said Jones at his post-game Twickenham media briefing last Saturday.

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No reason was given for the exclusion of Willis in the Tuesday statement released by the RFU but the suggestion that greater emphasis would be on set-piece was further endorsed by Jones deciding to keep prop Bevan Rodd with the squad this week having excluded him on previous Tuesdays and sent him back to Sale.

Nineteen forwards were called into England camp at the start of this week and 15 have been retained, Willis, Joe Heyes, Sean Robinson and Jack Singleton the four to lose out. In the backs, the same six players who were excluded this time last week after two days of training at Pennyhill have again been excluded – Joe Cokansiga, George Furbank, Will Joseph, Alex Mitchell, Cadan Murley and Adam Radwan.

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The decision to keep 26 players on in camp this week was different from what had happened for the games versus Argentina, Japan and New Zealand, as just 25 players were retained when those squads were cut by Jones in midweek. An RFU statement read: “England have retained a 26-player squad for their match against South Africa this weekend. Eddie Jones’ side will take on the Springboks at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday (5.30pm KO). The match is live on Amazon Prime Sport and talkSPORT.”

Willis played the last of his four Gallagher Premiership games this season for Wasps on October 9 against Northampton, the club’s last outing before their financial collapse. He then played for six minutes in this month’s opening England Test match against Argentina and was introduced in the 67th minute against the All Blacks.

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England (26-man squad vs Springboks, Saturday)
Forwards (15)
Alex Coles (Northampton Saints, 2 caps)
Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, 40 caps)
Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, 44 caps)
Ellis Genge (Bristol Bears, 42 caps)
Jamie George (Saracens, 71 caps)
Jonny Hill (Sale Sharks, 18 caps)
Maro Itoje (Saracens, 61 caps)
David Ribbans (Northampton Saints, 2 caps)
Bevan Rodd (Sale Sharks, 2 caps)
Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs, 17 caps)
Kyle Sinckler (Bristol Bears, 55 caps)
Will Stuart (Bath Rugby, 24 caps)
Hugh Tizard (Saracens, uncapped)
Billy Vunipola (Saracens, 67 caps)
Mako Vunipola (Saracens, 73 caps)

Backs (11)
Owen Farrell (Saracens, 100 caps)
Tommy Freeman (Northampton Saints, 2 caps)
Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby, 71 caps)
Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs, 44 caps)
Guy Porter (Leicester Tigers, 4 caps)
Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs, 51 caps)
Marcus Smith (Harlequins, 16 caps)
Freddie Steward (Leicester Tigers, 16 caps)
Manu Tuilagi (Sale Sharks, 49 caps)
Jack van Poortvliet (Leicester Tigers, 6 caps)
Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers, 120 caps)

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Flankly 4 hours ago
Resilient Irish will test Springboks despite provincial setbacks

The Bok kryptonite is complacency. How did they lose to Japan in 2015, or to Italy in 2016? There are plenty of less dramatic examples. They often boil down to the Boks dialing back their focus and intensity, presuming they can win with less than 100% commitment. This can be true of most teams, but there is a reason that the Boks are prone to it. It boils down to the Bok game plan being predicated on intensity. The game plan works because of the relentless and suffocating pressure that they apply. They don’t allow the opponent to control the game, and they pounce on any mistake. It works fantastically, but it is extremely demanding on the Bok players to pull it off. And the problem is that it stops working if you execute at anything less than full throttle. Complacency kills the Boks because it can lead to them playing at 97% and getting embarrassed. So the Bulls/Leinster result is dangerous. It’s exactly what is needed to introduce that hint of over-confidence. Rassie needs to remind the team of the RWC pool game, and of the fact that Ireland have won 8 of the 12 games between the teams in the last 20 years. And of course the Leinster result also means that Ireland have a point to prove. Comments like “a club team beating a test team” will be pasted on the changing room walls. They will be out to prove that the result of the RWC game truly reflects the pecking order between the teams. The Boks can win these games, but, as always, they need to avoid the kryptonite.

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