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'Not over': The forgotten England prop tipped for a future recall

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

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Rob Baxter is tipping forgotten England tighthead Harry Williams to fight his way into Test level contention again once he fully gets back into the swing of things at Exeter. The prop was last capped coming off the bench in the February 2021 Guinness Six Nations loss at home to Scotland, that 18-minute run off the bench as backup to Will Stuart being the last of the 30-year-old’s 19 caps.

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Until that capped appearance against the Scots, Williams’ first since August 2019, he had existed in the ‘nearly’ zone with England as he was often picked in squads by Eddie Jones and then released back to Exeter in the midweek before Test games.

The twice-capped Joe Heyes has lately filled that fringe role with England as the third tighthead behind Kyle Sinckler and Stuart – and Williams’ cause for recognition wasn’t helped by his need for a December elbow operation which kept him out of the Exeter selection until a bench comeback in last Sunday’s win over Sale.  

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Back in the Game – RFU
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Back in the Game – RFU

That was his first run since November 26 at Bath and Baxter reckons the 14-week layoff will now stand to Williams as it was his first lengthy injury break from the game in quite some time. Not only does he envisage the tighthead – who has been at Exeter since 2015 – bouncing back to hit top form, the Chiefs coach eventually sees his player doing enough to get selected by England at some stage in the future.  

Asked by RugbyPass what he made of having Williams back in the mix last weekend after his four-month absence, Baxter said: “He is doing okay. To be fair to Harry, I am hoping that now he is back in the mix he will be one of the players who will benefit from this new emerging Exeter because the way we are playing will suit him more – the way we are talking, the way we are expressing ourselves and how we are going to attack set-piece will suit Harry. 

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“He has got some form to find and he will admit that but he has had an extended injury period where he has also been able to work on some other things because he has not had an extended injury period for quite some time. Now he has had that break and it’s like anything, it gives you a renewed hunger and a renewed direction and I’m hoping that will add to his form now and I wouldn’t think his international career is over by any means. 

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“I think we have got two or three tightheads here who, with a bit of form or who put in a bit of an upwards performance from where they are, could easily be in and around the front row (debate) that comes with England and Harry could certainly be one of those guys. I don’t see it being an issue going forward that he couldn’t get back there.”

While England were losing to Ireland in the Guinness Six Nations on Saturday in London, Williams was 130 miles away in Worcester taking another step forward in his comeback as he started in the surprise Exeter loss at Sixways. Baxter reckons the more club games the merrier towards getting his front-rower up to top speed as quickly as possible.

“Because of the nature of the injury he has not been able to get back to contact and scrummaging until quite late with it being an elbow injury and him being a tighthead prop. The challenges around the last bit have been contact and set-piece, so what he has been able to do is get all other elements of his body in tip-top nick, injury-free and niggle-free.

“What you have got to hope now is that gives him an extended period of being strong and robust and being able to play plenty of minutes. Really, the end-stage of where his development (following an injury) comes is happening now, it’s live and it’s in-game. 

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“With the A-League having disappeared, you don’t really get a chance for these guys to find their feet, they come in and play a game of Premiership rugby so I’m expecting a nice, steady, upward performance from Harry as he gets to assess his game.”

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