England begin their run of World Cup warm-up games this weekend but they will have no bearing on squad selection with Eddie Jones left with just one major dilemma.
Most coaches will use the pre-tournament matches at least in part to decide on a few of the final remaining places in their squads but Jones is nothing if not decisive and will base his decision on what he’s seen in the weeks and months leading up to the encounter against Wales on Sunday.
He is set to select his 31-man squad on Monday, just 24 hours after that game at Twickenham, despite it not needing to be confirmed until a few weeks later at the start of September.
That is far from conventional and could be considered a mistake but he’s doing it his way again and has also admitted that “each of the four games will have a purpose which we won’t be divulging”.
That should ensure there is plenty of intrigue for everyone in each game and they will all be vital in terms of England’s preparation but, although he’s partial to springing a major surprise, it looks like there is just one selection decision left really.
There have been 39 players involved in the training camp in Treviso after Alex Dombrandt was called up late to replace Brad Shields and you have to think that if you weren’t in that group working in 90% humidity and losing up to half a stone per session at times, you have no chance of making the cut.
That means that, despite all the column inches and calls for his inclusion as well as all the individual accolades he won last season and the impact he had on the team at Gloucester, the only way Danny Cipriani is playing in the World Cup is if Owen Farrell or George Ford get injured.
Jack Nowell and Shields are both injured at the moment but both will be given every opportunity to make it to Japan. The latter remains a controversial choice for some but he has been involved for most of the past year when fit and offers vital versatility.
And, when you start to whittle the 39 names down to 31, there are some obvious players who jump out at you as likely to be reliant on an injury (which nobody would wish on a fellow professional) to earn a place on the plane.
For me, that final wield of the axe will come in one of the scrum half, hooker or prop departments.
If you look at squads from recent Rugby World Cups, it’s common for countries to go with five rather than six props but that is normally dependent on at least one of them being able to play both loosehead and tighthead and I’m no scrummaging expert but that doesn’t appear to be the case for England.
Naming just two hookers has also happened plenty of times before, notably by Warren Gatland’s Wales in 2015, and that could be an option with the uncapped Jack Singleton missing out.
Centre is the only other position where another player could be cut if Jones feels the likes of Nowell and Elliot Daly provide enough cover there but going into the tournament with just Henry Slade, Manu Tuilagi and one of Jonathan Joseph or Ben Te’o, with only two fly halves as well, would leave England a bit light in that area.
Naming his squad so early could come back to bite Eddie in the backside but the selection debate is almost over already and will be completely by Monday afternoon, leaving him to focus on shaping his team and ultimately winning a World Cup!
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