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'Real mental shift': Rugby Pod sees no way back for George and co

By Liam Heagney

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Jim Hamilton believes the international careers of Jamie George and the Vunipola brothers are more than likely over after Eddie Jones opted not to select them in his latest England squad despite their much-improved club form in recent weeks with Saracens. All three were major parts of the English pack that didn’t deliver in last spring’s Guinness Six Nations, the 2020 champions slipping to an embarrassing fifth-place finish. 

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That outcome left the Australian mulling over the future of his squad and after blooding multiple players new to Test level in the summer series, Jones has decided that the Saracens trio – two of whom (George and Mako Vunipola) travelled with the Lions in summer – are no longer worthy of a place in the England squad. 

It’s a gutsy stance by Jones to exclude a trio who have 157 England caps between them, especially as the soon-to-be 31-year-old George, the 30-year-old Mako Vunipola and the soon-to-be 29-year-old Billy had played their part in the opening weeks of the Premiership season in helping Saracens into third spot with three wins in four outings.

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Eddie Jones explains his choices at his England squad media briefing
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Eddie Jones explains his choices at his England squad media briefing

Club boss Mark McCall suggested to RugbyPass in recent weeks that Billy Vunipola was as fit as he had ever been. However, with this improved current form unable to catapult them back into the selection picture, ex-Scotland lock Hamilton, a former teammate of the trio of forwards at Saracens, fears the omission likely spells the end of their international careers unless there are injuries or Jones somewhere along the line has a now unexpected change of heart.  

Speaking on the latest edition of The Rugby Pod, Hamilton said: “Just on the Saracens players, they have been hard done by off the back of playing a season in the Championship, being picked when they weren’t on form, went on a British and Irish Lions tour not on form – they have been judged on a time when they weren’t playing well and probably at that point shouldn’t have been picked and now they are not in the mix (when they are on form). 

“I don’t think there is any way back. I can’t see with the way that they are playing now there is a way they can get back in unless there is an injury, unless Eddie flips its again. He’s so hard to read, isn’t he? Jamie George has been one of the leading hookers in the world for the last three or four years, unquestionably, and then he has had a quiet season, has gone on the Lions tour, hardly played, and then he has been dropped out of the squad having not playing any rugby, so what are you judging him on? In that sense, it is a big call.

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“Billy? I understand you have got Dombrandt, who is absolutely carving up but unproven at international level. Sam Simmonds, who looks great. Can he step up to Test rugby? I don’t know. Maybe it’s just one of them, their time is up, that’s it and that is Eddie’s prerogative.”

Show co-host Andy Goode, the ex-English out-half, reckoned the change in Jones’ approach regarding who is in his squad hinted a big shift in how England will look to play next month against Tonga, Australia and South Africa. “The big thing for me is around how England have played the last 18 months. Since they got to the World Cup final they have regressed in terms of how they attack.

“Think of all the games they have played since then, they finished fifth in the Six Nations, played a long, boring kicking game. I’m excited that now hopefully Eddie Jones has had a real mental shift on how he sees the game played. He talked last year about ‘we are going through this defensive phase’

“There was a lot of other teams not in this defensive phase playing in a different way but that was Eddie’s way at the time, but with the likes of Raffi Quirke, (Adam) Radwan and a lot of other young guys, they haven’t got the fear of anything, they just want the ball in hand and to play quick. 

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“When Freddie Steward and Max Malins get the ball, they look to attack. They haven’t got this kicking mentality in them, they have got this attacking mentality. Marcus Smith, imagine him at ten being able to pull the strings with a forward pack that is dominating on the front foot? That is why I am quite excited about it.”    

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'Real mental shift': Rugby Pod sees no way back for George and co

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