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The 'first-rate' Joe Heyes response to losing England squad place

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

Richard Wigglesworth has given his take on how England squad regular Joe Heyes has reacted to his recent exclusion by Steve Borthwick. Originally capped twice in the 2021 Summer Series versus USA and Canada, the soon-to-be 24-year-old tighthead went on to earn five more caps under Eddie Jones, coming off the bench in all three tour matches in Australia last July and then featuring as the No18 in the November games against Argentina and Japan.

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Heyes was then named in the 36-man training squad for the Six Nations and Borthwick also included him in the start-of-match-week squads versus Scotland and Italy. However, with Will Stuart now fit, Heyes has now lost out in a tighthead squad selection where Leicester club colleague Dan Cole has come off the bench in all three recent England games for the starting Kyle Sinckler.

Cole hadn’t been capped since the 2019 Rugby World Cup final but the silver lining for Heyes with his teammate now back on the Test scene has been his selection to start in the recent Gallagher Premiership wins for Leicester over Saracens and London Irish.

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Those outings at No3 were the first for Heyes in the league since the start of October, as he has been playing second fiddle to Cole at club level even though he was the player getting regularly called up for England duty by Eddie Jones. However, with the Australian now replaced by Borthwick, Cole has returned from the Test wilderness and Heyes has felt the squeeze, making do instead with club action. His latest outing will now be at home on Saturday versus Bath.

“He has been good, really good,” said interim head coach Wigglesworth when asked how felt Heyes reacted to his recent England exclusion. “He has improved in the last few weeks in terms of his consistency in games and has looked like a really top international tighthead, how long he has played, how well he is lasting, so I have been really impressed with him.

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“I can’t speak for him, how he is enjoying being here and not having to come back (from England) in between. I know (what it is like), I had to do that. That is not an easy position to be in but it’s one you have to do if you want to play international rugby at different times. But for Leicester Tigers, he has been first-rate.

“We have got plenty of guys that do it [go in and out with England for training]. The coaching and the calls, everything is different so the rugby is different but let’s be honest, everyone wants to play international rugby.

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“You have to get over the disappointment, your personal disappointment that you are not playing, and then use it and that is what we want him to do, we want him to use it to play really well for Leicester. All our guys are motivated to play for Leicester but there should be that added little extra of like, ‘Right, I’m going to show you I should be staying in that (England) 23.’”

Has Wigglesworth had to give Heyes a pep talk in recent weeks after getting overlooked by England? “He has not needed one. He has really got on with his work and been first-class in how he has taken it, as you would expect from a Leicester through-and-through player. He has been here a number of years. He is a young man for a tighthead but has played a lot of games for us and you can tell why.”

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