Jonny May insists attempting to predict Eddie Jones’ selection plans is futile as England’s head coach prepares to announce his World Cup squad on Monday.
Almost a month before World Rugby’s official deadline, Jones will unveil the 31 players who will travel to Japan in the hope of emulating the success of Martin Johnson’s 2003 global champions.
Leicester wing May is a certainty for inclusion but, as an ever-present under Jones since his appointment in late 2015, he has learned that untangling the wily Australian’s squad permutations is a route to insomnia.
“I’ve been here for a few years now and the worst trap you can fall into is trying to second-guess what Eddie’s thinking,” May said. “That will definitely keep you up at night and you’ll certainly never get it right, either. Just get on with it. Trust what he’s doing. Focus on yourself.”
Sunday’s opening warm-up win over Wales will have served as a distraction, but even the line-up for that will have set minds racing. “If he picks you this weekend, it could be the best or the worst thing. It’s uncomfortable, but that’s the nature of our job,” said May, who was overlooked for the clash with the Grand Slam champions.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 12, 2019
Four years ago, under Stuart Lancaster, selection went down to the wire, with the choice between rugby league convert Sam Burgess and the more established Luther Burrell for the final midfield slot disturbing squad harmony as England 2015 fast approached.
“I can only speak from previous experiences, but I believe that naming the squad early is definitely the right thing,” veteran scrum-half Ben Youngs said. “The earlier you name it, the more you can tighten up as a group and continue to work, so for me it makes perfect sense. It’s hugely beneficial for us as a squad to know that, from past experiences.
"It was a great 80 minutes of preparation. I learned more about the squad so it was useful."
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) August 11, 2019
“You want to know and the longer you leave it the more the elephant in the room appears. ‘What’s happening? Am I in or am I out? Who’s going?’. People talking about it, people wondering, people questioning every time, ‘How did I train? Do you think that has helped? Has it impacted?’.
“Once you know the 31 you can crack on. If you leave it longer I don’t think it benefits the cohesion of the squad. I don’t think it benefits guys’ understanding of their roles and where they are at, so for me I think it makes perfect sense that it is named early.
“But everyone knows the selection process has to happen. You respect it, you have to just wait and see what decisions are made. We are all men.”
Youngs is another certainty to depart for the Far East on September 8, but beneath him the scrum-half hierarchy is unclear with either Willi Heinz or Ben Spencer – or both – available to provide support.
It is unknown whether Jones will gamble by taking only two options in the position, believing George Ford can offer emergency cover, and the question of five or six props will also be answered on Monday. If just five are favoured then either Dan Cole or Harry Williams will miss out.
Jack Nowell will feature among the five back-three players if he overcomes his ankle issues, but if he misses out then the door opens for Ruaridh McConnochie. Brad Shields’ foot injury clouds the make-up of the back row.
– Press Association
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