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With the Pivac era now a distant memory, Warren Gatland has a rich seam of talent to select from in the Six Nations

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What Eddie Jones told axed England stars in 'uncomfortable' calls

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

England boss Eddie Jones has explained how he endured an uncomfortable Monday when calling players such as Billy and Mako Vunipola, George Ford and Jamie George to let them know they had been excluded from the 45-strong training squad that will assemble in London next Sunday for a mini-camp. All four were starters in the November 2019 World Cup final in Yokohama and they were also involved against Ireland last March for the finale of a disappointing 2021 Six Nations.


Jones’ side finished that championship in a derisory fifth place and after introducing 16 new caps in the two-game summer series, the England coach will now assemble what he feels is the best mix from those two campaigns, including rising star Marcu Smith. He has also chosen eight more uncapped players, including recent Premiership title winner Louis Lynagh, while Lions tourist Sam Simmonds has also earned a recall for the first time since 2018. 

Of the matchday 23 that played for England in their very poor loss to Ireland in Dublin six months ago, Jones excluded seven in total, Ben Earl and injured duo Elliot Daly and Mark Wilson joining the aforementioned Vunipola-led quartet in being left out. For Billy Vunipola it will be seen as a huge England setback for him as Saracens boss Mark McCall claimed last week: “He has got the bit between his teeth. He is as fit as I have seen him in a long time.”

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How the Springboks can bounce back against the All Blacks next weekend
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Jones insisted it wasn’t the end of the line for the seasoned crew he had omitted, but he explained what Vunipola and co must now do to get back in favour ahead of an autumn schedule featuring November matches versus Tonga, Australia and South Africa.

“It’s two years before the World Cup. We are now selecting with the World Cup in mind and some of the experienced players we have left out, we feel this is a good time for them to refocus and refresh and get ready to challenge again for a spot,” he outlined after his squad announcement on Tuesday morning.  

“I had a very uncomfortable yesterday [Monday]. We were up here in Birmingham for a coaches conference… and I was making calls to the players so it’s an unpleasant part of the job but an important part of the job. For those players, the door is not closed. It’s just an opportunity for them to refresh and refocus and you have got to also realise we are coming on the back of what has been two difficult seasons for the players and some of those players went on the Lions tour, so we just think it is an opportunity for them to regroup and refocus and then challenge again – the door is still open.  


“They are all disappointed. Those conversations are never nice conversations because once you tell a player they are not in the squad, listening tends to be not a great attribute they have like anyone. The response will be different for each individual and we will see how they go.”

What was his message to them? “Get back to their best. They are all good players and when they are at their best they are going to be in strong contention but there are a lot of good, young players coming through so competition is hot. It’s hot and they need to find their best and they probably haven’t been at their best over the last period of time, so we are giving them the opportunity to find their best.”

While the Vunipola brothers and Ford were available for selection, Daly – another 2019 World Cup finalist – had a different reason for being omitted. “He has just had an operation on his stress fracture that he has had for a long time but he exacerbated it on the Lions, so he won’t be playing any rugby. You’ll need to check with his club [Saracens] the exact details of when he will be available but I believe it is early, mid-December so he doesn’t qualify for the November Test matches.”






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