Former England prop David Flatman has warned against the media talking up in-form Wasps flanker Jack Willis, as he believes it could stand against him in the eyes of England head coach Eddie Jones.

Jones will name his England squad for their Six Nations decider against Italy tomorrow, and Flatman fears the 23-year-old’s good press could, if anything, work against him.

Despite losing the final of the Gallagher Premiership Final in torrential conditions in Twickenham this weekend, Willis’ ability over the ball again made the flanker standout, even on a pitch littered with notable breakdown operators.

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The 6’3, 110kg forward has been inarguably the form back row in England in 2020 and inevitably his name has been mentioned a future England star – but whisper it, warns Flatman.

Writing in his first column for TheXV, the Bath prop turned television pundit fears Jones, who enjoys a quarrelsome with the media at the best times, might not select him just to spite those calling for his inclusion and cites the case of Exeter back row Don Armand as an example.

“Don’t talk him up too much or Eddie won’t pick him” has become an almost accepted trope offered around this subject, and that joke – one even trotted out by the players themselves – began with Armand. English rugby can kind of get away with it, too, so deep is their pool of willing, muscular mutants, but that doesn’t mean it should be accepted without a fight.

“Eddie Jones has, through excellent results and sheer charisma, become something approaching omnipotent at the RFU. Much of his influence has been earned and is deserved, but it feels dangerous to allow any powerful individual to escape scrutiny, whatever the walk of life.

“To this end, one almost fears for Jack Willis. Willis is by a large margin the best rugby player currently operating in the Gallagher Premiership, but this comes with issues. You see, we all see it and we all say it, and what does recent history tell us will happen when the masses demand compliance? Yes, quite.

“For what it’s worth, once the serious stuff gets going, my England back row to face Italy would be Jack Willis at 6, Tom Curry at 7 and Sam Simmonds at 8, with Sam Underhill to come on and deal with Jake Polledri if the West Country rhinoceros is inflicting his trademarked damage.

“For now, though, I might keep quiet. Wouldn’t want to cost Willis a cap…”

You can read the full David Flatman column and much more great content at the TheXV.rugby.

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