Eddie Jones is set to usher in the next stage of England’s 2023 World Cup preparations when he names his first squad of the new season on Tuesday with Billy Vunipola believed to be among the senior players whose places are in jeopardy.
Vunipola was rested for England’s summer Tests against the USA and Canada, having been overlooked by the British & Irish Lions and has been struggling for his best form for some time. The 28-year-old played all 80 minutes of Saracens’ impressive opening victory against Bristol on Friday night in front of Jones, but the latest indications on Monday night were that he is likely to be a casualty on Tuesday. It would be a surprise given Vunipola has come to be almost undroppable in Jones’s eyes, but the head coach has come under increasing pressure to explore other options at No 8.
Jones is, tuttavia, free to select England’s British & Irish Lions contingent despite the fact that they are currently in the middle of a 10-week rest period following the series defeat by South Africa. It means Jones can select players such as Marcus Smith, who made his debut over the summer before being whisked away with the Lions, as well as his captain Owen Farrell. But while he is expected to select the majority of the 13 who toured South Africa, there are likely to be some who are absent. Elliot Daly is also expected to miss out but it is believed his absence would be injury related.
Last summer there were an alarming number of injuries suffered at England camps, which may raise eyebrows over the Lions’ players potential inclusion. But it is understood the coming get-together, which begins on Sunday, will feature just one training session with a heavy focus on off-field activities.
Over the summer Jones handed out 16 debuts in victories over the USA and Canada, with senior players either away with the Lions or rested in the cases of George Ford, Jonny May and Vunipola.
A number of those youngsters will be hopeful of being included on Tuesday with Freddie Steward chief among them after an impressive performance at full-back for Leicester against Exeter on Saturday. How many Jones retains, and whether he omits any more of the senior players rested over the summer in addition to Vunipola, will be indicative as to his World Cup plans with what will be close to a full-strength squad of around 45 marking the start of a new two-year cycle.
Jones also has a new-look coaching staff in place with Richard Cockerill, Martin Gleeson and Anthony Seibold recently appointed following the departures of John Mitchell, Simon Amor and Jason Ryles. It is understood, tuttavia, that Seibold will not attend the coming training camp given the lengthy travel from Australia and will begin in person prior to the autumn internationals against Tonga, Australia and South Africa.
Nel frattempo, Conor O’Shea has acknowledged the Rugby Football Union is powerless to stop England losing players they have developed to other nations due to dual nationality. The Harlequins wing Louis Lynagh excelled towards the end of the season and scored twice in the Premiership final but was not selected by Jones over the summer. His father – the former Australia fly-half Michael – tweeted soon afterwards that the RFU had “never spoken to him about his intentions and goals” but that Italy and Australia, for whom the 20-year-old is also eligible, had done. England have also recently lost Cameron Redpath and Johnny Williams to Scotland and Wales respectively.
O’Shea, the RFU’s director of performance rugby, disse: "[Louis] has come through the pathway, he is with Quins and the coaches are in regular contact with Quins about all of their players. There are some players that will have a parental role – whether it be a mother from Treviso or father from Australia, who is a bit of a legend, but he has come through the English system and it is great to see someone like him do well at Quins. It is a fact of life. If other countries didn’t [get in touch with him, essi] wouldn’t be doing their jobs.”