Rugby Union

England Rugby World Cup squad winners and losers

We take a look at some of those who are in, and out, of Eddie Jones’ 31-man squad for the World Cup in Japan.

McConnochie goes from sevens star to World Cup call

Few could have imagined – least of all the man himself – the rapid rise Ruaridh McConnochie has experienced since giving up his England sevens career to pursue a shot at playing the 15-a-side game.

  • Uncapped McConnochie in RWC squad
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The full-back or winger had enjoyed a superb three years on the World Sevens circuit, being part of the Great Britain team which won a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics and earned a bronze medal with England at the Commonwealth Games two years later.

He has been able to transfer those skills seamlessly to the Gallagher Premiership, as evidenced by his first season at Bath which saw him take the back of the year, most improved player of the year and supporters’ player of the year accolades for the 2018/19 campaign.

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McConnochie’s displays caught the eye beyond North East Somerset as well, impressing England head coach Eddie Jones enough to be one of the players invited to join the initial training squad for this year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.

A toe injury ruled him out of earning his first cap for England in Sunday’s 33-19 win over Wales, having initially been named in the starting line-up, but Jones has nevertheless seen enough to convince him to name the 27-year-old as part of the 31-man squad to compete in Japan.

It is an incredible achievement for the former Nuneaton and Hartpury College player, who has previously been capped by England Students and Counties.

How much playing time McConnochie will get in Japan remains to be seen, but it is worth noting he has emerged from the sidelines before to star on the big stage, having initially been a reserve for the Great Britain Olympic team.

Trio of debutants earn places on the plane

England’s experimental side that produced such an encouraging display in beating Wales at Twickenham answered a few questions for Jones.

Flanker Lewis Ludlam, hooker Jack Singleton and scrum-half Willi Heinz all made their debuts on Sunday, and all three were picked by the Australian.

Heinz’s rise up the bottle is quite a story.

On Sunday, he linked up nicely with George Ford and looked very comfortable on the international stage. The Gloucester scrum-half was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, and after impressing for his club he was handed an England debut among those looking to grab a last-minute ticket on the plane.

Jones made him vice-captain, and the 32-year-old relished the occasion and delivered an assured display.

Ludlam’s inclusion caps a meteoric rise but he is there on merit.

There was a sign of his inexperience when confronting Alun Wyn Jones before getting trapped in the scrum by skulduggery, but the chief takeaways were some thunderous tackles.

The Northampton Saints back row’s chances were certainly enhanced by the absence of Brad Shields, who continues his rehabilitation from the foot injury incurred in Treviso.

Shields faced a race against time to board the plane with the rest of the squad on September 8, and Jones has decided to take no chances, mainly due to his faith in Ludlam.

Hooker Singleton is the third name to be included just 24 hours after winning his first cap, albeit with 90 seconds remaining as a replacement for Joe Launchbury.

Jones has elected to pick three hookers in his squad, meaning the 22-year-old is likely to play third fiddle to Jamie George and Luke Cowan-Dickie.

Having completed his homecoming in April, returning to Saracens from Worcester Warriors, Jones clearly sees something in Singleton, who also toured Argentina and South Africa with the senior England side and played in an uncapped match against the Barbarians.

While Jones is very focused on winning the World Cup this year, his calculated gambles on rookies is also a nod to the future.

No way back for Te’o and Brown?

For Ben Te’o, his Test career now appears to be over after he paid the price for his fracas with Mike Brown during a team ‘bonding session’.

The former Worcester centre was not considered for the Wales warm-up encounter after an incident between the players erupted in Treviso.

A social event laid on by the England management to help the squad “bond and get closer as a team” during their 12-day heat and humidity camp spectacularly backfired for Te’o and Brown, who will now be left at home to reflect on what might have been.

At 32, it is hard to see how the British and Irish Lions Test player in New Zealand two years ago will re-enter the fold.

Te’o had been an ever-present under Jones when available, but he lost out to Piers Francis among the four centres bound for Japan 2019

Ahead of the opening warm-up game against Wales, Jones was tight-lipped over the reasons behind the pair being dropped, while assistant John Mitchell was also cagey over Teo’s omission.

But with their names conspicuous by their absence from the 31-man list, this could be the end of the road at international level for the 33-year-old Brown after 72 caps for his country.

Surprising or unsurprising?

There won’t have been too many people shocked to note Danny Cipriani’s omission from the squad, but it’s still a name that keeps circulating whenever Jones announces a squad.

When Jones left the Gloucester man out of his squad in September last year, he insisted it was a decision made purely for rugby reasons. Asked if Cipriani’s omission was simply a matter of form, Jones replied: “That is the case, 100 per cent.”

However, Cipriani was named the Premiership’s Player of the Month several days later, and has subsequently been crowned Premiership Player of the Season as well as the RPA’s Players’ Player of the Season.

The 31-year-old is clearly highly rated by his peers, but the person who matters the most does not see him in the same light.

Another omission that won’t have raised too many eyebrows is that of Harry Williams, but it does come at a time when his stock appeared to be on the rise under Jones. Dan Cole had been the anchor of England’s scrum for some time, but the explosive arrival of Kyle Sinckler on the scene meant the Quins prop was the frontrunner for the No 3 jersey.

Last year’s tour of South Africa saw Cole rested while Williams acted as back-up to Sinckler, and thereafter Cole gradually saw less gametime; featuring in five Tests in 2018 and four so far in 2019.

Cole is an 89-Test veteran, so his inclusion is far from a shock, but Williams will feel slightly aggrieved to have missed out after making 18 appearances for his country in the last two years.

The unfortunates

Eddie Jones has stood by Dylan Hartley since the Australian was made England head coach, despite Hartley’s less than stellar disciplinary record.

Jones felt Hartley offered the team an edge that had been missing, and initially it appeared to be the right call as England went on an unbeaten run in the opening stages of Jones’ tenure. However, when England started losing, there was inevitably more focus from the fans and media around the decision to start Hartley ahead of Jamie George.

When Hartley was then named co-captain alongside Owen Farrell rather than leading the team on his own, it appeared as though the hooker could be being phased out.

In the end, the decision was taken out of Jones’ hands after Hartley played no rugby in 2019 due to injury, which meant he was an unlikely addition to a team aiming to win the World Cup.

Meanwhile, Shields made his England debut on that South Africa tour last year, and has so far collected eight caps under Jones.

The England coach certainly rates the New Zealand-born flanker, but Shields hasn’t quite hit the heights expected of him in England colours.

However, he was still in the mix, and was part of England’s warm-weather training camp in Italy last month. But while he was there he suffered ligament damage in his foot, with John Mitchell saying: “Brad’s got a tear in the lower foot. It’s always a little bit niggly, but it’s four to six weeks for him.”

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