Eddie Jones will provide an insight into his plan to combat England’s injury crisis at openside when he names a preliminary squad for his maiden autumn campaign as head coach.
A confirmed 45-man elite player squad will be announced on Friday morning and will also be whittled down to smaller group of around 30 who are to gather in Brighton on Sunday for a three-day training camp.
The finalised party who will seek to preserve England’s perfect record of nine Test wins under Jones when South Africa, Fiji, Argentina and Australia visit Twickenham will not be unveiled until later next month, at which point the hierarchy at openside should be clearer.
With injury ruling Clifford and Haskell out of the autumn series, we assess the contenders for England’s openside berth.
England could be open to the possibility of Eddie Jones staying beyond the 2019 World Cup and are willing to look overseas once again if the Australian does step down.
Back injuries are plaguing two of England’s key players with Saracens unsure when Owen Farrell will return while Northampton are confident Dylan Hartley will be back within the fortnight.
James Haskell, a key figure in June’s 3-0 series whitewash of the Wallabies, will miss the entire autumn following foot surgery and the options have dwindled further after Jack Clifford was consigned to the same fate by an ankle operation.
Of the squad who toured Australia in June, only Teimana Harrison is viewed as an openside after Jones repeated earlier this month that he does not regard Chris Robshaw as a contender in the position.
“Robshaw’s not an option. He’s a six,” said Jones, who added that Nathan Hughes’ future lies elsewhere in the back row.
Unless Jones performs a U-turn on Robshaw, Harrison will be favourite to continue in the No. 7 jersey having started there in Sydney before being replaced 31 minutes into the final Test due to a lack of physicality.
South Africa, described by Jones as “bullies”, will be more confrontational than Australia so the 24-year-old has been urged to prove his mettle in the early rounds of this season’s Aviva Premiership.
“Harrison needs to show that he can physically take those guys on,” Jones said.
Alternatives are thin on the ground and Jones has spoken of several “dark horses” who could cover for Harrison and maybe even provide an alternative.
Matt Kvesic is widely admired but not by Jones, who has repeatedly overlooked the Gloucester flanker, narrowing the options down to a string of uncapped rookies in varying stages of readiness for the challenges ahead.
Wasps pair Guy Thompson and Sam Jones have made strong starts to the season, while the less established Under-20 world championship winner Will Evans was included in the preliminary elite player squad named in August but has still only made five appearances for Leicester.
South Africa arrive at Twickenham on Nov. 12 so Jones has time to draw up his contingency plan, leaving the back injuries troubling the influential Owen Farrell and Dylan Hartley as a more immediate concern.
Farrell has yet to play this season and Hartley has been sidelined since Sept. 11, with neither Saracens nor Northampton able to pencil in a date for their returns.
The greater anxiety hangs over points machine Farrell, who is unable to kick and underwent a scan on Thursday to examine the source of the problem in more detail.
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