Jones backs Farrell for England as Saracens trio and Ford sidelined
Eddie Jones has stood by his captain, Owen Farrell, for the Tests against Tonga, Australia and South Africa next month, saying he is “the best man for the job”, but several other mainstays of his tenure are conspicuous by their absence from the squad named on Monday.
Unveiling a 34-man selection including four uncapped players, Jones said he wants England to play with “a really aggressive, attacking mindset” as they build towards the 2023 World Cup, and that he plans to build a new leadership group headed by Farrell. “We’re looking to produce a younger squad to get ready for the World Cup,” the head coach said.
For now that means Farrell’s Saracens clubmates Jamie George and the Vunipola brothers, Billy and Mako, are notable absentees. Saracens may have issued an emphatic statement by blowing Bath away 71-17 at the Recreation Ground on Sunday but Jones has overlooked them along with George Ford, the fly-half at the Premiership leaders, Leicester.
“At the moment I feel they need to regenerate and rejuvenate and they need to add things to their game if they’re going to continue to the next World Cup,” Jones said when asked about the three omitted Saracens and Ford. “They understand that, and we’ll see how they progress over the next period of time. The door’s not closed to them, the door’s open.”
The Harlequins fly-half Marcus Smith, who has orchestrated a number of dazzling victories in the Premiership this season and won his first two caps over the summer, is the beneficiary of Ford’s absence. “The big test for players is how they handle the criticism or the adulation, and to keep perspective,” Jones said of the 22-year-old Smith. “They’re never as good as people say they are, and they’re never as bad as people say they are … that’s the test of a young player coming through, and we wouldn’t have selected Marcus if we didn’t think he could handle that.”
Mark Atkinson, the uncapped centre from Gloucester, is one of the notable inclusions in the back division along with the Northampton full‑back Tommy Freeman and the Sale scrum-half Raffi Quirke, while Wasps’ Dan Robson loses out. Jones said of the 31-year-old Atkinson: “He’s one of those blokes, the bus has gone past and he’s racing after it. Everything’s falling out of his backpack … those blokes, they want to get on the bus.”
Among the forwards Leicester’s uncapped Australian-born hooker, Nic Dolly is one of the more unfamiliar faces along with the Newcastle loosehead prop Trevor Davison, who won his first England cap against USA in July. “Dolly’s an industrious player, he’s been very impressive for Leicester, and we feel like he can make the jump to Test rugby,” Jones said.
Sam Simmonds, who has scored three tries in two matches since returning to domestic action for Exeter, is named among a dynamic group of back-rows along with Alex Dombrandt, who has been in sparkling form for Harlequins.
There were a number of injury concerns for Jones and his team over the weekend: Maro Itoje of Saracens, Exeter’s Luke Cowan‑Dickie and Anthony Watson of Bath are all selected with the head coach saying they will have scans on their respective injuries.
England begin their autumn campaign against Tonga on Saturday 6 November and face Australia a week later, before the world champions South Africa visit on Saturday 20 November. The Sale scrum-half, Faf de Klerk, is set to miss the Boks’ Twickenham trip: he will reportedly be sidelined for five months by a hip injury, sustained against the British & Irish Lions in July, that now requires surgery.