Eddie Jones is yet to name his first England captain but insists he will pick his “best player” for the role.
The Australian yesterday named a much-changed first squad since succeeding Stuart Lancaster as coach.
Dylan Hartley, Chris Ashton and Manu Tuilagi return in Jones’ Elite Player Squad for the RBS 6 Nations, but the 33-man party sees a number of big-name omissions including Tom Youngs, Tom Wood, Geoff Parling and Danny Cipriani.
There are seven uncapped players, with Sam Hill, Josh Beaumont, Jack Clifford, Elliot Daly, Ollie Devoto, Paul Hill and Maro Itoje featuring.
No captain has yet been named, with Jones content to bide his time, saying: “We’ve got 33 players. That goes down to 23 players, that goes down to 15 players. When we’ve got 15 players, then we’ll worry about the captain.” Itoje has been spoken about as captaincy material, despite his inexperience, but Hartley is widely viewed as the favourite for the role.
The Northampton hooker’s extensive record of disciplinary problems is the biggest counter-argument, but that is a question Jones will address later.
Jones added the eventual appointment will be “probably just for the Six Nations to start with”.Two of the new inclusions, Devoto and Sam Hill, were named as injury replacements for Tuilagi and Henry Slade, respectively.
Asked how soon he hopes to have Tuilagi available, Jones joked: “Tomorrow, mate, tomorrow!” The British and Irish Lions centre has been missing for 15 months, though, only returning for Leicester at the weekend, and the true prognosis was more in keeping with Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill’s pleas for patience.
“I’ve chatted to ‘Cockers’ and at this stage, it looks like he’ll be ready for the Wales game,” said Jones. “So we hopefully get him for the last two games of the Six Nations. But you never know, he might come through very quick.” After Lancaster’s World Cup squad failed to progress from the pool stage, Rob Webber, Brad Barritt, Nick Easter, David Wilson, Ben Morgan and Richard Wigglesworth joined list of omissions.
The changes represent radical surgery to the squad, but Jones gave a considered response when asked if the same would apply to England’s style.
“How do you define ‘radical’?” he asked. Radical, for me, would be playing really good rugby. Good rugby means you do all the simple things well and when you get the opportunity, you move the ball with crispness, with accuracy and with speed. If that’s radical, you’ve got radical coming.”
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