England coach Eddie Jones says his dropped veterans must prove to him they have what it takes to win a World Cup, rather than just be merely involved at the global showpiece, if they are to regain their places in his squad.
Jones omitted flyhalf George Ford, the Vunipola brothers and hooker Jamie George from a 34-man party announced on Monday for next month’s trio of Twickenham Tests against Tonga, Australia and world champions South Africa.
In the process, he has deprived himself of 276 caps’ worth of experience as he looks to freshen up England ahead of the 2023 World Cup in France.
Jones has twice been the losing coach in a World Cup final – when England defeated his native Australia in 2003 and two years ago when when South Africa proved too strong for England in Japan.
And although he was a consultant to the Springboks when they lifted the Webb Ellis Trophy in 2007, the 61-year-old Jones has yet to be in charge of a World Cup-winning team.
Ford has been in fine form for Premiership leaders Leicester so far this season and, at the age of 28, should be in his prime. Forwards Billy and Mako Vunipola have both shined for Saracens, for whom George scored a brace of tries in the club’s 71-17 victory over Bath this past weekend.
Yet, if he is not exactly concerned about his England side all getting old together at once, Jones is acutely aware of the dangers of an experienced player being ground down by the demands of Test-match rugby union.
“We now have a number of players who’ve been through two World Cup campaigns,” Jones told reporters after unveiling his latest squad.
“With the third World Cup campaign, my experience tells me that some players can want to go to the World Cup but they don’t really have the will to prepare to win the World Cup.
“It did strike me the experience I had with Australia, post-2003. I kept some players on longer than I should have and that’s probably weighed in the selection choices that I’ve made in the last six months with England.”
He added: “We could have the most experienced side at the World Cup but whether they’ve got that will to go that extra 10% and find that discretionary effort … that’s something I’m trying to find out at the moment.
“At the moment, I feel they need to regenerate and rejuvenate. They need to add things to their game if they’re going to continue to the next World Cup.”
Jones, meanwhile, confirmed Owen Farrell would remain as England captain for the November campaign, leaving open the prospect that rising star Marcus Smith could start at flyhalf in Ford’s absence alongside the skipper at inside centre.
The 22-year-old Smith inspired Harlequins to the Premiership title last season and only made his England debut in July before being called up for the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa.
He has made an eye-catching start to the current campaign but a wary Jones said: “The best players in the world will keep perspective, because they’re never as good as people say they are, never as bad as people say they are.
“There’s always that trademark game where they’re always showing up, they’re always giving their best. Sometimes they have a brilliant game, very rarely they have a poor game.
“That’s the test of a young player coming through. We wouldn’t have selected Marcus if we didn’t think he could handle that. We think he can.”
Meanwhile, Jones said Maro Itoje (shoulder), Anthony Watson (knee) and Luke Cowan-Dickie (ankle), all injured during last weekend’s round of Premiership matches, would undergo scans this week.
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