Eddie Jones is warning of a ‘brutal, physical’ clash against Australia at Twickenham and is being merciless in his team selection, dropping regular scrum-half Danny Care, centre Alex Lozowski and Bath back-row forward Zach Mercer from the 28-strong squad that convened at Pennyhill Park late on Monday.
Wasps’ No. 8 Nathan Hughes has returned, however, following a six-week suspension for punching and conduct unbecoming to the game following his tweet ‘what a joke’ over the course of the disciplinary hearing.
Care is replaced by Saracens scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth, who replaced Care during Saturday’s slow and difficult win over Japan; recompense for 35-year-old more assured display in the position.
Care had scored the opening try against Japan before both he and the team faltered. In response, Jones has been ruthless following this less-than-exemplary exhibition.
Now at the end of the Quilter series of internationals and with only a Six Nations Championship to forerun World Cup warm-ups before going to Japan, Jones is aware he needs to upgrade his squad choices.
“Selection is always a response to performance,” said Jones, who went on to reveal that Chris Ashton has a calf problem and that, although still involved and lined up for Saturday, Manu Tuilagi continues to have an ongoing groin issue. Northampton back Piers Francis is also in the picture.
“We are just changing the squad to look how we can improve it. We weren’t happy with some aspects and he (Care) can go away and work on them. We think he (Wigglesworth) is the right guy for this week.”
Wigglesworth and first choice Ben Youngs will be expected to bring acumen and strategy to England’s game, which Jones understands to be as necessary to today’s game as physical prowess.
“The big games are more brutal, more physical, longer but with shorter periods of play,” says Jones.
“The physical demands on the players are getting greater and greater. And the mental demands. You look at the tests at the weekend, how physical they were, how brutal. It will be no different this week."
"It is becoming a real power game, a real contest game. The game is getting longer and longer. Now the games are longer, the players have more time to think. You have 60 minutes of a 100-minute game where the players have to think (with the ball not in play).
"The ability about what is next – your next set of tactics, what you are going to do – is going to become an even more important part of the game. You have the physical strand and the thinking strand at the same time.”
Ireland are first up for England in the 2019 Six Nations, and are far from the easiest of beginning’s for Jones’s squad as they seek to remedy the damage to their reputation following their fifth-place finish this year.
Jones maintains that he has not even thought of the upcoming challenge against the defending Grand Slam champions as yet, but does not consider Ireland’s win over the All Blacks to be of relevance to their own success in the World Cup.
“It will have no consequence on the World Cup, none at all,” said Jones, who took no comfort in the New Zealand team’s potential decline.
“If I were Steve Hansen I’d be hurting a lot now but I’d have the knowledge that we’re going to learn a lot from this game. They’ll come back stronger and better.
"I think there are about eight teams that are contenders for the World Cup. Ireland are definitely a contender. We’re going along at a good pace. The only thing that counts is when you get to the World Cup. All these other games don’t count.”