Bristol, United Kingdom | AFP | England coach Eddie Jones believes off-field problems will be part and parcel of his side’s Rugby World Cup campaign after his surprise move in leaving out centre Ben Te’o from his squad for Japan.
The former rugby league star was the major omission when Jones announced his 31-man party for the September 20-November 2 tournament on Monday, with Te’o losing out to Piers Francis, who only has five caps behind him.
Te’o has long been a favourite of Jones during the Australian’s time as England boss but a reported altercation with full-back Mike Brown during a warm-weather training camp in Italy a fortnight ago cast a cloud over his possible involvement at the World Cup.
Jones, who took charge following England’s first-round exit on home soil in 2015, refused to reveal whether disciplinary reasons were behind his decision to ditch Te’o, simply saying the 32-year-old was not one of the best 31 players available to him.
England’s last overseas World Cup campaign, in New Zealand in 2011, was marred by several embarrassing off-field incidents, but former Japan and Australia coach Jones said there was only so much he could do in a bid to avoid fresh trouble abroad.
“I’ve coached for 25 years, I’ve never been confident in a team being smooth,” Jones said after announcing his squad in Bristol.
“We’re like any family — everyone sits around the dining table, everyone enjoys good conversation, but you know there are problems and we’re exactly the same.
“We’ve got 31 sitting around the table, we can have nice conversations. But you know potentially there’s a problem.
“All I can do is trust the players — they are adults, they’re responsible, they want to play for England and we could have some problems. If we do, we’ll deal with them.”
Jones has previously set great store by the importance of experience in building a squad for a World Cup.
Yet his party for Japan features an uncapped player in Bath wing Ruaridh McConnochie, with three of his 31 — scrum-half Willi Heinz, flanker Lewis Ludlam and hooker Jack Singleton all only making their England debuts in Sunday’s 33-19 warm-up win over Wales at Twickenham.
By contrast Jones has now jettisoned full-back Brown, scrum-half Danny Care and back-row Chris Robshaw, a former England captain.
– ‘Changing game’ –
But Jones was adamant the extra injection of energy would make up for any deficit elsewhere.
“I’m convinced it’s our best 31. I could have picked more experienced players but I just don’t feel they’ll give us what the younger guys will give us,” Jones said.
“I think the game’s changing a lot, too… It’s become such a power game. Experience is always important, but maybe we can get around it.”
Jones, the coach of his native Australia when they lost the 2003 World Cup final to England, added: “This is a stressful, painful period.
“As a coach it’s probably one of my least favourite times.
“Telling players they haven’t made the World Cup is not a nice conversation. You’ve got players who are working hard and they’re good players, but unfortunately you just can’t pick everyone.
“Consistently at World Cups, I pick one to 15 first, then I consistently pick 28 to 31 — they are your key, absolute keys.
“So 28 to 31 in reality are possibly not going to have much game time, so the character and the behaviour of those guys is super important, absolutely vital.
“And then you try to pick a blend from 15 to 28. So there is a process that I follow.”