Eddie Jones refused to clarify if he sees the returning Danny Cipriani as a fly-half or full-back after naming him in his squad to face the Barbarians, albeit among the replacements.
But the England team announcement for this weekend’s non-test encounter was overshadowed by the news of a second player being ruled out for up to a year as Bath prop Beno Obano was found to have suffered multiple ligament and hamstring tendon damage in training this month, joining Wasps flanker Jack Willis on the long-term injury list.
“While this type of injury is complex and can lead to a 12 month lay-off, we are investing in our medical team over the off-season and we are focused on getting Beno back as soon as possible,” the Bath director of rugby Todd Blackadder said on Friday.
“Beno went for a scan this week, and after consulting with the specialist will undergo surgery to help repair his injury. This will then be followed by a lengthy spell of rehabilitation. We are all feeling Beno’s disappointment. It has been a breakthrough season for him.
“It’s upsetting to see that he will miss this chance to show his class at an international level, especially on the back of picking up two end-of-season club awards. However, I am sure he will be back in the frame in the future.
Willis suffered a similar knee injury during Wasps’ Premiership semi-final defeat by Saracens last weekend, having been initially called up to the squad that will tour South Africa next month. The flanker’s boot stuck in the 4G turf at Allianz Park when he was tackled by England skipper Owen Farrell, with the 21-year-old suffering significant multi-ligament damage – which included rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament – and means he will miss between nine month and a year.
The news means that both Obano and Willis are highly unlikely to make Jones’ squad for the Rugby World Cup next year, and the former’s injury also adds further scrutiny on the current environment surrounding England’s intense and unusual training sessions given that is happened during a national team training camp in Brighton.
It was announced earlier this season that former Wasps flanker Sam Jones had been forced to retire after suffering severe ankle damage during a judo session while with the England team in what was his first and only call-up. It has since been revealed that Jones was training up against lock Maro Itoje, a much heavier and taller man, just one day after playing 80 minutes for Wasps, and raised initial questions of whether Jones’ well-documented training ‘beastings’ were leading to injuries of fatigue.
Those questions arose again during the Six Nations, not least because of Jones’ retirement at the age of 26 years old, but also because a number of England internationals performed below their usual levels and appeared tired or fatigued during the losses to Scotland, France and Ireland.
With Obano now the latest victim of the Brighton training camp, Jones faces losing one of the players of the year in the Bath prop for the entirety of next season and, most likely, the World Cup in Japan.
But the World Cup will be a distant thought come Sunday morning as the Barbarians roll into Twickenham intent on not only showcasing the best attacking rugby around as they have grown famous for but attempting to pile the misery on Jones’ England side who enter the game on a three-match losing run.
The Australian gambled with his team selection by naming Elliot Daly, a natural outside centre who has made the left wing his own for England, at full-back, and Mike Brown out on the wing.
“It’s a great opportunity to play Elliot there, we’ve always wanted to play him there and this is the right time,” said Jones. “He’s got speed, he’s got a big left foot and good game sense. It’s also a great opportunity for Mike Brown to show his versatility.”
But Jones was far more reserved in his reasoning for leaving Danny Cipriani on the bench in favour of George Ford, even though the game is the perfect scenario to see what the Gloucester-bound fly-half can offer. Jones named Cipriani as a full-back on Monday that raised more than a few eyebrows, and he continued to bat away questions on the 30-year-old’s position in his set-up that doesn’t exactly suggest that he is a long-term option.
“Danny is one of 34 players who we’ve had in camp,” Jones said. “I’ll decide [his position] on the day.”
Four uncapped players will start the game in Gloucester centre Henry Trinder, Worcester Warriors hooker Jack Singleton, and Bath forwards Elliott Stooke and Zach Mercer, with three further international rookies in George McGuigan, Nick Schonert and Josh Beaumont among the replacements.
Barbarians meanwhile will look to their England insider to plot their downfall after naming Chris Ashton at full-back in a side that promises flair and excitement in abundance.
“What an opportunity the Barbarians game is for me. It’s the chance to show that I’m still knocking around,” Ashton said, with his England hopes still well and truly alive in his own mind. “I’m 31 and still in good condition. I even ran my fastest time the other weekend.”
Other notable Premiership names include Newcastle centre Josh Matavesi, Gloucester prop John Afoa and Leicester hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau.
England: Elliot Daly; Jonny May, Henry Trinder, Piers Francis, Mike Brown; George Ford, Ben Youngs; Joe Marler, Jack Singleton, Kyle Sinckler; Elliot Stooke, Joe Launchbury; Chris Robshaw, Tom Curry, Zach Mercer.
Replacements: George McGuigan, Ellis Genge, Nick Schonert, Josh Beaumont, Mark Wilson, Dan Robson, Danny Cipriani, Denny Solomona.
Barbarians: Chris Ashton; Josua Tuisova, Semi Radradra, Josh Matavesi; Niyi Adeolokun; Finn Russell, Rhodri Williams; Denis Buckley, Benjamin Kayser, John Afoa; Ultan Dillane, Sateleki Timani, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Justin Tipuric, Victor Vito.
Replacements: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Loni Uhila, Ramiro Herrera, Joe Tekori, Nili Latu, Greig Laidlaw, Luke McAlister, Malakai Fekitoa.
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