England’s plans for their final assault on the Six Nations title against Italy in Rome have been disrupted by injuries to George Ford and Elliot Daly that could result in a first cap for Jacob Umaga.
Eddie Jones has confirmed that Ford and Daly will miss the Stadio Olimpico showdown because of respective Achilles and shin problems requiring another two weeks of rehabilitation.
Ford’s absence points to captain Owen Farrell starting at fly-half for the first time since the World Cup quarter-final rout of Australia a year ago having played the last six Tests at inside centre.
As the only other 10 picked in a 36-man squad for the autumn, 22-year-old Wasps sensation Umaga – nephew of former All Blacks skipper Tana – could make his debut off the bench a week after appearing in the Gallagher Premiership final.
“Jacob is a young guy at 10 who attacks the line and has plenty of courage in the way he plays. He’s a solid defender and is one of the reasons why Wasps did so well,” Jones said.
“We had him in camp earlier in this Six Nations and we were impressed by what he did, so we’re looking forward to working with him again.”
Jack Willis is present following a blockbusting season in which he emerged as one of the Premiership’s most influential players through his breakdown expertise, which he compliments with an impressive power in defence and in the carry.
The 23-year-old was due to tour South Africa in 2018 but was forced to withdraw from Jones’ squad with a knee injury before his development was further hindered by an ankle problem.
“Jack’s been someone we’ve had on the radar for a long time, since 2018. We selected him for the South Africa tour but unfortunately he was injured,” Jones said.
“We’ve been watching his progress and he’s a good, jumping number six who carries well and contests hard.
“He has a good work attitude about him. He’s a really old fashioned number six, so we’re looking forward to working with him.”
Jones has defended the omission from his autumn squad of Sam and Joe Simmonds, who have been instrumental to Exeter’s rise as double winners.
Sam, an athletic number eight, has been crowned European player of the year while younger brother Joe has been outstanding as captain and chief playmaker, earning rave reviews.
“I’ve spoken to both of those boys to make sure they have an understanding of the situation,” Jones said.
“Ultimately selection is a judgement situation. There are people out there who think certain players should be in and people who think certain players shouldn’t be. It’s my judgement call with the coaches.
“We do due diligence – I’ve done about 8,000 miles over the last three months going to watch players live, watching what they do in the warm-up, watching every bit of play and we’ve come to the decision that this is the best 36.
“There are a number of good players out there who will be massively disappointed and they are two of them.”
England have been bolstered by the availability of seven players who took part in a captivating climax to the domestic season at Twickenham when Exeter beat Wasps 19-13, including Willis, Umaga and Henry Slade.
Completing the list are Exeter tight five forwards Jonny Hill and Harry Williams and Wasps lock Joe Launchbury and scrum-half Dan Robson.
Also present for the first time since the World Cup is Bath wing Joe Cokanasiga, whose season has been hindered by a serious knee injury.
England have reported a number of fresh injuries in hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie, wing Ali Crossdale and flanker Mark Wilson.
England’s preparations have been undermined by the cancellation of Sunday’s warm-up game against the Barbarians after a number of the invitational club’s players breached coronavirus regulations.
“I’ve been around a while so I just accepted it and quickly went up to my room and worked out a Plan B. I didn’t get involved in the emotion of what happened,” Jones said.
“We are pretty good at these things – we had the same situation with the typhoon in Japan (that saw England’s World Cup pool match against France called off) so we moved on. This time it was just a bit of a different typhoon.”