Eddie Jones’s England training plans shrouded in doubt over Covid-19 fears
Lewis Ludlam in isolation while doubts linger over other players
Jack Clement of Gloucester runs with the ball during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match against Harlequins at Kingsholm. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images
Eddie Jones’s autumn Test preparations are already being hit by the Covid-19 confusion which is threatening to cause fresh issues for club and country alike. England are set to welcome 28 players for a three-day camp at the Lensbury Club this week but are still not sure how many of them will be fully available to train.
With Northampton’s Lewis Ludlam already in self-isolation there is continuing focus on the five other Saints players in Jones’s squad who featured against Sale last week. The Sharks have subsequently recorded 19 positive coronavirus tests, forcing the postponement of their final regular season game against Worcester, which has now also denied Jones the services of players from the two clubs.
For obvious reasons players suspected of having symptoms or who have tested positive will not be allowed to enter England’s biosecure training bubble, but with cases increasing nationwide there is a clear risk of potential issues with players from six different clubs coming together .
Even greater problems could yet loom when players from Sale, Worcester and the four other clubs currently involved in the final stages of European competition and the Premiership are added to the mix.
Exeter Chiefs, for example, are still waiting to discover if they will be required to face Sale in Saturday’s Premiership semi-final and they have a Champions Cup final against Racing 92, who also have a number of players self-isolating, pencilled in for the following weekend.
In the absence of numerous candidates for a place in his autumn squad, Jones has picked 12 uncapped players, including the 19-year-old Gloucester backrow forward Jack Clement, as he prepares to crank things up ahead of England’s opening game against the Barbarians on October 25th.
Clement only made his Premiership debut in August and has started just three league games but will now find himself training alongside Owen Farrell, Billy and Mako Vunipola, Maro Itoje and Jamie George. The Saracens wing Ali Crossdale is also involved, along with the South African-born pair Simon Kerrod and David Ribbans. Kerrod, the Harlequins tighthead prop, was born in Johannesburg and grew up in South Africa but his father is English while Ribbans, the forceful Northampton lock, is now qualified for England by residency.
The uncapped Leicester frontrower Joe Heyes and Gloucester flanker Lewis Ludlow also feature, along with Quins’ number eight Alex Dombrandt and his club-mate Nathan Earle. Leicester’s Ben Youngs, hoping to reach a century of Test caps this autumn, remains in the scrumhalf mix along with Gloucester’s Willi Heinz. Joe Marler, however, has a knee problem which is set to sideline him for the next month.
England are due to be heading to Rome to meet Italy on October 31st before taking part in the Autumn Nations Cup, with a formal autumn squad set to be announced on October 19th. – Guardian
Backs: A Crossdale (Saracens), E Daly (Saracens), F Dingwall (Northampton Saints), N Earle (Harlequins), O Farrell (Saracens), G Ford (Leicester Tigers), P Francis (Northampton Saints), G Furbank (Northampton Saints), W Heinz (Gloucester Rugby), J Marchant (Harlequins), J May (Gloucester Rugby), A Mitchell (Northampton Saints), O Thorley (Gloucester Rugby), B Youngs (Leicester Tigers).
Forwards: J Clement (Gloucester Rugby), A Dombrandt (Harlequins), E Genge (Leicester Tigers), J George (Saracens), J Heyes (Leicester Tigers), M Itoje (Saracens), S Kerrod (Harlequins), L Ludlow (Gloucester Rugby), A Moon (Northampton Saints), D Ribbans (Northampton Saints), J Singleton (Gloucester Rugby), B Vunipola (Saracens), M Vunipola (Saracens), M Wilson (Newcastle Falcons).