The Japan 2019 countdown ramps up today with a good-and-early squad announcement from Eddie Jones. While eyebrows have been raised at the England coach scheduling his announcement quite so far ahead of the 8 September deadline, it’s clear he’s been champing at the bit for this tournament for quite some time.
Back in November 2017 Jones said his backroom team were already up to a 10th draft of their World Cup plan, while he was on top of travel logistics, helped immeasurably by his experience working in Japan. Last May he turned up the heat and humidity at their Bagshot base, and since then every training camp and squad selection has been made while eyeing up the big kick-off against Tonga in Sapporo on 22 September.
So who will make his final 31? As Jones said before the Wales match: “Every day is selection day. We talk to players every day, seeing how they act, how they respond, how much they want to play for England, how they want to be part of a team, how they can develop from being a good club player to an international one. The match against Wales is just one of a number of selection days; no one is going to be selected or not on one match.”
Last Friday Robert Kitson picked a possible 31, a sinfully difficult task while Jones openly admitted he was still weighing up his midfield, full-back and scrum-half options.
Full-back Mike Brown and centre Ben Te’o were dropped from the experimental squad that warmed up so effectively against Wales, which would lessen the shock of their exclusion. Other questions remain, of course. Joe Marler gave the coach sufficient notice of his U-turn on availability … right?
Gloucester scrum-half Willi Heinz, meanwhile, has suddenly risen to help take the tally of players capped by Jones since 2016 to an eye-watering 70. Lewis Ludlam impressed too, while Joe Marchant and Jack Singleton now also have caps that would add substance to their selection.
Injuries, as always, may play a part – Ruaridh McConnochie was widely backed to be on standby for Jack Nowell … until the Bath flyer suffered injury of his own. Henry Slade and Sam Underhill could be nervous too – their setbacks may be minor, but the weekend before a squad unveiling is not the best time to be on the sidelines.
Stand by your beds, folks. Announcement and reaction incoming (due 1pm BST). Let the wild speculation begin.