‘He is flipping tough’: Eddie Jones gives his verdict on England debutant Jack Willis, with freakish flanker set to make his bow against Georgia in Nations Cup opener
- Jack Willis was acclaimed as ‘flipping tough’ after being selected for Saturday
- He make his England debut against Georgia in the Autumn Nations Cup opener
- His feats as a master poacher at the breakdown have already drawn high praise
- The 23-year-old was awarded the RPA and Premiership Player of the Year awards
Jack Willis was acclaimed on Thursday as ‘flipping tough’ — and flipping flexible, too — after being picked for a well-deserved England debut against Georgia on Saturday.
The 23-year-old Wasps star was named at openside flanker by coach Eddie Jones for the national team’s Autumn Nations Cup opener. It comes on the back of the stunning club form which earned him the RPA and Premiership Player of the Year awards.
His feats as a master poacher at the breakdown have already drawn high praise within the domestic game and now Willis’s freakish qualities are being recognised by England.
Jack Willis (above) was acclaimed as ‘flipping tough’ after being selected for Saturday
Jones sought to highlight the raw bravery of a player who was on course for a debut two years ago until a savage knee injury ruled him out.
ENGLAND: Daly, Joseph, Lawrence, Slade, May, Farrell (capt), Youngs; Genge, George, Stuart, Launchbury, Ewels, Itoje, B Vunipola, Willis
‘He is flipping tough,’ said Jones. ‘We selected him in 2018 because he was a good, tough player. We’ve selected him again because he’s a good, tough player.
‘He just puts his head over the ball a lot. You’ve got to have plenty of courage to put your head over the ball when you consider you’ve got 130kg blokes ready to clean you out. That is the highlight of his game. He’s a good defender and he’s an attacker who gets his hands on the ball. He’s one of the few forwards in English rugby that’s good at pick and go, too.
‘In Australian slang we’d call him a knock-about bloke. He just gets on with it. Nothing fazes him too much. He mixes readily with all the different players, listens well, takes praise well and takes criticism well.’
Willis took the Premiership by storm last season as Wasps surged into the final before losing narrowly to Exeter at Twickenham last month.
Eddie Jones will hand him his England debut against Georgia in the Autumn Nations Cup
The 23-year-old earned his place through an impressive season with his club team Wasps
His turnover tally was far beyond any of his domestic rivals, but Jones issued a warning to the newcomer about the need to be selective in Test rugby, where ruck jackals are more closely scrutinised and regulated.
‘The big thing for Jack will be learning discernment,’ he said. ‘He has to understand — at international level he’s probably not going to get the leniency that he’s had at club level in keeping his hands on the ball.
‘You can only have one go, you’ve got to be quick and if you don’t get it on that first go, you’ve got to get your hands out. But he’s a good learner.’
Willis is also very flexible. Wasps team-mates are accustomed to his knack for doing the splits, which aids his breakdown work.
England captain Owen Farrell has now seen evidence of this phenomenon at close quarters and he said: ‘You only have to see him warm up and stretch before we go out — he’s certainly a lot more flexible than I am!’
Farrell was asked which players he would describe as ‘flipping tough’, leading him to compare Willis to a former Saracens team-mate who was renowned as a hard man.
England captain Owen Farrell (left) also referred to the Wasps superstar as ‘flipping tough’
‘One would be Jacques Burger,’ he said. ‘They don’t mind sticking their head where other people don’t. To be as good as Jack is at getting over the ball, you have to be willing to take hits. He is certainly willing to take hits.’
When England trained against Georgia last year, a scrum session erupted into a brawl — which has not been forgotten.
‘We’ve got memories of what happened,’ said Jones. ‘When the first scrum went down they kept going. So this is going to be no tea party. This is going to be a physical game and we’ve picked a side for that.’