George Ford is in contention for an England comeback at Twickenham on Saturday, after being retained in a squad of 25 to prepare for the Autumn Nations Cup showdown against Ireland.
In his absence, captain Owen Farrell has worn the No 10 shirt, but Ford has been back in training, is making progress towards full fitness and may be cleared to return for the pool fixture against Andy Farrell’s Irish side.
Fly-half George Ford is in contention for an England comeback at Twickenham on Saturday
Eddie Jones has also been able to retain Bath centre Jonathan Joseph – who was deployed on the wing against Georgia – which suggests that he has recovered from the back spasm which forced him off just before half-time.
However, as predicted by Sportsmail, the head coach has opted to release Jack Willis, despite the Wasps flanker’s acclaimed, try-scoring debut last weekend. Jones has preferred Lewis Ludlam of Northampton in the trimmed-down squad.
Exeter lock Jonny Hill has been selected ahead of the more established Joe Launchbury and Charlie Ewels, leaving him on course to double his current tally of one Test cap. Also in that category are Bristol full-back Max Malins – on loan from Saracens – and Gloucester wing Ollie Thorley, who was omitted from the match-day 23 against Georgia after a debut in Italy.
Meanwhile, despite England preparing for an encounter with Ireland, Mako Vunipola spent more time talking about Fiji, Samoa and Tonga – the country his father Fe’ao once captained.
Northampton flanker Lewis Ludlam (above) has been preferred to rising star Jack Willis
Their perennial plight as poor rugby nations shamefully exploited by the richer countries and failed by the game’s establishment has been highlighted in a film released this week, entitled Oceans Apart: Greed, Betrayal and Pacific Island Rugby.
The documentary has been made by former Samoa lock Dan Leo, in a bid to publicise the need for governance reform, changes to eligibility laws, revenue share from international matches – when crowds return – and a supportive attitude in line with the sport’s trumpeted core values. While the older Vunipola brother expressed solidarity, as an England player he cannot rock the boat.
‘I’ve not seen the movie but I’ve spoken and worked with Dan Leo before,’ said Mako. ‘When I’m with England, I’m proud to be English, but understanding my heritage is Tongan. Whatever I can do to try and help as much as I can; not just with Tonga but the islands, I do.
‘It’s difficult as a player – you can only do so much. There is only so much you can influence higher powers. It’s a difficult position for not just myself but many Pacific Islanders who play overseas to be in. All you want really is the best for those back on the islands and to have opportunities really.’
Asked if he would welcome an eligibility change which would allow him to represent Tonga later in his career, he added: ‘Obviously I’d love to say yes to that, but it’s difficult because it would be unfair to those back on the island; to see myself as an old man coming in and taking that opportunity away from them.
Jonny Hill, Max Malins and Ollie Thorley (above) have been retained in the 25-man squad
‘It’s a catch-22 really. You’d like to see people not being tied down to one (country) and being able to represent those countries – and they’d be better for it – but you’d also like locals to have the opportunity to make a better life for themselves by playing for their country and on the back of that getting contracts overseas.’
Free of the constraints of being a current member of the Red Rose squad, ex-England flanker James Haskell recalled in Oceans Apart how the national squad discussed splitting their match fees with the Samoan players before facing them in 2016, but nothing came of it. He believes that richer unions should offer to share match revenue, given that England and others never visit the islands in what is supposed to be a reciprocal arrangement.
‘I think it’s massively unfair,’ Haskell tells Leo in the film. ‘It’s something that needs to be rectified because if we’re not even going to tour there, there should be an agreement where you guys get funded. The fact you come over to us means there’s no way we should keep the money – it should be shared.
‘A team coming to Twickenham to play that is providing a spectacle, which all the Pacific island teams do, should be remunerated. I think that should be part of the ticket sales from the day.’
The RFU and other leading unions had indicted to Leo that they would be open to discussing the principle of revenue share, but no talks have taken place. World Rugby insist that they cannot intervene as it is a matter for the host nations, but the global governing body have been unable to impose a fixture framework which compels the most powerful nations to visit the Pacific islands.