England’s World Cup build-up hit by trio of injury withdrawals and ‘altercation’
A Rugby Football Union spokesperson has confirmed there was an “altercation” during a social event at the squad’s heat and humidity training camp.
England’s World Cup build-up has taken a chaotic turn after it emerged a fracas occurred between Ben Te’o and Mike Brown in Treviso while preparations for Sunday’s Test against Wales have been disrupted by a trio of injury withdrawals.
A Rugby Football Union spokesperson has confirmed there was an “altercation” during a social event at the squad’s heat and humidity training camp in north-east Italy last week.
As a result, Te’o and Brown were dropped from the squad for Sunday’s visit of Wales to Twickenham in a match staged 24 hours before head coach Eddie Jones finalises his 31-man World Cup squad.
Despite the RFU’s earlier admission, Jones bizarrely replied when asked about the incident: “No I’m not able to to confirm that. I’m not able to confirm. I think I’ve answered the question.”
Meanwhile, plans for the opening warm-up Test against Warren Gatland’s Grand Slam champions have been disturbed by injuries to centre Henry Slade, flanker Sam Underhill and wing Ruaridh McConnochie.
A day after naming the starting XV, Jones was forced into a significant reshuffle, including to the back row where the experiment of deploying opensides Underhill and Tom Curry in tandem will have to be delayed.
Slade (knee), Underhill (toe) and McConnochie (hip) have been ruled out, so Jonathan Joseph, Joe Cokanasiga and Lewis Ludlum have been propelled into the starting XV in their places.
Curry moves from six to openside while Courtney Lawes and Manu Tuilagi are promoted to the bench.
In another peculiar twist, Jones was reluctant to disclose the changes to his team, even when prompted by England’s press officer, asking: “Urm, yeah, no, what do you want me to do? So you want me to remember all these?”
Facing an experimental side picked by the 59-year-old head coach is Wales’ strongest available XV, including 13 starters from the Grand Slam-clinching victory over Ireland in March.
Jones, however, shrugged off the mounting problems as ideal for this stage of tournament preparation.
“It’s all part of a World Cup campaign – adapting, adjusting, bring people in and out, finding your role. It’s a most fascinating time,” he said.
“Some of the players picked up a few knocks in training but we want players to understand it’s a squad of 23.
“They have a role starting or finishing or you are in the non-23 supporting the squad. It’s all part of the build-up to the World Cup campaign.
“We’re now in the most unique year of the four-year cycle. You’ve got four warm-up games before the World Cup, so you’ve done some hard physical work.
“There is now the chance to get some games, fitness and feedback on pre-season.
“We are building towards the World Cup. When we get on the plane on September 8, we want to be ready to go.
“I have had four World Cups so I think I know how to prepare the team for the tournament.”
McConnochie was due to make his Test debut with the hope of impressing before the World Cup squad is named on Monday, but his prospects for Japan have now dimmed.
Willi Heinz will win his first cap, however, as Jones launches a late search for a deputy to Ben Youngs at scrum-half.