Eddie Jones’s best-laid plans have already been disrupted following the news that two of his likely starters will miss England’s entire autumn series. Luke Cowan-Dickie and Anthony Watson have both been ruled out of all their country’s November Tests, forcing Jones to recall Jamie George just 24 hours after the Saracens hooker was pointedly omitted.
The ankle injury that forced Cowan-Dickie off the field during Exeter’s win at Wasps on Saturday will prevent the Cornishman from featuring against Tonga, Australia and South Africa, with a scan suggesting his absence could be a lengthy one. The luckless Watson is also likely to miss the Six Nations after Bath confirmed he had ruptured an anterior cruciate ligament in the latter stages of his club’s 71-17 home defeat against Saracens. Harlequins’ Joe Marchant has been called up to replace him.
The loss of two experienced British & Irish Lions so soon after returning to Premiership action will raise renewed questions about player welfare, with several clubs already experiencing a high volume of injuries in the early weeks of the season. Saracens are also due to give an update on Wednesday on Maro Itoje, who went off early in the second half at the Recreation Ground and is being assessed for a potential shoulder or pectoral muscle injury.
Jones, either way, must now reassess his front-row and back‑three resources, where opportunity could now knock for some younger squad members. With Cowan-Dickie out of the equation the remaining two hookers in the original squad are Newcastle’s Jamie Blamire, who only made his Test debut in the summer, and Leicester’s uncapped Nic Dolly. Unless George is parachuted straight back into the starting lineup, both Blamire and Dolly are in pole position to feature against Tonga on 6 November.
Watson’s latest injury blow, with no return date yet available, leaves Newcastle’s Adam Radwan and Gloucester’s Jonny May as the only out and out wingers in the squad, although Max Malins has been impressing in that position for both Bristol and Saracens this year. The full-back jersey, meanwhile, now looks to be a straight tussle between Leicester’s Freddie Steward and the Northampton pair of Tommy Freeman and George Furbank. The latter trio collectively boast just six caps.
It makes Jones’s decision to omit a number of experienced forwards from his original squad all the bolder with Newcastle’s director of rugby, Dean Richards, the latest to raise an eyebrow at the non-selection of several Saracens players, including Billy and Mako Vunipola. “I am surprised,” the former England No 8 said. “But at the same time Eddie has his own ideas about selection and hopefully things will work out.”
South Africa also have some high‑profile holes to fill in the coming weeks following confirmation that Faf De Klerk, Cheslin Kolbe and Frans Malherbe will all miss their upcoming British tour. De Klerk has a hip flexor injury while Kolbe and Malherbe have knee and neck problems respectively. With the luckless RG Snyman having suffered another serious knee setback, there is a place in the second-row ranks for the former Junior Springbok captain Salmaan Moerat.