England head coach Eddie Jones has warned Word Cup hopefuls they are running out of time to force their way into his plans despite the tournament being two years away.
Jones is due to name his squad for Saturday’s autumn series opener against Argentina at Twickenham today, but insists he already has as many as 24 of his prospective 30-man World Cup squad for Japan 2019 pencilled in.
The Australian cut seven players – Tom Dunn, Nick Isiekwe, Charlie Ewels, Sam Simmonds, Zach Mercer, Piers Francis and Denny Solomona – from his squad to face the Pumas on Tuesday, leaving 26 vying to make the matchday party.
In less than two years squad selection will be conducted for real. Asked how many of his 30-man World Cup squad and how many of the XV for a potential final he knows, Jones said: “I think about 80 per cent and 60 per cent, so we’re tracking pretty well.
“We’ve got 24 out of the 30 approximately and nine of the 15. There’s a couple out there who have raw potential and if they can turn that into consistent performances then they’re there.
“Bolters are more likely to be in the outside backs and back row, the other positions tend to be coupled with experience.”
Jones has already spoken of his side’s autumn fixtures against Argentina, Australia and Samoa representing the start of the run-in to the World Cup, and he was happy to reiterate that tournament preparations are well underway.
“Everything we do now is about developing towards the World Cup,” added Jones, who has overseen just one Test defeat since taking charge of England in November 2015. “Improving every game, improving the depth of the squad, getting selection difficulties. Everybody wants selection to be difficult, not easy. So that’s at the head of the list.
“We’re gradually becoming more tactically adaptable and that’s going to be super important for the World Cup. I think the players are starting to take responsibility on the field.
“You look at that second Test against Argentina [during the summer]. We started off with a philosophy of kicking for touch, trying to keep the game as tight as possible.
“We weren’t getting any pay from the lineout so we went to a more open game, tried to split the game up and it worked well for us. The players’ ability to change from one to the other really impressed me and it was a young team.”
Wing Jonny May, meanwhile, is unlikely to feature for England against Argentina despite being retained in the 26-man battalion for the clash, according to forwards coach Steve Borthwick. Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly are set to start on the flanks. Borthwick said: “Jonny hurt his hamstring in Portugal. He’s made a lot of progress but remains unlikely for Argentina.”