Eddie Jones sees potential in two of his latest draftees as the Australian continues to show faith in youth by including members of England’s most recent U20s side in his pre-season squad.
Joel Kpoku (Saracens), Jordan Olowofela (Leicester Tigers) and Gabriel Ibitoye (Harlequins) were all named in head coach Jones’ 44-man training squad on Thursday, and although the Quin had piqued Eddie’s interest some time ago, the other two did so only recently.
“We were in Durban for a team dinner and the 20s game was on,” recalled Jones of watching the World Rugby U20 Championship in June.
“In between eating a piece of fish I watched a bit of the game, and the lock (Kpoku) and winger (Olowofela) caught my eye, so we went and did a bit more investigating.
“People went to their clubs to get feedback on them, and they’re punts for us. Sometimes you roll the dice and your number comes in, they are two young guys who have potential so we will have a look at them in camp and see how they go.”
The trio represent a conveyor belt of transitioning twenties that Jones has championed since taking charge of the national side in 2016, handing debuts to future British & Irish Lions: Maro Itoje, Elliot Daly and Kyle Sinckler – all former U20 stars.
And eight members of his pre-season squad have represented England U20s in the last two years, although only two of them have earned Test caps (Tom Curry and Nick Isiekwe), but Jones has demonstrated a belief in all their ability, stating there are no apprentices for this camp.
“Every minute we have with the players counts in terms of preparing for the World Cup,” he added. “We have 44 players coming into the squad and all have a genuine chance of making the World Cup.”
Long Rhodes ahead
In addition to the return of Chris Ashton, who Jones cites as ‘an outstanding support player’, the Australian named Sarries forward Michael Rhodes in his squad.
“He’s a good, tough player who can play lock as well which would be an advantage for us especially coming off the bench,” said Jones of Rhodes. “An uncompromising physical player.” "We want to win four Tests in November"
England welcome the might of the southern hemisphere to Twickenham in November as they face South Africa for a fourth consecutive match, take on world champions New Zealand, as well as Australia and Japan in the Quilter Internationals Series.
And with Rugby World Cup 2019 fast approaching, Jones knows his side must perform and peak at the right time.
“We want to win four Tests in November, expectation is high, but it’s an expectation we have created,” he added.
“When I took over the team that was eighth in the world there was no expectation, but when you win and ratings go up, you create expectation – we’re happy to live with that.”