ENGLAND head coach Eddie Jones says “selection is always a response to performance” after surprisingly dropping Danny Care for Saturday’s final Quilter International against Australia amid a number of changes.
The former Leeds Tykes scrum-half made a rare start against Japan last weekend and scored the opening try in the Red Rose’s laboured 35-15 win.
A mainstay of Jones’s squad and his country’s most capped scrum-half with 84 appearances, Care is ordinarily on the bench with Ben Youngs donning the No 9 jersey.
They were expected to revert to that scenario for Saturday’s game against the Wallabies at Twickenham, but the 31-year-old – who did make some mistakes against the Brave Blossoms – has been left out of the 28-man training squad completely.
Leeds-born Care has been sent back to his club Harlequins with Saracens’ Richard Wigglesworth, who replaced him on the hour mark against Japan, keeping his spot to face the Aussies.
Furthermore, Jones has left out Halifax-born Zach Mercer, the Bath No 8 who was also dropped after his debut against South Africa earlier this autumn, as well as former Leeds Carnegie star Alex Lozowski, who started at centre on Saturday.
Wasps No 8 Nathan Hughes returns to the squad after serving his six-week ban for punching and conduct prejudicial to the interest of the game while Northampton fly-half Piers Francis – who played for Doncaster Knights in 2014-15 – is also recalled.
Hughes’s latter charge, conduct prejudicial to the interest of the game, was incurred for tweeting “what a joke” at the disciplinary process.
The Fijian-born forward subsequently missed the opening three Quilter Internationals, but is likely to be involved in the match-day 23 to be named by Jones on Thursday and will supply a ball-carrying threat at No 8 where Mark Wilson and Mercer have been providing cover.
“Nathan did a bit of training (on Sunday) so he’s not bad. We’ll wait and see if he could start,” Jones said.
Mercer has made way to accommodate Hughes’s return among the 28 summoned to England’s Surrey training base to prepare for Australia’s visit.
Lozowski has paid the price for waving centre Ryoto Nakamura through between the posts for one of Japan’s two tries, a mistake that saw him replaced by Owen Farrell at half-time.
The Saracen’s removal opens the door to Francis, who won the most recent of his four caps as a second-half replacement in the first Test of the summer tour to South Africa.
“We’re just changing the squad to look how we can improve it. Selection is always a response to performance,” Jones said.
Manu Tuilagi appears set to miss the entire autumn after Jones painted a bleak picture over his chances of facing Australia.
Tuilagi was ruled out of the opener against South Africa because of a groin strain and has not been selected since.
“Manu’s coming along well, but is very doubtful for this weekend. We’ll wait and see,” Jones said.
The England coach also revealed that wing Chris Ashton is to undergo a scan on the calf problem sustained against Japan, but the injury is not thought to be serious.
ENGLAND’S TRAINING SQUAD
Forwards: Charlie Ewels, Jamie George, Dylan Hartley, Alec Hepburn, Ted Hill, Nathan Hughes, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Ben Moon, Brad Shields, Kyle Sinckler, Elliott Stooke, Sam Underhill, Harry Williams, Mark Wilson.
Backs: Chris Ashton, Joe Cokanasiga, Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell, George Ford, Piers Francia, Jonny May, Jack Nowell, Henry Slade, Ben Te’o, Manu Tuilagi, Richard Wigglesworth, Ben Youngs.