Eddie Jones suffers blow as Anthony Watson and Luke Cowan-Dickie ruled out of autumn internationals

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Anthony Watson ruled out of autumn internationals with suspected ACL injury - GETTY IMAGES
Anthony Watson ruled out of autumn internationals with suspected ACL injury - GETTY IMAGES

Eddie Jones suffered a double blow on Tuesday when he lost Anthony Watson and Luke Cowan-Dickie to injury for England’s autumn international campaign.

However, Telegraph Sport understands that second row Maro Itoje’s participation in the three matches against Tonga, Australia and South Africa is not in doubt.

Itoje injured a shoulder in Saracens’ 71-17 victory against Bath on Sunday but it is not thought to threaten his involvement. But the prognosis was far bleaker for Bath wing Watson, who ruptured an anterior cruciate ligament in a potential season-ending injury in the same game.

The incident occurred late in the second half when Watson attempted to change direction on his left knee and immediately displayed signs of discomfort. Despite attempting to play on, he was removed by the Bath medical team. He will be replaced in Jones’s 34-man squad by Harlequins centre Joe Marchant.

Watson’s participation in the Six Nations is also doubtful with ACL lay-offs typically ranging from seven to nine months, although he will be visiting a specialist knee consultant.

Meanwhile, Exeter hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie is likely to be out for at least two months after suffering what the Chiefs described as a “significant ankle injury” in the victory away to Wasps on Saturday. That means a reprieve for Saracens’ Jamie George, who was one of four 50-cappers Jones, the head coach, dropped from his squad along with George Ford and Billy and Mako Vunipola.

Cowan-Dickie, who started the first two British and Irish Lions Tests against South Africa, was a certain starter with the other hookers in the squad being the uncapped Nic Dolly and Newcastle’s Jamie Blamire, who won two caps against the United States and Canada last summer. Should George win back the starting jersey following a five-day training camp in Jersey next week it will further call into question Jones’s decision to jettison the Vunipola brothers and Ford.

Watson’s withdrawal will also lead to a reshuffling of Jones’s team plans for the autumn. Watson was one of England’s standout players in an otherwise disappointing period since the 2019 World Cup and, like Cowan-Dickie, was a Test starter in South Africa this summer. He is well versed in dealing with adversity having recovered from back-to-back Achilles injuries on the same left leg. At 27, he still has time on his side but his absence will be acutely felt by Bath and England.

“We are all feeling Anthony’s disappointment right now,” Stuart Hooper, the Bath director of rugby, said. “We know Anthony will come back stronger from this and we will support him every step of the way.”

As ever, Jones did not reach for the simple option in replacing Watson with another wing such as Harlequins’ Louis Lynagh or Northampton’s Ollie Sleightholme. Instead he has called for Marchant, the outstanding Harlequins centre who can cover the wing berths. That leaves England with just two specialist wings in Jonny May and Adam Radwan, the dynamic Newcastle Falcon who scored a hat-trick on his debut against Canada, although Saracens full-back Max Malins is also likely to be considered there.

On Monday, Jones said Radwan would be starting on an even footing in his competition against May and Watson. Now he appears to get a head start to begin the opening match against Tonga on Nov 6 and Jones believes the sky is the limit for the 23-year-old.

“I saw a kid who came into England camp who basically had fallen into rugby, who was fast, had been knocked back, fought his way back into the Newcastle team, got some opportunities to score some tries, and now he’s really focused, there’s a strong level of desire about how he wants to keep improving as a player,” Jones said. “If he keeps that going, he could end up the best winger in the world.”

Watson's injury the latest blow for bottom of the table Bath

Analysis by Daniel Schofield

For Bath, Watson’s setback will deepen the gloom surrounding the Rec following their ten-try thrashing by Saracens, which represented their heaviest ever Premiership defeat. That has increased the pressure on director of rugby Stuart Hooper with Bath bottom of the table and yet to win a match this season.

As Telegraph Sport reported on Monday, former Sale Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond is being lined up for a place on their coaching staff.

The greatest blow of all, however, is to Watson, who was one of England’s standout players in an otherwise disappointing Six Nations campaign and started two Tests in the Lions series defeat to South Africa. He is well versed in dealing with adversity having suffered back to back Achilles injuries which nearly cost him a place at the 2019 World Cup.

He returned stronger at the tournament and just seemed to be entering his prime, both as a player and a personality willing to engage in social and political issues.

Even with the experienced trio of George Ford, Billy Vunipola and Mako Vunipola being dropped by Jones, Watson seemed a safe bet to be one of England’s key players at the 2023 World Cup.

Now another wing will get an opportunity in his absence. The favourite would be Radwan, the dynamic Newcastle Falcon who scored a hat-trick on his debut against Canada. On Monday, Jones said that Radwan would be starting on an even footing against May and Watson.

Now he appears to get a head start to start the opening match against Tonga on November 6 and Jones believes the sky is the limit for the 23-year-old.

“I saw a kid who came into England camp who basically had fallen into rugby, who was fast, had been knocked back, fought his way back into the Newcastle team, got some opportunities to score some tries, and now he's really focused, there's a strong level of desire about how he wants to keep improving as a player,” Jones said.

“If he keeps that going, you don't know where he could finish up, he could end up the best winger in the world.”

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