Billy Vunipola returns as England confirm squad for Australia tour

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Danny Care and Mako and Billy Vunipola have been included in Eddie Jones’s squad for this summer’s tour of Australia.

After a disappointing Six Nations, England suffered a humbling 52-21 defeat against the Barbarians at Twickenham yesterday, a game Jones described as “a practice match”.

With Leicester beating Saracens in the Premiership Final on Saturday, it was a bruising weekend for Jones that added to an already considerable injury list.

George Ford injured his ankle in the Twickenham showpiece and Alex Dombrandt suffered a knee injury in England training last week, ruling both men out of the tour. Already missing due to injury were Kyle Sinckler, Sam Simmonds, Henry Slade, Manu Tuilagi and Anthony Watson.

Jones has named eight uncapped players in his 36-man squad and no specific captain. Regular skipper Owen Farrell is back, having missed much of this season with injury, while Tom Curry and Courtney Lawes have led the team in the Six Nations this year.

“It will be the best decision for the team, who is fit and available,” said head coach Jones.

“We’ve learned from experience in the last Six Nations, when we got through two captains before we got to the captain who captained in the first game.”

Among the regular players missing are Joe Marler, Elliot Daly and Max Malins, while Ben Youngs has been rested. Jones said it was “in his best interests at the moment to rest him”, after the death of his sister-in-law, Tiffany, the wife of retiring Leicester hooker Tom this month.

With Dombrandt and Simmonds ruled out and Calum Chick overlooked, Billy Vunipola is the only specialist No8 in Jones’s squad. This is his first appearance in an England squad since the 2021 Six Nations, but he has been in fine club form and wins a recall. “He needed to find his best,” said Jones (below). “He wasn’t at his best the last Six Nations he played with us, he was a bit up and down. I asked him to go away and find his best, I think consistently for Saracens he has been close to that. I thought in the final he was exceptional, he looked like a Test No8.

“We were in regular contact, I would go and see him before each selection and have a chat about where he was at. I value him highly as a player but he wasn’t at his best, and he has found his best now and deserves to be back in the team.”

Harlequins scrum-half Care appeared in the Barbarians game, having not pulled on an England shirt since November 2018, when he was unceremoniously hauled off at half-time in an international against Japan.

He is one of three scrum-halves selected, alongside Harry Randall and the uncapped Jack van Poortvliet (one of six players from title-winning Tigers), and benefits from Youngs’s absence. There is no place for Alex Mitchell, who had an excellent season for Northampton.

Jones says Care, 35, and the Vunipolas remain in the frame for the World Cup on this tour, adding that Care’s style of play is what won him selection.

“It’s more about the speed of the ball,” he said. “He’s very good at playing on top of teams. We experimented playing a bit flatter. He is very good at taking the ball to the defence line. When the ball is quick, he can engage those ruck defenders, which creates space on the outside. We saw a bit of that yesterday.”

The eight uncapped players include Harlequins hooker Jack Walker, who started in yesterday’s non-cap match, and London Irish backs Henry Arundell and Will Joseph, who are listed as “apprentice players”.

Of Arundell, 19, Jones said: “He has a lot to like, but the next step is the big step. To go from a part-time club player to a fully-fledged international is a big step. He’s taking good steps towards it, he has a good attitude, he works hard, learning from senior players. Lucky he has a guy like Jonny May to learn from, an ultimate professional.”

May and Jonny Hill are among the players who return after missing the Six Nations. Another is Luke Cowan-Dickie, one of three hookers alongside Jamie George and Walker.

England leave for the tour this week. The three Tests against the resurgent Wallabies are the only matches on the tour. They are in Perth (July 2), Brisbane (July 9) and Sydney (July 16). Jones has not lost to Australia since taking over as England coach in 2016.

England squad in full

Forwards

  • Ollie Chessum (Leicester Tigers, 2 caps)

  • Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, 34 caps)

  • Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, 40 caps)

  • Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby, 30 caps)

  • Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers, 36 caps)

  • Jamie George (Saracens, 66 caps)

  • Joe Heyes (Leicester Tigers, 2 caps)

  • Jonny Hill (Exeter Chiefs, 12 caps)

  • Nick Isiekwe (Saracens, 7 caps)

  • Maro Itoje (Saracens, 56 caps)

  • Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, 93 caps)

  • Lewis Ludlam (Northampton Saints, 11 caps)

  • Bevan Rodd (Sale Sharks, 2 caps)

  • Patrick Schickerling (Exeter Chiefs, uncapped)

  • Will Stuart (Bath Rugby, 20 caps)

  • Sam Underhill (Bath Rugby, 28 caps)

  • Billy Vunipola (Saracens, 61 caps)

  • Mako Vunipola (Saracens, 67 caps)

  • Jack Walker (Harlequins, uncapped)

  • Jack Willis (Wasps, 3 caps)

Backs

  • Henry Arundell (London Irish, uncapped) *apprentice player

  • Danny Care (Harlequins, 84 caps)

  • Joe Cokanasiga (Bath Rugby, 11 caps)

  • Fraser Dingwall (Northampton Saints, uncapped)

  • Owen Farrell (Saracens, 94 caps)

  • Tommy Freeman (Northampton Saints, uncapped)

  • George Furbank (Northampton Saints, 6 caps)

  • Will Joseph (London Irish, uncapped) *apprentice player

  • Joe Marchant (Harlequins, 12 caps)

  • Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby, 69 caps)

  • Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs, 39 caps)

  • Guy Porter (Leicester Tigers, uncapped)

  • Harry Randall (Bristol Bears, 6 caps)

  • Jack van Poortvliet (Leicester Tigers, uncapped)

  • Marcus Smith (Harlequins, 10 caps)

  • Freddie Steward (Leicester Tigers, 10 caps)

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