Eddie Jones's England squad limited to 28 players for Six Nations due to Covid

Gerard Meagher
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Adam Davy/PA</span>
Photograph: Adam Davy/PA

England’s Six Nations plans have suffered a setback after it emerged Eddie Jones will be limited to picking a smaller 28-man squad for the entire championship as part of a new agreement between the Rugby Football Union and the Premiership clubs, designed to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission.

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It is understood that while there is a degree of flexibility in the event of injuries, Jones will be expected to largely stick by the same group of players throughout the Championship to limit their movement in and out of camp, raising questions over whether Kyle Sinckler – who is banned for England’s first match against Scotland on 6 February – will feature at any stage.

Officially Sinckler is banned for Bristol’s matches on the 29 January and 5 February because the disciplinary panel ignored his likely England involvement but as he is not free to play until 9 February, he cannot feature against Scotland regardless.

Players picked by Jones next week will miss the next round of Premiership matches, meaning if Sinckler is selected next week he will miss only one meaningful match – against Scotland – but it is believed he will still be available to face Italy on 13 February. In other words, his ban would remain the same despite the fact he would not have played in either Bristol match – assuming they both go ahead.

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Nonetheless, if he is to play against Italy and indeed feature in England’s other matches, Jones is likely to have to include three tighthead props in his 28-man squad next week. If he opts for players only available to face Scotland, Sinckler is likely to sit out the entire competition unless there is an injury at tighthead.

In previous years, Jones has picked a squad of around 34 players in his initial squad for the Six Nations, then at the start of each Test week a group of around 32, trimmed to around 24 in midweek. While the new agreement means Jones can keep 28 players all week, he will have a smaller playing pool to work with throughout the tournament. France, for example, have named an initial squad of 37 players and, significantly, Jones likes to have at least 30 for a 15 v 15 training match each week.

The agreement between the RFU and PRL, as well as the Rugby Players’ Association, demonstrates the concerns over the new Covid variant amid a request from the French government for additional safety guarantees before allowing Les Bleus to play their matches against the home nations. Despite those doubts, the organisers insist the tournament will go ahead as scheduled with the French federation president Bernard Laporte equally bullish. “I understand some are sceptical, but it will take place,” said Laporte.

Meanwhile, despite the tightened Covid restrictions, England will spend a week at their football counterparts’ headquarters at St George’s Park before relocating to the Teddington hotel where they were based during the autumn. Last year England’s footballers spent time at the rugby team’s traditional Bagshot base and now Jones’s squad will reciprocate.