Eddie Jones has opened the door to selecting overseas-bound players including Sam Simmonds for the 2023 Rugby World Cup in a boost to other England internationals pondering overseas moves.
Jack Nowell and Anthony Watson are just two players who will be out of contract at the end of the current campaign and are believed to be considering their options, while retaining hope of making Jones’ final tournament as England head coach. Manu Tuilagi and Kyle Sinckler are two other internationals weighing up their futures, as their respective current contracts with Sale Sharks and Bristol Bears will expire at the end of this season.
Simmonds, whose departure to Montpellier was confirmed by Exeter Chiefs over the weekend, was named in a 36-player squad for a three-day training camp that begins on Sunday to begin preparations for autumn internationals against Argentina, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa. Having earned an England return for the Six Nations, the 27-year-old missed the Australia tour due to a hip issue.
It is understood that eligibility criteria with regard to the World Cup will be nailed down and communicated to players and clubs in the coming weeks, but Jones has left the door open for Simmonds – and any peers sizing up deals with sides in France and Japan.
“I don’t have that exact information,” Jones said of Simmonds’ availability next year. “The way I think it is at the moment, he will be available.
“As far as I know, the rule is that if you are contracted to an English club and you finish the season with that club and you haven’t signed a contract that starts before the World Cup then you are eligible to play for England.”
This suggests that the structuring of any overseas contracts could be vital, with players perhaps needing to be unattached free agents for the short time that the World Cup lasts.
The situation would appear simpler for someone like Zach Mercer, moving in the opposite direction to join Gloucester from Montpellier and therefore available for England’s preparations because his Gloucester contract will start on July 1, 2023.
There were also returns for Tuilagi and Ben Youngs in the training squad, although other senior figures such as Sinckler, Joe Launchbury, Henry Slade, Elliot Daly and Jonny May have not been included. Danny Care, Harry Randall and Joe Marchant have been dropped on the back of the summer tour of Australia.
A trio of locks in Alex Coles, Dave Ribbans and Hugh Tizard headline the uncapped contingent as Jones assesses his options in the absence of Charlie Ewels and Nick Isiekwe, with Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes also unable to train due to minor injuries.
Jones said that Sinckler and Slade would benefit from “consistent training” with their clubs and proposed that Care would be able to “find his form” for Harlequins. On the scrum-half landscape as a whole, with Alex Mitchell and Jack van Poortvliet joining Youngs, Jones confirmed that three will go to the next World Cup.
“At this stage we will be taking three half backs to the World Cup,” he said.
“I want a half-back who can run the game for us, a half-back who can change the game for us and an experienced half-back we can fall back on. All the half-backs in England fall in a certain role and it is a competition to see who is best.”