Northampton flanker Lewis Ludlam and uncapped Bath wing Ruaridh McConnochie have earned shock call-ups to England’s Rugby World Cup squad, with centre Ben Te’o a glaring omission.
The inexperienced pair are included in coach Eddie Jones’ 31-man group, along with another Test rookie in Gloucester scrum-half Willi Heinz.
Te’o was involved in an off-field incident at the training camp in Italy.
Versatile back Piers Francis is included at his expense.
The World Cup in Japan runs from 20 September to 2 November, with Jones naming his squad weeks in advance of the World Rugby deadline of 8 September.
“We have taken the decision to go early because of what we learned from previous campaigns,” he said.
“We want the squad to know early and now we can get on and be the best prepared England side there has ever been, ready to win the World Cup.”
England World Cup squad
Forwards: Dan Cole (Leicester, 86 caps), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter, 12), Tom Curry (Sale, 11), Ellis Genge (Leicester, 10), Jamie George (Saracens, 37), Maro Itoje (Saracens, 27), George Kruis (Saracens, 32), Joe Launchbury (Wasps, 59), Courtney Lawes (Northampton, 72), Lewis Ludlam (Northampton, 1), Joe Marler (Harlequins, 58), Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins, 22), Jack Singleton (Saracens, 1), Sam Underhill (Bath, 9), Billy Vunipola (Saracens, 42), Mako Vunipola (Saracens, 53), Mark Wilson (Newcastle/Sale, 13).
Backs: Joe Cokanasiga (Bath, 5), Elliot Daly (Saracens, 31), Owen Farrell (Saracens, 70), George Ford (Leicester Tigers, 56), Piers Francis (Northampton, 5), Willi Heinz (Gloucester, 1), Jonathan Joseph (Bath, 41), Jonny May (Leicester, 45), Ruaridh McConnochie (Bath, uncapped), Jack Nowell (Exeter, 33), Henry Slade (Exeter, 22), Manu Tuilagi (Leicester, 33), Anthony Watson (Bath, 34), Ben Youngs (Leicester, 86).
Duo’s dramatic rise
Ludlam’s rise to the World Cup squad has been meteoric. He was included in a training squad for the first time in June, and has impressed enough to make the plane to Japan, with Brad Shields missing out.
World Cup-winning scrum-half Matt Dawson said the 23-year-old “just looks like an international player” during his impressive debut against Wales on Sunday.
McConnochie’s elevation has been even more dramatic. The former sevens player only switched to the XV-a-side game a year ago, but enjoyed a breakthrough season at The Rec.
Jones’ decision to select only two tighthead props in Kyle Sinckler and Dan Cole and two scrum-halves in Heinz and Ben Youngs has freed up a place.
McConnochie, 27, is included as one of six back-three players, along with Joe Cokanasiga, Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, Jonny May and Jack Nowell, although Nowell is struggling with injury.
Like McConnochie and Heinz, hooker Jack Singleton is named just 24 hours after winning his first cap.
Te’o and Shields miss out
Conversely, Te’o’s fall from grace has been drastic. The cross-code star has long been a favourite of Jones, having been fast-tracked into the set-up for the tour of Australia in 2016 before he had played club rugby in England.
Even when injury restricted his involvement at Worcester, Te’o was still regularly drafted into England camps by Jones.
But he was not involved in the build-up to the game against Wales, with Jones telling the BBC on Saturday that Te’o “was not in the best 31”.
While Jones has refused to confirm or deny whether Te’o was involved in an altercation in Treviso, it is understood the player was the aggressor in an incident involving Mike Brown.
Brad Shields’ absence is also notable. The former New Zealand Under-20 flanker was fast-tracked into the side in the summer of 2018 by Jones, but is currently sidelined with a foot problem.
Jones had already omitted a string of experienced players, with former captains Dylan Hartley and Chris Robshaw missing out, along with Brown, Danny Care, Nathan Hughes and Danny Cipriani.
“A lot of good players have missed out. We feel for them. I feel for them personally,” Jones said.
“But the World Cup is an incredible tournament where opportunities can present themselves, and all those players who have missed out have been told they have to be ready.”
Paul Grayson, former England fly-half on BBC Radio 5 Live
Ludlam has watched, sat behind some good players. He is 23, physically mature, and when the door opens you have got to be ready.
When you get the chance, you have to step up and he has done that. He showed tenacity and an understanding of the team dynamic [against Wales].
He carried the ball in attack, made plenty of tackles in defence, and showed the physical resilience when he got that stinger to the shoulder. He got off the ground, got away from the physio, got back into the defensive line even, to paint the picture that there is no gap.