Eddie Jones explained Ben Te’o’s shock omission from England’s World Cup squad by declaring he was simply not good enough to be selected.
Until he was involved in an altercation with team-mate Mike Brown during a social event at the squad’s warm-weather camp in Treviso a fortnight ago, Te’o was considered a certainty for Japan 2019.
The 32-year-old Test Lion was an ever-present under Jones, was picked to play for England even when having spent months out injured and toured Australia in 2016 before having turned out for his club Worcester.
But in a dramatic fall from grace, he has been overlooked for the 31-man squad that will depart for the tournament on September 8, losing out to the unheralded Piers Francis who has been limited to five caps.
Jones said: “I’m not going to go into reasons why Ben Te’o hasn’t been selected. We’ve had that conversation with Ben. He understands it.
“Whether he agrees with it is another matter. But we’ve had that discussion and he’s not in our top 31 players at the moment.”
Sevens specialist and 2016 Olympic silver-medallist Ruaridh McConnochie continues a remarkable year by being present as the only uncapped player on the strength of an impressive end to his debut season for Bath.
Flanker Lewis Ludlam has been plucked from obscurity at Northampton in another pick that would have been unthinkable as recently as May and he profits from Brad Shields’ foot injury.
Hooker Jack Singleton and scrum-half Willi Heinz made their debuts in Saturday’s rout of Wales and are also chosen.
“Firstly, I think it’s always nice to bring new blood in. It freshens everything up. When you have the enthusiasm that young players do, it adds to the squad,” Jones said.
“Ruaridh we’ve been watching quite closely through the club season. I was impressed by him.
“Once he came into camp, he cemented our impression of him. He’s a very good worker, a very good communicator.
“He’s a mature boy who has played a number of positions, so he was a pretty easy selection in the end.
“Lewis absolutely came from nowhere. We’ve been watching him in club rugby. He did particularly well and again we thought we’d roll the dice and bring him into camp to see what he could offer.
“Every week he got better and against Wales we saw a display that’s only just the start of his career.”
Jones has gambled by taking only two scrum-halves – with Heinz deputising for Ben Youngs, who is first choice in the position – while George Ford will offer emergency cover.
The decision to pick just five props means Harry Williams misses out, Kyle Sinckler and Dan Cole travelling as the two tightheads to complement looseheads Mako Vunipola, Joe Marler and Ellis Genge.
“We’d like to take three in every specialist position but that would leave us short in other positions, so we’ve decided to go with two at scrum-half and two at tighthead,” Jones said.
“There are risks involved in it, but there are risks involved in other positions as well.
“We’ve got contingency in George Ford who has played a little bit at half-back.
“He’s been doing some training there and he’ll continue to do that. If we need a third half-back then we feel he can fill the role for a period of time.”
Tom Curry (shoulder), Jack Nowell (ankle), Henry Slade (knee) and Sam Underhill (toe) are expected to recover from their injuries before England set off for the World Cup.
Wales have been dealt a second major World Cup injury blow with fly-half Gareth Anscombe being ruled out of the tournament.
The Ospreys number 10, an integral part of Wales’ Six Nations title and Grand Slam-winning campaign last season, suffered a knee injury during Sunday’s World Cup warm-up defeat against England at Twickenham.
He follows Bath number eight Taulupe Faletau, who suffered a broken collarbone during Wales training, in missing the competition.
The Welsh Rugby Union said: “Gareth Anscombe is out of Rugby World Cup contention after sustaining an anterior cruciate ligament injury in the match against England yesterday.
“His prognosis and management with be determined following further specialist reviews.
“The Wales squad and management would like to wish Gareth the very best with his recovery.”
Anscombe, 28, was helped from the field just before half-time as Wales went down to a 33-19 loss.
He has won 27 caps, but now misses out on the chance to represent Wales in Japan.
Dan Biggar is the obvious candidate to reclaim Wales’ number 10 shirt – he has won more than 70 caps and scored almost 350 Test points – with Rhys Patchell and Jarrod Evans also options.
Wales continue their World Cup warm-up Tests against England in Cardiff next Saturday, which is followed by home and away appointments with Ireland.
Wales head coach Warren Gatland is due to name his final 31-man World Cup squad on September 1, 22 days before a tournament opener against Georgia in Toyota City.
Josh Adams has taken Test rugby by storm in the last 12 months – but he says there are “loads of places” for improvement.
The Cardiff Blues wing will be a key part of Wales’ bid for a 15th successive victory when they tackle World Cup warm-up opponents England at Twickenham on Sunday.
It is just 168 days since Adams scored a stunning match-clinching try that downed Eddie Jones’ team in Cardiff, soaring above England full-back Elliot Daly to catch Dan Biggar’s kick and swivelling in mid-air before touching down.
He followed it up by dazzling Scotland’s defence and claiming another memorable try a fortnight later as Wales marched towards a Six Nations title and Grand Slam glory.
Such has been 24-year-old Adams’ impact since making his international debut in February last year that he is now arguably among the first names on head coach Warren Gatland’s team sheet.
But he said: “I can’t say I am an established member of the Wales team yet.
Alun Wyn Jones will become his country's most capped rugby player of all time on Sunday when he leads the team against England at Twickenham 🏴 Gêm nodedig i'r capten wrth iddo arwain tîm profiadol yn erbyn Lloegr. #HWFN pic.twitter.com/wJJJsg015e— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) August 9, 2019
“I feel a lot more relaxed in the environment and I feel a lot more comfortable with the training. I am definitely up to speed with all of that.
“But the minute you think you are established and you put your feet under the table, that is the time you can fall off.
“Being relatively new to the squad, I know I’ve got to keep on improving and getting better. There are loads of places I can improve, and I am determined to be here for a while.
“Everyone in the (Wales squad) back three has trained exceptionally well.
“Leigh Halfpenny has come back to fitness and is an outstanding player with loads of experience. Then you’ve got Owen Lane, who has shown what he’s got to offer, Steff Evans as well. I could go on through all of them.
“We are pushing each other. It is friendly rivalry, and it is all about what is best for the team.”
Adams’ only previous Twickenham trip with Wales ended in a 12-6 defeat. It was his second international appearance, and this weekend he will oppose an England new kid on the block in the sizeable shape of Bath’s Joe Cokanasiga.
Even though the bigger picture is Wales’ World Cup campaign, which starts against Georgia on September 23, victory against England would be another notable stepping stone on route to Japan.
England, Ireland, Australia, South Africa and France are among those to have fallen during Wales’ long unbeaten sequence, and it is approaching 18 months since they lost a Test match.
“We don’t want to lose a 14-match winning streak,” Adams added.
“He (Gatland) could have made some changes and tried some different combinations, but he has shown faith in the Six Nations group and given us the chance to go out and make it 15.”