Jack Willis is due to be released by England on Thursday to return to his club, Toulouse, and will miss the rest of the current Six Nations training camp, meaning further disruption for the new coach Steve Borthwick as he prepares his side for their championship opener against Scotland in 10 days.
Borthwick has this week seen Courtney Lawes, Jamie George, Elliot Daly and George McGuigan ruled out of the camp through injury and must do without the 26-year-old openside flanker for the final part of the five-day get-together.
Willis joined Toulouse in November but despite Rugby Football Union regulations stating that players based outside England are unavailable for selection, an exception was made for those who had moved away from the Premiership after the demises of Wasps and Worcester.
Under the Professional Game Agreement, England have full access to players for a training camp this week but as he is based in France, Willis’s involvement ends on Thursday because the official international Test window has not yet begun. Willis is understood to be in contention to start against Scotland, so his temporary departure is unwelcome. Borthwick had revealed that Willis was available to train from Monday to Wednesday and it is understood that he will leave camp on Thursday.
Toulouse are in action on Sunday night against Montpellier – when England’s squad are due to reconvene in Bagshot to prepare to face Scotland. Borthwick could therefore face an anxious wait before Willis can return to camp. Willis recently returned from injury but appeared in Toulouse’s Champions Cup double header against Sale and, in particular, against Munster last weekend. “I’m really enjoying it, it’s obviously very different but I’m just trying to immerse myself in it all, learn the language – two or three French lessons a week – but I’m really enjoying it overall,” said Willis. “[The biggest difference] is the speed at which rugby is played. It’s a really intense level to play at.”
Willis trained alongside Ben Curry and Alex Dombrandt on Wednesday, giving a clue as to Borthwick’s plans. Ben Earl, Lewis Ludlam and Sam Simmonds offer alternatives in the back row, as do Nick Isiekwe, Ollie Chessum and Maro Itoje should Borthwick opt for more of a lineout option.
Meanwhile, Luke Cowan-Dickie’s hopes of appearing during the Six Nations are over after the Exeter director of rugby confirmed the hooker will be sidelined until the closing weeks of the season with an ankle injury. Borthwick has problems at hooker with George currently sidelined with a concussion and McGuigan out with a knee injury. Harlequins’ uncapped hooker Jack Walker is standing by for the Scotland fixture. “The length of Luke’s injury means he should be back before the end of the season. The challenge will be whether it’s one or two weeks before the end of the season,” Baxter said. “It’s not going to be a big chunk of the season that he gets back available for.”
The Welsh Rugby Union chair, Ieuan Evans, has vowed that a task force that includes “external expertise” will be established to help tackle allegations of racist, homophobic and sexist bullying within the governing body. A number of former WRU employees took part in an investigation by BBC Wales – which was screened on Monday night – with accusations about their time at the organization. “I can only sincerely apologize to all affected,” said Evans.