Jack Willis exits England camp early to further stymie Six Nations preparations England rugby union team

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.

The Rugby Football Union has doubled down on its decision to ban tackles above the waist in the community game next season despite an escalating revolt among grassroots clubs. 

The RFU board met on Tuesday to discuss the controversial law change but rather than announce a review or attempt to row back on the decision, the union has claimed the radical move will make for “a more exciting game to play and watch”.

The law change was last week voted for unanimously by the RFU council, who will hold an emergency meeting on Thursday for further debate, before the issue is fully considered at a formal council meeting on 13 February.

The uproar at community level is growing louder, however, amid anger at the lack of consultation with the clubs, the way that the RFU has communicated the decision as well as fears it will drive swathes of amateur players away from the game. There are also concerns over a lack of evidence that the change will make the game safer.

With the support of the newly-formed Community Clubs Union, a number of clubs have written to their council members calling on them to rescind their vote. The CCU is also explaining to clubs how to remove their council representative if they refuse and is seeking a special general meeting in order to call a vote of no confidence in the RFU board. 

An RFU statement read: “We recognise the change is challenging and the community game has understandably provided significant feedback on the change. However, the large body of scientific evidence strongly indicates that it will reduce the incidence of head injuries in the community game and, given the French experience of it over the past few seasons, suggests it is a more exciting game to play and watch. There will be further discussion with council members during the next few days before further details on the intent and details around the changes are published to the wider game. We consider the decision to reduce the tackle height to be the start of the process, to allow for a period of engagement in the coming weeks with groups of coaches, players and referees, drawn from across the country and from all levels of the game, including the men’s, women’s and age grade game, over the detail, intent and implications of the law change, before finalising it.”

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RFU doubles down on controversial decision to lower tackle height

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The Rugby Football Union has doubled down on its decision to ban tackles above the waist in the community game next season despite an escalating revolt among grassroots clubs.

The RFU board met on Tuesday to discuss the controversial law change but rather than announce a review or attempt to row back on the decision, the union has claimed the radical move will make for “a more exciting game to play and watch”.

The law change was last week voted for unanimously by the RFU council, who will hold an emergency meeting on Thursday for further debate, before the issue is fully considered at a formal council meeting on February 13.

The uproar at the community level is growing louder, however, amid anger at the lack of consultation with the clubs, the way that the RFU has communicated the decision as well as fears it will drive swathes of amateur players away from the game. There are also concerns over a lack of evidence that the change will make the game safer.

With the support of the newly-formed Community Clubs Union, a number of clubs have written to their council members calling on them to rescind their vote. The CCU is also explaining to clubs how to remove their council representative if they refuse and is seeking a special general meeting in order to call a vote of no confidence in the RFU board.

An RFU statement read: “We recognize the change is challenging and the community game has understandably provided significant feedback on the change. However, the large body of scientific evidence strongly indicates that it will reduce the incidence of head injuries in the community game and, given the French experience of it over the past few seasons, suggests it is a more exciting game to play and watch. There will be further discussion with council members during the next few days before further details on the intent and details around the changes are published to the wider game. We consider the decision to reduce the tackle height to be the start of the process, to allow for a period of engagement in the coming weeks with groups of coaches, players and referees, drawn from across the country and from all levels of the game, including the men’s, women’s and age grade game, over the detail, intent and implications of the law change, before finalizing it.”

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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.

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