Authors: Rio Sports
Eddie Jones has dismissed any lingering questions over Denny Solomona’s commitment to England after selecting him in an experimental 31-man squad for the summer tour to Argentina, and denied the New Zealand-born wing is being “warehoused”.
Solomona is one of 15 uncapped players in Jones’s squad, having scored 10 tries in 13 appearances for Sale since his switch from rugby league in December. He declared his eligibility in March, having completed the necessary three years’ residency, but having said his “heart is not for England” while playing rugby league for Castleford, he has faced accusations of being a mercenary – members of Jones’s squad earn approximately £22,000 per Test.
“He’s keen to play for England,” Jones said. “I am as desperate to coach England to a win as any England coach and I haven’t been brought up in England, as you can tell by my accent. It’s about how you feel and how much you want it.
“There’s something about him. He finds the line. He’s got that ability, when he gets the ball, to score a try. He’s still got a lot of work to do on his game positionally, but he’s got a certain amount of x-factor about him. There’s a gap between the Premiership and international rugby and he’s done well at Premiership rugby but we’ll find out. That’s what’s exciting about this tour.
“He scores tries, that’s their job. They’re like a goalkeeper – a goalkeeper has so many saves in the game and the good goalkeeper makes those saves and they don’t miss them. A good winger, when they get a good opportunity, they score and if they get half an opportunity, they score and that’s what he’s good at.”
If World Rugby votes to extend the residency period to five years in May, Solomona is set to be the last England player to qualify under the 36-month rule. Jones denied he had been selected now to avoid a situation whereby the 23-year-old becomes ineligible down the line. “We don’t need to warehouse players in England,” Jones said. “That hasn’t been part of it. He’s been picked purely on merit. I think he’s got the ability to find the line.”
Having scored a record 42 tries for Castleford last year, Solomona has earned comparisons with Jason Robinson, although England have had mixed success with cross-code players in recent years – most notably Sam Burgess.
Asked what his message would be, Jones said: “Don’t forget what you’re were good at, that’s important. League’s the simplest game in the world, you have to run hard and when you call the sixth tackle you chase the kick and that’s why you want those sorts of players. We want them to run hard and be good with the ball and when the opposition get the ball we want them to hurt them as that’s what they’re good at.”
Solomona is one of four wings in the new-look squad, led by Dylan Hartley after his Lions snub, but with Saracens’ Nathan Earle, who last year played for Canterbury in New Zealand, and the London Irish teenager Joe Cokanasiga joining Jonny May, there is no room for Christian Wade, Marland Yarde or Semesa Rokoduguni. “We’re looking for youth and for guys who can come through. I’m interested in Nathan Earle. I watched him play for Canterbury and he’s got real potential. He’s a big, tall guy who’s got pace, so he has been selected ahead of Christian and Marland.” Asked about the Fiji-born Cokanasiga, Jones added: “He’s big mate. And he’s fast.”
Jones would not be drawn on Warren Gatland’s Lions squad selection but he challenged his tour party to put pressure on those players away in New Zealand. “If I can develop three or four of these guys better than the Lions guys it will be an enormously successful tour,” he said.
Jones has also selected the England-born Piers Francis – the fly-half who is set to join Northampton from the Blues in Auckland next season.The Blues face the Lions three days before England’s first Test in Argentina but Jones confirmed he had licence to pick the 26-year-old. “He’s been approved by the Premiership,” he said. “He’s qualified for England. His contract is done and he’s been approved. That’s all I have to worry about.”
Forwards: W Collier (Harlequins), L Cowan-Dickie (Exeter), B Curry (Sale), T Curry (Sale), C Ewels (Bathy), E Genge (Leicester), D Hartley (Northampton, capt), J Haskell (Wasps), P Hill (Northampton), N Hughes (Wasps), N Isiekwe (Saracens), J Launchbury (Wasps), M Mullan (Wasps), C Robshaw (Harlequins), S Underhill (Ospreys/Bath), H Williams (Exeter), T Wood (Northampton).
Backs: M Brown (Harlequins), D Care (Harlequins), J Cokanasiga (London Irish), N Earle (Saracens), G Ford (Bath), P Francis (Auckland Blues/Northampton), S James (Sale), A Lozowski (Saracens), H Mallinder (Northampton), J Marchant (Harlequins), J Maunder (Exeter), J May (Gloucester Rugby), H Slade (Exeter), D Solomona (Sale).