England coach Eddie Jones selected Courtney Lawes to play alongside Maro Itoje in the second row on Friday when he named a strong side to face Tonga in Sunday’s rugby World Cup Pool C opener.
A bust-up between between players Ben Te’o and Mike Brown has cast a shadow over England’s build-up to their Test with Wales, which has also been disrupted by a trio of injury withdrawals.
It is understood there was an altercation during a social event at the squad’s heat and humidity training camp in north-east Italy last week.
As a result, Te’o and Brown were dropped from the squad for Sunday’s visit of Wales to Twickenham in a match staged 24 hours before head coach Eddie Jones finalises his 31-man World Cup squad.
Former Wallabies mentor Jones, however, declined to comment on the incident: “No I’m not able to to confirm that. I’m not able to confirm. I think I’ve answered the question.”
Meanwhile, plans for the opening warm-up Test against Warren Gatland’s Grand Slam champions have been disturbed by injuries to centre Henry Slade, flanker Sam Underhill and wing Ruaridh McConnochie.
A day after naming the starting XV, Jones was forced into a significant reshuffle, including to the back row where the experiment of deploying opensides Underhill and Tom Curry in tandem will have to be delayed.
Slade (knee), Underhill (toe) and McConnochie (hip) have been ruled out, so Jonathan Joseph, Joe Cokanasiga and Lewis Ludlam have been propelled into the starting XV in their places.
Australian Jones was initially reluctant to disclose the changes to his team, even when prompted by England’s press officer, telling him: “Err, yeah, no, what do you want me to do? So you want me to remember all these?”
On the other hand, Wales have picked their strongest available XV, including 13 starters from the Grand Slam-clinching victory over Ireland in March.
Jones, however, shrugged off the mounting problems as ideal for this stage of tournament preparation.
“It’s all part of a World Cup campaign – adapting, adjusting, bring people in and out, finding your role. It’s a most fascinating time,” he said.
“Some of the players picked up a few knocks in training but we want players to understand it’s a squad of 23.
“They have a role starting or finishing or you are in the non-23 supporting the squad. It’s all part of the build-up to the World Cup campaign.
“We’re now in the most unique year of the four-year cycle. You’ve got four warm-up games before the World Cup, so you’ve done some hard physical work.
“There is now the chance to get some games, fitness and feedback on pre-season.
“We are building towards the World Cup. When we get on the plane on September 8, we want to be ready to go.
“I have had four World Cups so I think I know how to prepare the team for the tournament.”