As the curtain finally comes down on the English rugby season at Twickenham on Saturday, Eddie Jones’s squad has a depleted feel to it. Senior players are either in South Africa or being rested but on top of that the latest injury bulletin revealed that Josh McNally and Ted Hill had suffered shoulder and ankle injuries respectively. Neither was slated to play against Canada but it took the number of players injured since the start of this summer’s camp into double figures.
Of course, injuries happen – and Jones’s camps are intense – but is it any wonder the rate is high considering that the schedule has been unrelenting since mid-August last year? Against Canada on Saturday England are still able to field a team full of exciting young talent with Alex Dombrandt making an eagerly anticipated debut.
As a result the length of the season is unlikely to occupy the minds of players desperate to impress in the run-up to kick-off on Saturday. But it was a telling response when Sam Underhill – someone who missed the Six Nations with a hip injury and has suffered a recent concussion – was asked earlier this week if he would prefer a few more matches this summer to make up for lost time. “It’s been a pretty long old season. I’ll probably take the five weeks off.”
It has, in reality, been one-and-a-half seasons in the past 11 months with matches lost to the pandemic squeezed in last autumn before the new campaign began in November, all the while England have managed 10 games before Saturday’s despite losing fixtures against the Barbarians and Scotland A.
Roll it all together and it is not hard to see why bodies are beginning to creak. Asked if injuries are inevitable after such a long campaign, the England assistant coach, Matt Proudfoot, said: “I think that comment about the long season is apt. It has been a long season and injuries happen.
“It’s part of the game. We try to mitigate as much as we can, limit the amount of contact that we do. But you can get hurt stepping out of the shower. That’s just the way rugby is. I feel sorry for the guys that have worked so hard. That’s just the nature of the game. But I think your comment about a long season is really valid.”
The mental strain of the season has been equally tough for players, particularly when spending long spells away from family in bio-secure bubbles.
Ellis Genge spoke out about the “psychological toll” and, while restrictions are not as severe this summer and there is an added layer of enthusiasm brought by so many fresh faces, sacrifices are still being made. Genge and Henry Slade were pictured together with their young children on the Twickenham pitch after last weekend’s win over the USA and it was a moment he savoured.
“It is tough because they do a lot of growing up over the time you spend away from them, it seems to go so much quicker,” he said. “He started walking the other day and I missed that, he started saying ‘Dada’, which was nice, but obviously I wasn’t there for that either. I just want to relish my time with him because I have spent only 20 minutes with him in the past month.”
Fatherhood has mellowed Genge, 26, and Jones has made him vice-captain this summer. He was also given the honour of handing out the new caps to the forwards last week and is held up by Jones as an example for the younger players to follow. “It’s funny as I hear Eddie speak now in some of the meetings, and as you know he’s quite direct and to the point with players, so if he feels players are throwing their toys out of the cot with regards to selection or anything that’s going wrong he gives examples,” he added.
“It makes me chuckle because I can remember all the things he talks about! I’ve become the example on the whiteboard. It’s nice to see I’ve overcome those obstacles.”