England head coach Eddie Jones admitted disciplinary issues were inevitable at the World Cup after taking the shock decision to overlook Ben Te’o for selection.
Rugby league convert Te’o was a surprise omission from the 31-man squad destined for Japan 2019 after losing out to the heralded Piers Francis, who has been limited to five caps.
Until he was involved in a scuffle with Mike Brown during a social event at England’s warm-weather camp in Treviso a fortnight ago, Te’o was considered a certainty to travel due to his status as an ever-present under Jones.
Jones refused to explain the 32-year-old’s dramatic fall from grace beyond stating he simply was not good enough to make the squad, but the incident with Brown at a team bonding event has raised the topic of discipline.
The last overseas World Cup in 2011 was marred by repeated behavioural issues off the field – something the England boss insists are part and parcel of touring.
“I’ve coached for 25 years, I’ve never been confident in a team being smooth,” Jones said.
“We’re like any family – everyone sits around the dining table, everyone enjoys good conversation, but you know there are problems and we’re exactly the same.
“We’ve got 31 sitting around the table, we can have nice conversations. But you know potentially there’s a problem.
“All I can do is trust the players – they are adults, they’re responsible, they want to play for England and we could have some problems. If we do, we’ll deal with them.
“Every team has problems… Don’t believe the book Legacy (about the All Blacks), which everyone seems to base their opinion on teams on.
“No team’s like that – every team has its problems. I’m sure we’ll have our problems and we’ll deal with it.”
Sevens specialist and 2016 Olympics silver medallist Ruaridh McConnochie continues a remarkable year by being present as the only uncapped player on the strength of an impressive end to his debut season for Bath.
Flanker Lewis Ludlam has been plucked from obscurity at Northampton in another pick that would have been unthinkable as recently as May and he profits from Brad Shields’ foot injury.
Hooker Jack Singleton and scrum-half Willi Heinz made their debuts in Saturday’s rout of Wales and are also chosen.
“This is a stressful, painful period. As a coach it’s probably one of my least favourite times,” Jones said.
“Telling players they haven’t made the World Cup is not a nice conversation. You’ve got players who are working hard and they’re good players, but unfortunately you just can’t pick everyone.
“They are all painful discussions, they’re all difficult, but we’ve got a job to pick the best 31 to represent England.
“Consistently at World Cups, I pick one to 15 first, then I consistently pick 28 to 31 – they are your key, absolute keys.
“So 28 to 31 in reality are possibly not going to have much game time, so the character and the behaviour of those guys is super important, absolutely vital.
“And then you try to pick a blend from 15 to 28. So there is a process that I follow.”
Since taking over in 2015, Jones has regularly pointed out that the World Cup is won by a highly experienced team, yet his decision to jettison the likes of Chris Robshaw, Danny Care and Brown has given England a callow look.
But the Australian hopes his players’ physicality can make up for the deficit.
“I’m convinced it’s our best 31. I could have picked more experienced players but I just don’t feel they’ll give us what the younger guys will give us,” Jones said.
“I think the game’s changing a lot, too… It’s become such a power game. Experience is always important, but maybe we can get around it.”