Six Nations

Jones confident England prop idol search will come good

Eddie Jones (Getty Images)
Eddie Jones (Getty Images)

Twickenham - Eddie Jones believes the uncapped pair of Lewis Boyce and Alec Hepburn have what it takes to succeed in the demanding role of an international loosehead prop. 

The duo have been included in his initial England squad for next month's Six Nations Championship opener away to Italy. 

With the experienced Joe Marler, a Harlequins team-mate of Boyce, suspended and Ellis Genge and Matt Mullan injured, England lack proven cover for Mako Vunipola. 

The loosehead and tighthead props, who pack down either side of the hooker in the front row, are the cornerstone of the scrum. 

An often physically-sapping part of rugby union, the scrum is particularly important to teams such as England who pride themselves on forward dominance and look to use the set-piece as the foundation stone of their game. 

But England coach Jones said the days when all props had to worry about was how they scrummed were long gone. 

He was, however, optimistic the 21-year-old Boyce, a former England Under-20 international, and Exeter's 24-year-old Hepburn both have the raw ability required for modern Test rugby, with one of them in line to at least be on the bench when England begin their quest for an unprecedented third successive outright Championship title in Rome on February 4. 

"A hundred percent," Jones told reporters at Twickenham on Thursday after unveiling his 35-man squad. 

"They've both got the potential. You've got to remember, with international rugby, it's like you have talent to come in the room and then once you get in the room it's how hard you work and how much you want it and how much you're prepared to put in," the Australian added. 

"These boys have all got talent. There's another 35 players in England who have got enough talent to play international rugby. It's whether they've got the desire, that ability to dig deep when it hurts." 

Former Australia and Japan coach Jones said the requirements placed upon the player wearing the No 1 shirt were colossal. 

"You just look at loosehead props now, what they're required to do. It is amazing. You've got someone like Mako Vunipola, he's 125 kilogrammes, that's big enough to be a Sumo wrestler. 

"He makes 20 tackles a game, carries the ball 10 times, cleans out 20 times, scrums 15 times, lifts in the line-out 18 times. What those guys do now, compared to what a prop did 10 years ago, has increased at least two-fold. 

"Because of that, they're in pain the whole time. That's hard work. It's hard work to do. 

"So the test is the mental part of it, whether they can keep doing that. Whether they can get off the floor quickly and get back in the defensive line. It's not about talent," insisted Jones, a hooker in his playing days with Sydney club Randwick. 

England might not have needed to look to Joyce and Hepburn for the Italy game had Marler, a veteran of 53 Tests, been available. 

But the 27-year-old, whose career has been blighted by disciplinary lapses, was given a six-week ban earlier this month after being sent off for recklessly shoulder-charging TJ Ioane during Harlequins' 30-29 defeat by Sale in the English Premiership. 

With suspensions in rugby union applying across all competitions, Marler has now been ruled out of both the game in Rome and the following week's clash with Wales at Twickenham. 

"I'm very disappointed mate," said an unimpressed Jones. "He's very disappointed in himself. He feels like he let Quins down, he loves being in the England side. 

"He's got to get through his ban and then come back as the fittest loosehead prop in England."

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