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Jones worried about Lawes’ health with player likely to be out until Six Nations

Eddie Jones has admitted he is worried about Courtney Lawes’s health due to a head injury and does not expect to see the Northampton flanker return to the England fold before next year’s Six Nations.

Lawes has not played for Northampton since sustaining a head injury on 24 September and though he was named in the initial England training squad last month, he withdrew after suffering a setback. The 33-year-old was left out of England’s squad to prepare to face Japan on Saturday, having missed Sunday’s defeat by Argentina, with Northampton confirming he remains at the same stage of the return-to-play head injury protocols.

Earlier this year, Lawes spent six weeks on the sidelines after a head injury, eventually returning midway through the Six Nations and revealing that the problem had ultimately been diagnosed as an issue with his vestibular system, which gave him symptoms including persistent headaches and affected vision caused by “headrush”.

He recovered to captain England in their last three Six Nations matches as well as the summer tour of Australia but another lengthy lay-off with a head injury is a cause for concern. “I’m worried about his health, at this time; that he gets back to 100% health,” said Jones.

“But these things have a natural course – some heal quicker than others. If it takes a little bit of time, the most important thing is his health and he’ll get back to playing rugby when he’s ready. He needs some rest now rather than feeling like he has to rush to come back. We’re hopeful that he will be back for the Six Nations and ready to go.”

Jones also sought to take the blame for England’s miserable defeat by Argentina, accepting that a focus on next year’s World Cup cost his side, but showed no inclination to alter the approach, predicting a fierce response from his players against Japan. “I want us to be angry [against Japan] and play with a certain sort of anger,” added Jones.

“I am very disappointed in the last game. We weren’t good enough. That’s totally my responsibility, I didn’t coach well enough. I think whenever your team doesn’t play to the potential that you want there’s always something in the message you’re giving the team that’s not quite clear.

“When I reflect on the game, we’d been looking at a number of long-term strategies that we’re trying to employ to get ourselves set for the World Cup. Maybe our focus wasn’t tight enough on the Argentina game. We looked at times like we lacked a bit of energy, particularly in our attack. Maybe we’re just overthinking a bit. That’s entirely my fault.

“There’s a cluster of teams at the top of World Rugby, we want to break that cluster, and to do that we have to have a number of ways to play the game. This next 11 months is to get enough equipment in our armoury so that we can play any way.”

Jones must plot England’s path to the World Cup next year with a third defence coach in less than two years following the announcement that Brett Hodgson will replace his fellow Australian Anthony Seibold after the autumn internationals. Hodgson, as was the case with Seibold, arrives with no elite rugby union experience on his CV but will shadow his compatriot in the coming weeks before taking the reins.

Hodgson made over 200 appearances in the NRL and was most recently coach of Hull FC before standing down in September. Jones has previously spent time with Hull FC and Hodgson has been a regular visitor to England camps with the head coach again turning to rugby league after the recent appointments of Seibold and Jason Ryles.

“He was a very experienced player, understands the game really well, has a good coaching methodology and experience of being a head coach, so he understands the pressures of being involved in coaching,” added Jones. “He’ll come in and add his nous of defence systems and his ability to help the back-three players, particularly in their positional play.”

Jones admitted he was “disappointed” to lose Seibold, who was only appointed in September 2021, but insisted he was pleased to see him return to top level coaching in the NRL where he will take charge of Manly Sea Eagles despite the churn of his back-room staff continuing. Seibold replaced John Mitchell, who Jones locks horns with again on Saturday now that the New Zealand is on Japan’s coaching staff.