Long-time selection favourites of Jones since he became England boss in 2016, the Vunipola brothers fell out of favour for the recent Autumn Nations Series and that exclusion continued with last Tuesday’s latest 36-strong squad announcement.
The Vunipolas originally reacted to their Test level omission by playing well over the winter and also signing new deals at Saracens that will keep them available for England selection through to the 2023 World Cup in France.
However, rather than the winter Gallagher Premiership efforts of the 31-year-old Mako and the 29-year-old Billy forcing Jones into a Test squad rethink, they both remain out-of-favour. Jones stressed at his media briefing on Tuesday, though, that the door wasn’t closed for the likes of the Vunipolas and other excluded players such as George Ford to get back into the reckoning.
“They have all been under consideration and all have aspects of their game to look at or fitness areas to improve and they have all been spoken to individually,” explained Jones, adding that chances of a recall weren’t over. “100 per cent (they can get back in). They have all got areas they need to work on… they have got to play at a level where it makes me an idiot if I don’t pick them.”
How did this latest setback for Mako and Billy Vunipola go down at Saracens whose efforts have them placed second in the Premiership following eights wins and a draw in a dozen matches? “Mako and Billy have played a lot, they have played outstandingly well for us. Hopefully, they can continue to do that,” remarked club boss McCall at his weekly media briefing ahead of this weekend’s Challenge Cup match versus London Irish which could feature fitness-chasing England skipper Owen Farrell.
“I feel like I have talked about Billy and Mako a lot and probably rightly so. A challenge was laid down, almost to see if they had the appetite and the hunger to not only go to the World Cup but make sure that England go on and win it. That was the challenge that Eddie laid down to them and they have responded brilliantly to the challenge.
“They have been good week in, week out for us. Really, really good both of them. I get to see them every day here, hugely influential off the field here but massively, massively influential on the field.
“From conversations, Eddie has made it clear to them where his thoughts are at and that is between him and them, but I do think they believe Eddie when they say the door is not closed. They will look to continue to play well for the club and see where that takes them.”