Why does Eddie Jones continue to snub Exeter players?

Daniel Schofield
·3-min read
Joe Simmonds of Exeter Chiefs celebrates victory with Sam Simmonds after the Gallagher Premiership Rugby final match between Exeter Chiefs and Wasps - GETTY IMAGES
Joe Simmonds of Exeter Chiefs celebrates victory with Sam Simmonds after the Gallagher Premiership Rugby final match between Exeter Chiefs and Wasps - GETTY IMAGES

Just four English teams have completed the Premiership and Heineken Cup double. The previous three sides – Leicester in 2001, Wasps in 2004 and Saracens in 2016 and 2019 – would go on to provide the spine of the England team.

Having just added their name to that illustrious list, Exeter Chiefs have contributed just three players to Eddie Jones’ latest 36-man squad for the autumn matches. That is fewer than Gloucester, who have had such an indifferent season, and less than half that of Bath’s eight players whom Exeter demolished 35-6 in the Premiership semi-final. Of the trio selected, only centre Henry Slade is realistically in contention to start against Italy on Saturday. 

The proviso is that hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie and wing Jack Nowell would have been selected but for injury. Still it is hard to account for the champions' poor representation. Alec Hepburn, Jack Maunder, Ben Moon and Ollie Devoto were overlooked despite being in previous England camps – the latter’s omission is surprising given the lack of specialist inside-centres.

Most galling of all for those based in Devon is the absence of both Simmonds brothers, Joe and Sam, in the squad. Sam, the No 8, was crowned European Player of the Season, an award which seems to inversely affect England selection given its previous winners included Alex Goode, Steffon Armitage and Nick Abendanon. 

Meanwhile, Joe, the fly-half, became the youngest player to captain a club to a double as well as kicking the decisive points in both the Champions Cup and Premiership finals. Just last week, Jones emphasised the importance of performances in such high-stakes matches. 

“I always look at those games as selection games,” Jones said. “They’re important games because they’re high-pressure games and you see the guys play under the pressure of winning or not winning a trophy. We’ve had that previously with Saracens being a dominant team in Europe and now we’ve got Exeter. Those players come in and they know they’ve been able to beat players from other countries, so that adds to the strength of the team.”

So what happened? Jones’ stock answer is that he does not talk about players outside the squad, but he has informed the players what they need to do to break in. He also makes a point of emphasising that club form can have little bearing on international selection. The louder a drum beats for a player in the media, the more inclined Jones is to ignore it.

Take Gloucester fly-half Danny Cipriani or Don Armand, Exeter’s previous cause célèbre. In 2017, the flanker was man of the match in Exeter’s Premiership final victory against Wasps, but for all his eye-catching contributions Jones felt he lacked the requisite work-rate, particularly in his “bounce” time after tackles. 

It is not a case that Jones hates Exeter. He extols Nowell’s virtues at nearly every opportunity, even suggesting he could do a job on the flank. Slade has grown enormously under his guidance. 

But there remains a suspicion that he believes Exeter are more than a sum of their parts, which is an indirect compliment of Rob Baxter’s coaching, and that the relentless pick and go formula favoured by the Chiefs will not translate on to the international stage. And once Jones gets an idea in his head, all the trophies and plaudits a player might win count for precisely nothing.