England’s World Cup build-up has taken a chaotic turn after it emerged that a fracas occurred between Ben Te’o and Mike Brown in Treviso, while preparations for Sunday’s Test against Wales have been disrupted by a trio of injury withdrawals.
PA understands there was an altercation during a social event at the squad’s heat and humidity training camp in north-east Italy last week.
As a result, Te’o and Brown were dropped from the squad for Sunday’s visit of Wales to Twickenham in a match staged 24 hours before Jones finalises his 31-man World Cup squad.
Jones, however, declined to comment on the incident: “No I’m not able to to confirm that. I’m not able to confirm. I think I’ve answered the question.
“I do not have anything to say on it. I am really happy with the way the team is going, couldn’t be happier.”
Jones at least indicated that Te’o remains under consideration for the World Cup, while Brown is only expected to be involved in the event of injury.
Meanwhile, plans for the opening warm-up Test against Warren Gatland’s Grand Slam champions have been disturbed by injuries to centre Henry Slade, flanker Sam Underhill and wing Ruaridh McConnochie.
A day after naming the starting XV, Jones was forced into a significant reshuffle, including to the back row where the experiment of deploying opensides Underhill and Tom Curry in tandem will have to be delayed.
Slade (knee), Underhill (toe) and McConnochie (hip) have been ruled out, so Jonathan Joseph, Joe Cokanasiga and Lewis Ludlum have been propelled into the starting XV in their places.
Curry moves from six to openside while Courtney Lawes and Manu Tuilagi are promoted to the bench.
Jones was initially reluctant to disclose the changes to his team, even when prompted by England’s press officer, telling him “err, yeah, no, what do you want me to do? So you want me to remember all these?”
Facing an experimental side picked by the 59-year-old head coach is Wales’ strongest available XV, including 13 starters from the Grand Slam-clinching victory over Ireland in March
If England do lose, Jones will be keeping perspective on the result.
“Momentum does not apply in the warm-ups. It is zero. It starts when you get to the World Cup,” Jones said.
“Imagine having momentum now. The World Cup is six or seven weeks away. No team in the world keeps momentum for that period of time. When do you want momentum? When you get to the World Cup.
“We are in a World Cup campaign so we want to be ready when we get on the plane by September 8.
“We are a proud team and want to win every game but the fact is that what people are going to remember this year is the World Cup.”
McConnochie was due to make his Test debut with the hope of impressing before the World Cup squad is named on Monday, but his prospects for Japan have now dimmed.
Willi Heinz will win his first cap, however, as Jones launches a late search for a deputy to Ben Youngs at scrum-half and the New Zealander who qualifies through his maternal grandmother has even been installed as vice-captain.
“Willi has been on a fascinating journey. He works hard at his craft and has a good head on him. He’s added to the team and deserves the opportunity,” Jones said.
“He’s made one hell of an impact since coming into the squad. We brought him in a couple of years ago to have a look at him.
“He went back to club rugby, improved his game immeasurably and now he is vice-captain for this game.”