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Wasps turnover king Jack Willis merges into England’s stiff back row competition

Wasps back row Jack Willis

Wasps turnover king Jack Willis says he is doing everything in his power to enter the conversation around England selection for July’s tour of Japan.

Cruelly denied a trip to South Africa in 2018 by an ACL injury, barnstorming back rower Willis, 23, is back to his best – and proving it with a season high tally of 28 turnovers in just 11 Premiership games, 13 ahead of his nearest rival, Blair Cowan (15).

Willis’ carrying and work-rate has been off the scale, too, meaning he is certain to be on the radar of Red Rose boss Eddie Jones.

Willis, an influential presence during Wasps’ recent resurgence, said: “My aspirations are to play for England but you’ve only got to look at the back row options amongst guys who haven’t been selected recently to see what fantastic players are around. I’ve just got to keep playing as well as I can for Wasps and keep on improving.

“I’m enjoying being out there playing again after a few injury problems and it’s been great to get a run of games together. Something I’ve always prided myself on is my carrying and it’s the same with the tackle, so I do a lot of extras to ensure I’m pushing on.

“Our coach Matt Everard has been great in that respect and I’ve been working on studying the different ways people try to clear me out to deal with those situations. I’ve taken that into each game and have had some turnover success.

“I’ve had a good role model to learn from in Thomas Young, who’s always been fantastic over the ball and has been really helpful since I’ve been at the club. He took a lot from George Smith when he was here and has been a great sounding board.”

With Curry, Underhill, Courtney Lawes and Maro Itoje likely to be rested this summer with a demanding Lions tour in 2021 in mind and Billy Vunipola injured, Mark Wilson and Lewis Ludlam are the only World Cup back rowers likely to travel to Japan.

Willis therefore comes into the frame along with Six Nations squad men Ted Hill and Ben Earl, fit again Wasps colleague Brad Shields and a host of other England wannabes.

Bath No.8 Zach Mercer
On his way back: Bath No.8 Zach Mercer has scored five tries in the Premiership this season. Getty Images

Those include Zach Mercer (Bath), Sam Simmonds (Exeter), Alex Dombrandt (Harlequins) and Bristol’s Nathan Hughes – and if Jones wants to look to younger men, England U20s stars Ben Donnell and JJ Tonks.

On form, Willis is right up there after being part of a Wasps side that has won it’s last three matches to rocket up the Premiership table.

“It’s been coming for a while,” he said. “We got a great result against Saracens recently which boosted us all with a bit of confidence and, after backing that up against London Irish and Gloucester, having those wins has lifted us up the table.

“Our attack hasn’t always been firing this season but we’ve been really pleased over the last three weeks and it’s been great to score plenty of tries.

“Personally, the main thing is focussing on my fitness and making sure I’m not too heavy, which enables me to get around the park and get through a lot of work. Whether I play six or seven, I’m not fussed, I just want to be out there.”

NEALE HARVEY / Title photo: Getty Images

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