England players know Test futures could be on the line against Japan

England players will head into Saturday’s match with Japan aware that their Test futures could be on the line after their last meeting with the Brave Blossom four years ago brought a number of international careers to an end.

Eddie Jones’s side will be looking to atone for Sunday’s limp loss to Argentina against Japan at Twickenham and have been boosted by the return of Jamie George, who is one of two hookers retained in a 25-man squad on Wednesday night and will take his place in the 23. Jonny May is also pushing hard for a first Test appearance since last autumn.

Four years ago England rallied to a 35-15 victory over Japan but found themselves 15-10 down at half-time, with Jones summoning Owen Farrell from the bench to turn things around. Danny Care was replaced at the interval after clashing with Jones and did not feature for England again until last summer, while Zach Mercer and Alex Lozowski, who missed a crucial tackle on Ryoto Nakamura, have never played since. In addition, Alec Hepburn and Richard Wigglesworth have not appeared since the end of that autumn campaign and players have come to refer to the Japan match as the “Black Hole” game given how it ended Test careers.

“We just know we didn’t give Japan the respect they deserved last time we played them at home,” said Jack Nowell, who played at outside centre that day for the first and last time for England. “A few boys got a few bits wrong. I was involved in that game as well playing a different position.

“Maybe some of the players who got the nod didn’t give the game the respect it deserved, or maybe us as a team didn’t. Learning from those lessons from four years ago, we’re not going to go into this game with the same sort of thing.”

Mako Vunipola, meanwhile, admitted the fate of his Saracens club-mate Lozowski was a stark reminder that no one can be guaranteed of their place in the England squad. “Alex has bounced back for Saracens, but it’s a reminder that it’s a privilege to be here. It’s a choice that we’re here and it’s not a given,” he said. “It’s down to Eddie who he picks and we have got to go out there and do our best for the team.

“I didn’t play in that Japan game but I watched it and I remember there was certainly an expectation that we’d just turn up and everything’s just going to click. Japan are a team who you have to respect because of what they’ve done in World Cups and they’ve built on that.”