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When Jack Nowell was wrenched back over his own leg by Saracens wing Sean Maitland in the Premiership final, it seemed his Rugby World Cup dreams had been dashed yet again.
The Exeter wing made just one appearance at the 2015 event in the dead rubber against Uruguay, with England’s elimination already confirmed. Nowell scored a hat-trick that day, yet it was nothing to write home about as England crashed to their worst performance at a World Cup.
For Nowell, 2019 was the chance to make up for that pain, only for a horrendous-looking tackle leaving him with damaged knee and ankle ligaments that required surgery. To make matters worse, Nowell was halfway through his rehabilitation in Italy in August when he needed emergency surgery to remove his appendix, spending four nights in a Treviso hospital as a result.
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It would have been easy for a player to experience low after low after low and let go of that World Cup dream, but not Nowell.
“At one stage he was pretty down,” said Eddie Jones after naming Nowell in the squad to face Argentina this weekend, “but he is a resilient character. I think he was born with that fighting spirit. My experience with him is that he has always been a good hard-working player.”
Nowell is one of three players who will return from injury this Saturday to hand England a welcome boost as they prepare to head into the meat of the World Cup. Effectively, England’s last two months could easily have been considered the warm-up phase, as although both Tonga and the United States gave good accounts of themselves, it was always going to be the games with Argentina and France that decided the outcome of Pool C.
Transfer windows don’t exist in rugby union – at least not yet – but this must be the closest thing that Jones has felt to signing three new players in one go. “We have three quality players coming back into the squad,” Jones added.
“Jack Nowell – I know I was criticised for it – but I believe he could play from six, seven or eight to anywhere in the back line competently. He has amazing fighting spirit. He works so hard for the team. He is just a really good team-man, so he has added to the squad.”
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