Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter admits he was upset by flanker Tom Johnson’s omission from the England squad to face South Africa this weekend.
Johnson was one of 11 players released by England head coach Stuart Lancaster following their autumn international defeat to Australia at Twickenham last weekend.
The decision to release Johnson – despite scoring his first international try against Fiji two weeks ago – has disappointed Baxter.
“I’m a little upset for Tom, he has been unfortunate,” said Baxter. “But sometimes these things happen, especially if you are a relatively new player in a squad, which Tom is.
“Sometimes it’s a bit of last man in, first man out, when they’ve looked to make changes and freshen things up, which I can understand.
“I think Tom has been incredibly unlucky, but sometimes players get dropped on the back of a team performance rather than an individual performance and that is very much what has happened with him. It seems like a couple of weeks ago he was being seen as a bolter for the British Lions tour and now he’s back with us.”
Baxter now expects to include Johnson in his squad to face London Irish in Sunday’s Aviva Premiership clash.
He said: “Tom’s mood has been fantastic and he has trained really well. He has bags of energy, a smile on his face and the first thing he said to me was that he wanted to get back with the players and get on with training. He has been very positive, but we know he is that type of guy and he has always dealt with these things very well.”
Meanwhile, South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer was relieved to be able to include his “enforcer” Eben Etzebeth to face England after the lock was cleared of eye-gouging.
Etzebeth appeared before a disciplinary hearing on Tuesday after being cited for allegedly making contact with the “eye or eye area” of Scotland fly-half Greig Laidlaw.
The judicial officer, David Martin, decided the contact had been accidental and ruled Etzebeth available to play at Twickenham this Saturday.
Etzebeth plays in an unchanged Springbok starting line-up from their 21-10 victory at Murrayfield, with Bath’s Francois Louw on the openside and Ulster’s Ruan Pienaar at scrum-half.
“It makes a huge difference to have Etzebeth available,” Meyer said. “He is playing great rugby. He has shown himself against the All Blacks and Australia and he is close to being one of the best locks in the world. He is one of the enforcers in the team.”
South Africa: Z Kirchner (Blue Bulls);
J P Pietersen (Sharks), J de Jongh (Western Province), J de Villiers (Western Province, captain), F Hougaard (Blue Bulls); P Lambie (Sharks), R Pienaar (Ulster); G Steenkamp (Toulouse), A Strauss (Cheetahs), J du Plessis (Sharks); E Etzebeth (Western Province),
J Kruger (Blue Bulls); F Louw (Bath), W Alberts (The Sharks), D Vermeulen (Western Province). Replacements: S Brits (Saracens), H van der Merwe (Leinster), P Cilliers (Western Province), F van der Merwe (Blue Bulls), M Coetzee (The Sharks), E Jantjies (Golden Lions), J Taute (Golden Lions), L Mvovo (Sharks).