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Ellis surprised by Phillips absence

Former England scrum-half Harry Ellis believes Wales' World Cup omission of British and Irish Lions trio Mike Phillips, James Hook and Richard Hibbard should serve as a warning to Stuart Lancaster's side.

England and Wales are in the same World Cup group and due to meet at Twickenham on September 26, with Australia and Fiji also providing heavyweight company in Pool A.

Ellis expects the two qualifiers to be in good shape for the rest of the tournament given the level of competition in the pool, but he does not believe England's task has been made any easier by Wales coach Warren Gatland's surprise call to cut three celebrated players from his squad.

"To let three Lions go tells you a lot about how strong the Wales squad is," Ellis told Press Association Sport as the Rugby World Cup Trophy Tour called in at Leicester Grammar School, where he now teaches physical education.

"They are three top players and I think that's quite worrying for England that they are not considered good enough to make the Wales squad."

Ellis never played at a World Cup - a knee injury suffered on club duty for Leicester ruling him out of the 2007 tournament - but he was selected for the 2009 Lions tour of South Africa when he was very much in Phillips' shadow.

"We competed for the number nine Test shirt in a midweek game and I've got to hold my hands up and say Mike was better than me," Ellis said.

"He showed what a great player he was on that tour, that physicality which makes him different to any other scrum-half.

"Rhys Webb is a fine player and has shown again that Wales have got this fine conveyor belt of talent but, if I'm honest, I was surprised that they would leave Mike out of their World Cup squad."

Saracens scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth has got the nod to start the first of England's World Cup warm-up games against France on Saturday but Ellis feels Leicester's Ben Youngs will be the man in possession of the number nine shirt come tournament time.

"Wigglesworth is a good player but he's not someone who is going to set the world on fire," Ellis said.

"I'm a massive (Danny) Care fan as he is someone you must always expect the unexpected from and that's important in rugby today.

"He's unique in how he plays the game and he has this great energy to bring on for the last 20 minutes.

"But Youngs is right up there among the best scrum-halves in the world, he's at the peak of his powers and playing to a very high level."

While Ellis has no worries over his old scrum-half position he does confess to concerns that Lancaster is pairing inexperienced partnerships so close to the tournament itself.

Former rugby league star Sam Burgess will make his international debut against France in the centre alongside Exeter's Henry Slade, another uncapped player. Calum Clark and Luke Cowan-Dickie complete the four-man list of debutants in Lancaster's matchday squad.

"I don't think the warm-up games have too much bearing on the World Cup but the worrying thing for me is that England are still experimenting with only a month to go before the start of the tournament," Ellis said.

"Sam Burgess and Henry Slade are certainly not going to know each other's game and I don't think a lot of the other nations will be doing that sort of thing now."


From Belfast Telegraph