Paul Lewis: Let's calm down about Eddie Jones and England

By Paul Lewis

Eddie Jones, the England head coach talks to George Ford duirng the England captain's run at Allianz Stadium. Photo / Getty
Eddie Jones, the England head coach talks to George Ford duirng the England captain's run at Allianz Stadium. Photo / Getty

Let's calm down a bit about Eddie Jones and England. Beating an under-strength, poorly selected and out-muscled Wallabies outfit does not yet make England a threat to the All Blacks.

Jones' goal is for England to be best in the world but they will need a lot more than defence.

Jones has clearly made a difference. His work ethic, meticulous research, plus a biting wit and a highly Australian ability to use it for player motivation, were ideal for England's wounded soldiers from the 2015 World Cup.

The focus and discipline he has brought have largely obscured the fact he has departed little from the selections and game plan of his predecessor. Jones has England firing but some are attributing to him a Messianic change of style. Uh, no.

England win with a strong forward pack and set piece, goalkicking and heroic defence. Melbourne 2016, right? Nope. Wellington, 2003 - and the English have lost 14 out of 15 tests against the All Blacks since then.

There is a suspicion Jones has a shelf life. At the beginning, his drive and belief light up his players. But his constant search for perfection is said to weigh on them after a while, finding expectations hard to live up to. While he had success with the Brumbies and Australia (winning the 2001 Tri-Nations crown) and took the Wallabies to the 2003 World Cup final (upsetting the All Blacks), his Wallabies team lost seven-straight tests and eight out of nine matches in 2005 - and he was hastily dumped.

Failure with the Queensland Reds followed before his assistant coach gig with the Springboks in 2007 - Jones was credited with helping South Africa win that World Cup - and then came that marvellous defeat of the Boks by Japan at the last World Cup; perhaps the biggest upset in rugby history.

For one of the Wallaby tests, England were geed up by the reading of the poem The Guy In The Glass - where one section goes:

For it isn't your father, or mother, or wife,
Who judgement upon you must pass.
The feller whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the guy staring back from the glass.

That stuff works for a while. Then comes the need to transform, as the All Blacks have, into a unit run as much by the senior players as the coaching staff when it comes to the emotional, psychological and professional harnessing of a proud tradition.

It also calls for one major factor England have yet to show, Jones or no Jones - skill. Mark Ella said earlier this year "a lot of people" in Australian rugby felt the game went backwards when Jones was national coach and was dismissive of England's ball-playing ability.

"I just hope Eddie can skill those England players up," he told the Daily Telegraph. "Sure, they have players with ability, but to catch and pass and run the ball at the right angles is a new dimension. I don't know how a lot of them get as far as they do. Half wouldn't have made it in our day because they just don't have the basic skills. Test rugby now is all about strength, power and fitness. Players are fitter, faster, stronger - but dumber."

You also have to say England didn't beat much. Himself hailed as something of a Messiah, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika made some poor selections. To be fair, missing for various reasons were Matt Giteau, Kurtley Beale, Will Genia, Drew Mitchell, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Matt Toomua, David Pocock, Kane Douglas, Joe Tomane and Henry Speight.

With Beale went much of the Wallabies' midfield creativity. Instead of a playmaker like Christian Lealiifano, Cheika opted for the bulk of Samu Kerevi alongside Tevita Kuridrani - a crash midfield that played into England's defensive hands. Apart from Israel Folau, there was no game-breaker; Cheika inserted a fit-again Toomua in the midfield for tonight's test.

Locks Rory Arnold and Sam Carter were workhorses but little more and both were dropped. Arnold might be the tallest player to represent Australia but is far from the most talented. Experienced lock Rob Simmons, himself no John Eales, was reinstated. Waratahs lock Will Skelton, a 140kg giant but one who can run and catch and trouble the most committed defence, was also supposedly "fit again" for test rugby. That may be a euphemism for 'overlooked'. Both Toomua and Skelton could have figured last week but didn't. Cheika's teams in the first two tests seemed more geared to countering the English, rather than igniting the Wallabies.

He also chose the physical bite of flanker Sean McMahon to replace Pocock when Liam Gill, a renowned ball burglar, was available. Gill was left out of the squad, perhaps a reaction to signing for Toulouse after not getting any test rugby ahead of Michael Hooper and Pocock. His work over the ball would have been invaluable at the breakdown.

The English media, not known for their conservatism, have been refreshingly circumspect thus far, although one headline this week called them "Eddie Jones' invincibles". Uh, oh.

- NZ Herald

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