Dylan Cleaver's Midweek Fixture
OK, so now Eddie Jones has got me a bit worried.
Way back when, June 22, 2016, to be exact, I confidently declared that the RFU had got it all wrong in appointing the diminutive former hooker. My theory was that the optimum time to bring a highly individualistic coach into a programme from the outside was 12 months out from the World Cup.
"A new coach brings vitality to a programme that is hard to counter," I waxed without lyric. "Players want to impress, new ideas are grasped with enthusiasm, the inevitable sprinkling of new players inject energy and everything gets ratcheted up a notch or two."
We all saw that, too. The Jones Effect was immediate and profound, but it came with a caveat.
"He has proven to be a smart, transformational leader but there has to be serious doubts as to whether this mind-games approach can work as effectively for an entire cycle. His bluffs will start to be called…"
The magic of Jones, I believed, would start to wear off in year four and the red rose of England's World Cup campaign would start to wilt under the lethargy you get when players tire of a coach's claustrophobic attention.
What I didn't anticipate was the wheelnuts on his sweet chariot coming loose in year three.
This might be his greatest masterstroke yet.
Jones is too smart to preside over a prolonged slump. This Six Nations Championship has been a write-off but watch him now hit the reset button.
He has time on his side, decent playing stocks to choose from and an unlimited budget. England are not many pieces short of formidable.
Jones needs more variety in his loose forwards and perhaps a playmaking fullback, but most of all what he needs is to lighten up.
The Australian has an intensity about him that is infectious in good times and overbearing in bad. The BBC produced a piece earlier this year explaining why Jones' attention to detail was the secret behind England's stunning success.
I read it differently: as a blueprint for how to sap your players.
"Eddie's not like anybody I've met before," wing Jonny May told the BBC. "He puts you in a position where he makes or breaks you. He's tested me mentally and physically. He's constantly on to me about the big things, the small things, constantly demanding more."
It's the language May uses that is fascinating. It sounds like he is giving an interview about life with the Navy Seals, not a rugby team. The word "constantly" comes up twice, and that word is only a small step from incessantly. "Tested" sounds as much fun as examined. Having someone try to "break" you doesn't sound that appealing either.
Jonathan Joseph was quoted in the same piece, and if anything his thoughts were more unvarnished.
"He's the hardest task-master I've known," said the centre. "It's a blessing and a curse at the same time. He's everywhere. He's at every game, and if he can't get to it he'll watch it on his laptop.
"If you're not working hard enough, you'll get a good kicking. He calls and texts. When I see his name come up on my phone, I hope it's a good message. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't.
"He could be watching you in your club game, and after 72 minutes he'll spot you doing something he likes or dislikes, and he'll text you there and then."
You can miss a lot of nuance when reading the spoken word, but it's hard to extract any affection from those quotes, and the admiration is of the grudging kind.
As much as you can glean from stuff like this, Joseph just sounds tired of it.
Jones has a mercurial relationship with the local media. They have turned on him in recent weeks, taking some of the rugby public with them.
Where I once felt this would be the inevitable end result of the Jones Effect, it now feels like a pre-ordained bump in the road and part of a grander plan.
Jones will spend this English summer re-evaluating what he needs to do to stand on the winner's stage at Yokohama Stadium on November 2 next year.
His timing might just be impeccable.
For all my distaste at the way Australia promotes verbal hostility on the field, nobody in world cricket needs to pull their head in as much as Proteas' quick Kagiso Rabada. He's young, but he's experienced enough to avoid the pathetic send-offs to batsmen that have marred his career.
There was plenty of robust feedback to last week's column. Plenty agreed, others didn't. Those that didn't tended to be more strident (as you'd expect), inferring that only the weak-minded can't hack the sledging and won't recognise its rightful place as part of the fabric of the game. On the contrary, I believe it's only the weak-minded who feel they need to sledge to gain a mental advantage or to self-motivate.
THE WEEK IN MEDIA ...
This is a quality piece of basketball analysis that doesn't fall into the trap of relying too heavily on stats. Instead it's the personalities and big picture that drove Isaiah Thomas and the Cleveland Cavaliers apart before they'd virtually got started and that is explored well here. From ESPN.