As Eddie Jones embarks on his new career as the England Head Coach this week, it is quite clear that his to do list is going to be substantial both in the short term and long term if he is to make his tenure a success.
His priorities will need to lie in getting his house in order first and foremost. Appointing his coaching and back room staff will be his first priority but bigger challenges lie ahead and Jones has an Everest-sized task to get all of the major stakeholders aligned and on board.
Eddie Jones Embarks on his Tumultuous English Task
CLUB VS COUNTRY
It would be fair to say that Eddie Jones was almost in complete control of Japanese rugby in the past four years and in that time not only enhanced what the national team was producing, but also played a major part in the domestic league becoming as attractive as it is now to overseas players.
The Australian will certainly not be afforded that sort of control in England where the clubs and their respective Directors of Rugby hold so much of the player power.
Jones will need to build positive relationships with all of the Premiership coaches to try and turn this tide if he wants to ensure that the players he wants are playing in the positions for their clubs that benefit the national team week in, week out.
Many have spoken of following the model in New Zealand where everything is geared towards ensuring that the national team comes first and winning the World Cup is the main priority of every coach and player in the country but at this present time and for the foreseeable future, this is just not possible. Players are not centrally contracted, they belong to their respective clubs and of course, Jones has publicly backed the RFU’s stance on selecting foreign players meaning that door is as firmly closed as it has ever been; adding another small piece of power to the clubs in England.
The only way around this for Jones is to build the rapport and trust between himself, the RFU and the Aviva Premiership clubs. Ensuring that players return to their clubs as physically and mentally strong as their abilities allow would be a start. Protection will be a key philosophy here, both from internal critics and the baying mob media.
As it stands, could Eddie Jones phone up Rob Baxter at the Exeter Chiefs and say that Jack Nowell is his first choice left winger and Henry Slade inside centre so please can you play them every week in these positions? The answer is a flat no and a huge hindrance in itself. You can argue that players being able to play multiple positions is a benefit but only if those players are world class in those positions. There are but a handful in World Rugby that could put their hands up and stake such a claim: Ben Smith, Matt Giteau presently or Tana Umaga in years gone by spring to mind.
Nowell is the perfect example of this issue. He has the potential to be a world class finisher, he already possesses the intelligence in his timing and lines of running whilst his positional play and defence is improving every time he plays. At the Chiefs however he has played at outside centre and full back to fill the operational needs of Baxter. He has looked very uncomfortable at full back and whilst he is playing out of his natural position he is not developing the skills that would benefit the national team.
Again, another headache for Eddie Jones. Earlier this week it came to light that, due to an agreement with the Premiership clubs, Jones can only make ten changes to the squad that failed at the World Cup earlier this year. This is now eleven changes due to Sam Burgess returning to Australia meaning two thirds of his squad will be inherited from Stuart Lancaster. Just to add to his workload, he also needs to pick a Saxon’s squad that does not even have a scheduled fixture this season due to the congestion caused by the World Cup, domestic and European competitions. This is purely for promotion should there be any injuries in his Elite Player Squad (EPS).
Not having a blank canvas to pick your first squad will quite frankly be a nightmare for selection. There is every chance that he will have to accommodate players that will purely be there for the ride and have no chance of selection in the match day 23 instead of looking to develop some of the younger talent on show and at the same time break them gently onto the international scene.
Conceivably, we may not actually see an ‘Eddie Jones’ squad until the Autumn Internationals of 2016.
The key man in this relationship may well be Conor O’Shea, Director of Rugby at Robshaw’s club, Harlequins.
In all likelihood, the World Cup skipper will lose the captaincy as he will not be guaranteed his place under Jones but that should certainly not be a sign that the end of his international career is nigh. Robshaw has been playing at blindside flanker for Quins this season as opposed to the openside shirt that he has been in for his country and he has embraced this fully. His performance against Exeter last week epitomises how the England captain is moving on after the World Cup and also that the overall perception of him as a more rounded player at number six than he is at seven may be coming to fruition.
O’Shea is a big advocate of Robshaw and if he really wants to back his man then he will continue to play him in this position and allow him to excel. For Jones, he may be handed a first class blindside on a plate, without the burden of the captaincy, yet still possessing leadership skills that would enhance his squad.
The governing body are notoriously hands on and Jones will need protecting from the media limelight and the constant media hype that comes with such a high profile job. The RFU need to let Jones concentrate on what they have employed him to do; produce a team with the potential to win a World Cup. He can only do this if they unequivocally support him and think very carefully about what commercial duties they expose him to.
His work with Rob Andrew, the Professional Rugby Director, is another key relationship that needs to flourish and this is not going to be easy at all. Andrew is seen by many to have ‘Teflon shoulders.’ When the going is good you tend to notice that Andrew becomes very visible to the public eye and likes to take credit for the situation but since England’s loss to Wales at the World Cup he has neither been seen nor heard.
The role as a whole is a minefield that Eddie Jones needs to navigate carefully and you have to wonder why someone would even consider taking on the job. It would be crass and insulting to Jones, a proven world class coach, to suggest that he is doing it for the money, but, with what he has to undertake and deal with between now and the next World Cup, he will certainly need some sort of hefty reward.