A Day Spent With the England Rugby Squad in Portugal

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Last Word On Rugby was kindly invited by the English Rugby Football Union (RFU) to join their training camp in Brown’s Resort, Algarve, to witness the England Rugby Squad field training, and to have a chance to speak with Eddie Jones.

After leaving from Lisbon, LWOR arrived at one of the most amazing and well prepared sports resorts in all Europe — the Brown’s Resort, in the beautiful town of Vilamoura. With sunny, hot weather and green pitches, it was the perfect scenario for a training camp and team bonding session.

The well-utilised resort has welcomed many of the greatest rugby teams in past years: ASM Clermont, Saracens, Bath, Northampton, Japan, South Africa, Australia and many, many more. Fully equipped, the resort has all the conditions that a professional rugby team requires to concentrate on preparations for a match or series.

This was the 3rd time that Eddie Jones had been there with a team — the last time was with Saracens — looking to strengthen their team-core, discover new options and prepare the national squad for the upcoming Autumn International games.

A high intensity training welcomed the players this Thursday, as Eddie Jones and the rest of the management structure thoroughly planned a session that involved skills training, lineouts / scrums, moves, drills and an opposed field match.

Impressive Hartley and a motivated Farrell

There was no time to play around, as you could see every player giving their best to be part of the squad that’s going to play against South Africa, Fiji, Argentina and Australia.

One of the most impressive players was, without a doubt, Dylan Hartley. The hooker gave his all, looking to strengthen his forward pack, leading by example — he was always the first to reach every drill station — and guiding his teammates with passion.

Tom Wood, Billy Vunipola, Nathan Hughes and George Ford were some of the other players that made for an impressive field-camp training, always giving 200% and constantly looking for their best form.

LWOR could see that there are no second-grade players making Eddie Jones’s life as England Coach easy. When the injured players return, the Australian will have a hard time in picking the final players list for the upcoming Six Nations.

In a session that lasted 80/90 minutes, we saw some well-thought ideas being put to use: footballs used in the game between two teams; an NFL Jug Machine forcing players like Mike Brown, Marland Yarde or Owen Farrell to be at their best; intense line-out drills; and even special drills for the injured players like Courtney Lawes in the hope of bringing them back earlier to the game.

Serious attitude to training

You could feel the intensity and how seriously the players were taking the training. No small talk, no arguments and no distractions; England were a focused and well-prepared team.

Eddie Jones and Paul Gustard were at their best, giving small but very precise instructions, demanding the English players to go to their limit and show what it means to be an English international athlete.

Even so, we caught the mischievous smile of Eddie Jones as the practice progressed. The Grand Slam maestro was clearly happy with how the England squad trained, and congratulated them warmly in the end.

Afterwards, the squad went for a well-deserved rest, whilst we waited for an opportunity to talk to Eddie Jones to get some information and ideas of what he wants from the team.

LWOR: Thanks once again for talking to us Mr. Eddie Jones. Again in Portugal? Why?
EJ:Food is great, weather is great, people are wonderful and Brown’s is a fantastic clinic for us.

LWOR: Third time here? Last time was with the Saracens?
EJ: “Yes, my third time and yes, my last time was with the Saracens… way back!

LWOR: So let’s go back a little… to June. How did it feel to win against Australia?
EJ: “Look it was fantastic to see the team improving, but I didn’t feel any greater satisfaction for it. When you are a professional coach you love every team you coach and I moved on from the Wallabies. It was good fun and enjoyable, and it was really great to see the players improving.

“I Loved my time in the Wallabies, but I moved on.”

LWOR: There was a moment that defined, for us, the Summer Internationals: the James Haskell line-break. How did you help him get to that form?
EJ: “It’s more mental than physical. He changed his training a little bit, and we gave him a clear role within the team. He accepted that, and because of it he developed a great confidence and a great freedom.

LWOR: Settling on that, you look at players like James Haskell, Dylan Hartley and some other guys who had temperamental issues. Nowadays they seem always cool on the field, avoiding returning to the mistakes from before… how did they overcome it?
EJ: “The only person who can change you is yourself. They’ve changed themselves so they could play for England and they understand that they have to be disciplined to be part of the team and you can see that.

LWOR: Yes, we agree on that… for the common rugby fan if you follow James Haskell’s Official Facebook page you see a good guy, who’s a leading role and a motivator.
EJ: “A hundred percent, definitely. He’s a real leader within the team, he has that physical presence and he’s important on the team environment. He’s a bit of a wise cracker, he likes to be involved in banter, to be involved in the team fun and it’s a great value.”

“James Haskell is a real leader.”

LWOR: Following that of Haskell, Maro Itoje, Jack Nowell and some other guys, Last Word on Rugby Steve Kendall has a special question: With so many injuries, should we still judge England’s performances over the coming series of games in the same way we would if all first choice squad members were available?
EJ: “We are not looking for any excuses. We accept that we have injuries and it’s a great opportunity to develop depth if we want to be the best team on the World. For that we have to add depth, so this is really an opportunity to move closer to be the best team on the World.

LWOR: Talking about the best teams on the World, when are we going to see you play against the All Blacks?
EJ: “2018, November of that year. Perfect timing.

LWOS: After the Rugby World Cup 2019, what will follow next for you?
EJ: “Portugal! I’m going to go look for a villa now… seriously, I think that I still have something to give to the game. It’s great at this stage of my career that I can pick any option that excites me, where I can do some good for the game.

LWOR: What will be your legacy?
EJ: “What you want to do always is to make players better, so if you had a legacy that most of the players you catch made them better, you feel you’ve done your job. I always tried to play an attacking play style of rugby… it’s easy to be a defensively-minded coach and I think would like to see the game become more attacking because I want rugby to be the best game on the World. So to do that I think the better the attack becomes the better the game becomes.

“Making a better player.”

LWOR: And where is England in the game right now?
EJ: “We want to be a traditional England side; we still want to be good at the set piece but we want our ability to attack to be with skill and smartness like any team on the World. You’ve seen how we train on the field today, looking for a high intensity game to be able to guard your opposition.

LWOR: We noticed that you don’t stop the training a lot and just follow through with it.
EJ: “We want the players to learn, they have to work things out. We don’t give them the answers, we can’t go on to the field in Test matches and explain or help them. We guide them to find those answers; that’s the way we try to create our sessions.  We have eighty minutes of what we call game-training, where the players have to find out the answers.

LWOR: A bit different of what happens in Portugal for example. The coaches are always on the sideline giving instructions and the players sometimes feel lost on the game.
EJ:Yeah, I noticed that the press spends a big time on the manager.

LWOR: Thanks very much for talking to us, we feel thankful for how you talked to us today.
EJ: “My pleasure and was nice to meet you guys. Cheers!

Eddie Jones ran off to a squad meeting, with Last Word on Rugby thanking him for the opportunity and the generosity of his limited time. Our field-day ended with the interview as we saw the players talking and having a good time in the Brown’s rugby club-house.

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A special thanks to Tim Percival, Senior England Team Communications Manager, the person responsible for opening the door to LWOR. A true gentleman (as the name refers to one of the Round Table Knight’s) and a real sportsman, LWOR thanks you for your kindness.

England face South Africa at home, at Twickenham Stadium, on November 12.