Retaining Eddie Jones as the England rugby coach is the right decision. The RFU were absolutely correct to do a full debrief on what was a disastrous 2021 Six Nations campaign. Many feel England rugby need an overhaul and to an extent this is true, but Jones is the right man to do the job still.
For all of the good Jones has done with English rugby, he is accountable like any other employee. Eddie Jones has shown that he can put together a side that can beat any team in the world. For that alone, he deserves to reset, hopefully, listen to relevant outside voices and get England’s rugby team going again.
What might have swayed the RFU is that Jones has gone through a similar crisis in 2018. Twelve months later England was beating the All Blacks in a World Cup Semi-Final. Now that his future is secure, Eddie Jones has a number of priorities to address two years out from the 2023 World Cup.
Injection of new blood
The Gallagher Premiership continues to churn out some very decent talent. It could be argued that England rugby from a player perspective has never been in better shape and Eddie Jones has to take advantage of that. Yet again the name of Sam Simmonds will be top of that list. It will be fascinating to see whether Jones picks Simmonds on the summer tour to the USA.
It may well be that the Exeter Chief will be heading to South Africa instead with the British and Irish Lions. Jones has consistently ignored Simmonds and this may be the time to start a squad refresh with Simmonds first man in.
Marcus Smith, Alex Dombrandt, Paolo Odogwu, Ben Earl, Max Malins and Harry Randall among others must come into consideration. Jones faces a tricky selection scenario of who out of his incumbents has come to the end of the road. Temporarily or permanently.
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England’s spine in need of a refresh
Like Eddie Jones, many of this current England rugby team have a significant amount of credit in the bank. It would be crazy to bin loads of experience two years out from a World Cup. Add in the pressures of living in intense Covid bubbles and in the case of the Saracens players, relegation – there are mitigating circumstances for poor form.
The challenge for Jones is the hope that the likes of Owen Farrell, Billy Vunipola, Ben Youngs etc. will eventually get back to their best. The clock is ticking, particularly around the spine of this team at number 8, scrum-half, fly-half.
You could add the inside centre into that mix – 8,9,10 and 12. Billy Vunipola, Ben Youngs, George Ford and Owen Farrell have been off their game since the 2019 World Cup. Something has to change with this quartet because this is where England’s game plan, leadership and approach has been lacking.
Marcus Smith to replace George Ford
Harlequins’s Marcus Smith is a prime candidate to start in England’s number 10 jumper. George Ford has been a great servant for England but the Farrell/Ford partnership is probably the first major cut. Smith has been tearing it up this season both from the kicking tee and in his game management.
He has the necessary vision and skill to ignite England’s stuttering back play and he is growing as a leader. Watching Harlequins surge up the table this season has been a delight. It is too much to ask Alex Dombrandt, Danny Care and Smith to start for England but Smith must surely get a look in.
The USA tour is key
Eddie Jones will never have a better opportunity to blood some new players over the summer. We hope that all tours go ahead and England will certainly want to get out to America. The only way Jones will know if the likes of Simmonds are good enough is to play them.
Such has been the poor form of this England team, there are a number of probables on the Lions list who will have the summer off. Hopefully, Jones will resist the temptation to pick experience and lean heavily on England’s fringe players and new blood.
It may be early days but this fifteen to take on the Eagles and Canada would be an exciting prospect:
15. Max Malins
14. Ollie Thorley
13. Paolo Odogwu
12. Ollie Lawrence
11. Ollie Sleightholme
10. Marcus Smith
9. Dan Robson
1. Alec Hepburn
2. Tom Dunn
3. Will Stuart
4. Jonny Hill
5. Charlie Ewels (captain)
6. George Martin
7. Ben Curry
8. Sam Simmonds
Replacements: Alex Dombrandt, Harry Randall, Beno Obano, David Ribbans, Harry Williams, Piers O’Conor, Joe Simmonds
Accept ideas and outside thinking
Bill Sweeney, the Chief Executive of the RFU will want to see Jones be more open to ideas and thinking. It will be challenging for Jones as he likes to run his own show with as little outside noise as possible. Having the right game plan to bring out the pace, power and talent that English rugby has within its stocks is a priority. As is having the right balance for the team.
Jones faces a lot of tough selection decisions. Does he stick with Owen Farrell as both captain and an inside centre? Will the likes of Ben Youngs, George Ford and Billy Vunipola continue to start? It was evident just how much England missed Manu Tuilagi in 2021. England looks so much better when Farrell was in the number ten jumper with Tuilagi and Henry Slade providing the perfect foil of power and cunning.
One thing Jones will do is leave no stone unturned. It is one of the many strengths that Eddie Jones has in his armoury. He would have hurt more than anyone else with England’s performances in the 2021 Six Nations. Sweeney and the RFU have rightly backed Jones but they will expect Jones to adapt and to listen. A certain Exeter number 8 could lead the reset of this England rugby team.
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