Guest Blogger Jez Denton with a few thoughts
Regardless of whether England ruin Ireland’s Grand Slam ambitions on the weekend or not, it is fair to say that this Six Nations campaign has been a disappointing one for Eddie Jones, England Rugby, its players and supporters. Much of this is down to two factors; one that England are victims of their own success with a heightened and potentially false level of expectation which, coupled with perhaps elements of over-confidence and arrogance, has led to anything less than a Grand Slam every year being seen as failure and secondly, the improvement of the other nations making England’s role as pre-tournament favourites less clear cut. Ireland, Wales and in particular Scotland have all upped their games this year while, it seems, England have if not got worse certainly stagnated.
The fact that there are four teams, at least (with France and Italy both showing either improvement or a willingness to develop), that can beat each other on their day is a good thing for the standard of Northern Hemisphere rugby. It certainly has now started over shadowing its Southern Hemisphere counterparts where New Zealand are being lulled into, I believe, a false sense of security due to the fact they could turn up with Waikato Under 14’s B team and give Argentina, South Africa and Australia a game. Look at what happened when a reasonably coached team of British and Irish players turned up and put the All Blacks under pressure last year. The All Blacks could be in for a rude awakening in Japan 2019.
However, will England be part of that rude awakening? I think probably yes, but on their current form there needs to be some changes made and some actions taken.
- A clear out of players.
It’s been said for a long-time and in certain player’s cases quite vociferously by me that there are players in this England team there on reputation and previous glories, not on present form. For me Hartley, Brown, Robshaw and Haskell shouldn’t be in the side. They are about to or have hit a wall. One cannot fault them for effort and determination but it is quite apparent that they do not have the effectiveness or impact they once had. The trick of being a selector is to judge when to discard them before they lose their effectiveness. Eddie Jones has, out of loyalty maybe, not made those tough decisions. Although to be fair, I think Steve Hansen is making the same mistakes with some of his players too, namely Kieran Reid who isn’t the player he was eight years ago. These players should have and could have been side-lined more gently and slowly, bringing in youngsters to learn from them. As it is, with a back row injury crisis, Jones is relying on the old guard this weekend because he isn’t able to trust in bringing in a periphery player such as a Curry or an Armand as they haven’t been exposed to the international game yet. As the old adage goes, fail to prepare, prepare to fail.
- A rest is as good as a cure.
At the end of this season every England player who went on the British Lions tour last year needs to be given the summer off, to go and sit on a beach and do nothing and certainly not anything to do with Rugby. Players such as Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje are running on empty with some players, and in particular the Saracens contingent having the potential of another 8 or 9 high intensity games between now and the end of May. We all know what these players can and do do. We know, barring injury or the next Jonny Wilkinson/Jason Robinson appearing out of nowhere that players such as Faz and Maro will be first choice come September 2019. But not if they have been run into the ground. These guys have played non-stop high intensity Rugby now for 5 or 6 years. Enough is enough, the RFU and Eddie have a duty of care to these guys and they shouldn’t be rung out for the sake of wins down in South Africa this summer. Let them go away this summer; come back in September refreshed and in back in love with the game. England will reap the benefits.
- Give peripheral players International exposure.
Leaving out the likes of Farrell from the tour to South Africa gives plenty of opportunities to the next level of players to come through and learn and experience international rugby. It’s a commonly held theory that for a team to win a world cup you need a squad with an average of 30-40 caps each. The current starting line-up for England falls neatly into that category, but it is the players that come on or who need to step up that are lacking in that experience. Now I understand that there is not time to get these players anywhere near 30 caps, but to give them exposure of a tour will mean that if there are a number of injury issues, there won’t be a blind panic call to players over the hill to come in. And if they lose in South Africa? I don’t see it as being the end of the world; after all in 1998 England lost 76-0 to Australia on a summer tour. 5 years later virtually the same team won the world cup.
- Dial down the intensity.
My impression of Eddie Jones is that he is a strict taskmaster and that he doesn’t trust the players themselves to have either been given the coaching at club level to prepare them for international rugby or to trust them to be in peak physical form. But I really do think that his methods are counter-productive to England playing the kind of Rugby that is going to win another six nations and a world cup in 2019. Scrummaging against a massive Georgian pack in the week before a six nation’s game? Its incredulous, and so it proved as the England pack have been out muscled and out energized by teams such as Scotland and France. Concentrate on the game to beat rather than one to contain, trust the players to be in peak condition and build in rest as an integral part of the programme.
- Stop being too clever.
Lastly Eddie, please stop opening your mouth and putting your foot in it. The word and mind games are boorish, boring and again totally counter-productive. Over the last season or so all that’s been achieved is that other team’s team talks have been done for them by Eddie’s braintrumps! Concentrate on what you do well and don’t worry about trying to get one over on everybody else other than on the field. And for crying out loud, your relationship with Clive Woodward is old news; it shouldn’t cloud your every judgement.
Will Eddie take my advice? I very much doubt he sees, reads or hears anything (unless its his old ocker Woody in his earhole) anyone says about him. He’s his own man and that’s how it’ll stay. But I do hope that some of these ideas filter down to him.