Home Rugby Opinion: Five Key Decisions That Will Define ‘Phase Two’ Of Jones’ England Tenure

Opinion: Five Key Decisions That Will Define ‘Phase Two’ Of Jones’ England Tenure

England are at a crossroads.

After two of their most successful non-World Cup years of all time, the Red Rose face a hugely challenging period as they look to make the transition that will get their team ready for the countdown to the 2019 World Cup.

Head coach Eddie Jones, who is unlikely to continue after the Japan World Cup, split his World Cup preparation into three phases in a 2016 interview.

Phase one would be the first two years, phase two would be the next year and a half and phase three would be the three months leading up to the World Cup and the tournament itself.

It seems therefore, that we are at the start of phase two.

There’s a general consensus that England have made a great start under the Australian. And yet, many think that in several positions there are changes to be made.

So the challenge for Jones is, can he make the right decisions? Does he stick or twist? Does he need to mend what ain’t broke?

Let’s analyse the key decisions that Jones has to make, and what he should do going forward.

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Fullback

Many rugby journalists dislike Mike Brown. His lack of attacking invention makes them think that he just doesn’t have the ability required to play at international level.

His incredible consistency has been vital for England. He has an outstanding success rate under the high ball and is the one of the best defenders in the world in his position. This, along with his leadership and aggression, have made him one of Jones’ most important players to the two years of success.

But the 64 times-capped international will be 34 when the next World Cup comes around and whilst he will always be a master of the basics, his lack of pace means he will struggle to offer anything when running the ball back or counter-attacking.

Brown is teetotal, a fitness freak and incredibly committed to improving, so there is a chance that he will not drop off as quickly as many backs do into their 30s. Nevertheless, Jones has a decision to make.

Does he call in Anthony Watson or Elliot Daly to the role, or try to keep Brown in the team until the World Cup?

What he should do:

From the 2018 summer tour of South Africa, bring in Anthony Watson as the starting fullback. Keep Brown in the squad, if he is happy to have a smaller role, but don’t try and stretch his international career past where it can go.

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Fly-Half & Centre

A big call. England have a huge number of options in these positions, having previously not had an international-class fly-half to call upon since Jonny Wilkinson.

Whilst the George Ford-Owen Farrell combo has worked well for England up to now, many believe that the latter, named European Player of the Year in 2017, should be playing in his preferred position of 10.

As well as this, Henry Slade, Alex Lozowski and Marcus Smith’s fine form this season has meant Ford has come under a little pressure.

Some even believe that England should go for a ball-carrying, offloading 12 in the form of Ben Te’o or Manu Tuilagi and ditch the two-playmaker system altogether.

Jones, unlike his predecessor Stuart Lancaster, has had an incredibly settled 10,12,13 combination, but now he may have to make a big call.

What he should do:

Keep it the same at the moment, but give Slade and Lozowski plenty of game time and try Te’o and Tuilagi where possible.

Perhaps if Ford’s form dips changes will be needed, but Jones will be absolutely sure not to over-change the team after the shambles of England’s centres in 2015.

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Backrow

Unless he is injured, there is little doubt as to who will play 8 for England. Billy Vunipola is not the best number 8 in the world yet, but there is every chance he will be by the time the next World Cup comes around.

But there are doubts about the flankers. Chris Robshaw and James Haskell’s incredible work rate makes the England legends impossible not to consider, but they will be 33 and 34 respectively by the time they touch down in Japan.

Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes have both been tried in the number 6 role, but have always performed better in the second row.

Sam Simmonds and Sam Underhill have both performed well at openside, as well as youngster Tom Curry, but they might just be too young or inexperienced to perform that role for England in 2019.

This is sure to be a tough call for the Australian.

What he should do:

Given the current injuries, Robshaw is a certain starter. Let Haskell and Simmonds do battle for the 7 shirt in this Six Nations campaign, but going forward Haskell should be competing with Robshaw for the blindside role, with fresh blood being brought in at openside.

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The Loose Cannons

Harlequins props Kyle Sinckler and Joe Marler have both already received disciplinary bans this season which has affected their international availability.

And just last weekend, Joe Marler found himself in hot water again after being rightly sent off for an appalling, dangerous clear-out at Sale Sharks.

Off the pitch, Denny Solomona and Manu Tuilagi were sent home from England training for ‘team culture-issues’ (essentially turning up to training late and hungover).

Whilst Martin Johnson’s reign was too loose on discipline, and Stuart Lancaster’s too tight, Jones has been just right up to now, but should he come down on these on and off field incidents?

What he should do:

Sinckler, Tuilagi and Solomona deserve second chances. But mess up again and he needs to seriously consider whether he can afford to take them to a World Cup.

As for Marler, he’s run out. Imagine if got sent off in a World Cup final? Not worth the risk with Ellis Genge waiting in the wings.

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The Captaincy

The big call. Dylan Hartley has not found form for Northampton for a while now and whilst his England performances remain solid, he is not producing anything like the rugby his rival Jamie George is.

Nevertheless, Danny Care amongst others has recently talked about the importance of the captain for his leadership not just in the matches, but around the camp.

As well as this, he has not put a foot wrong as captain, and with George often coming on with well over a quarter of the match to go, the Saracens hooker has plenty of time to make an impact Hartley simply wouldn’t have.

Owen Farrell is getting good at his role of ‘second-half captain’ but does he need the added burden of the captaincy which could threaten his brilliant form?

What he should do:

Keep Hartley, and let him know that his job is safe.

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