Eddie Jones has taken the world of international rugby by storm by guiding England to nine successive Test victories. However, the Australian perfectionist will not be resting on his laurels and will already be planning his next moves.
There goes a legendary football story that World Cup-winning centre forward Geoff Hurst, a hat-trick hero in England’s victorious 1966 final, said to his manager, “See you next time, Alf” at the conclusion of the tournament. However, Alf Ramsey’s reply spoke volumes about the man: “If selected, Geoff, if selected.”
Nothing can be taken for granted in international sport and even though Eddie Jones and his charges were undefeated in three tests against Australia and only 26 players employed across 240 minutes, no one’s place will be safe if they don’t continue to perform for their clubs.
Jones has the chance to alter the make-up of his EPS squad and has already spoken about some more established players losing out and some fresher faces being brought in (via The Guardian):
“A couple of other guys have been found out on tour… they did really well in the Six Nations and have been quite poor on tour. That’s a great learning experience for them.
“I can’t give you a number but the guys that really impressed me in the under-20s will get a guernsey [shirt] in the EPS squad.”
That Jones is once again actively looking at the England U20s is particularly intriguing given his surprising promotion of age-grade representative Ellis Genge to the senior squad despite only having a couple of Premiership appearances to his name. The U20s has suddenly become a genuine pathway into the England squad as opposed to a stepping stone into club-level rugby.
But Jones will also be evaluating again the merits of individuals such as Luther Burrell, Jack Clifford, Teimana Harrison, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Henry Slade, Marland Yarde and others. Burrell and Harrison were both replaced on the 30-minute mark, Clifford struggled to get on to the bench never mind the pitch, Cowan-Dickie and Yarde were axed after one test while Slade did not even get a look in despite having now returned to full fitness.
As well as the U20s, there are a number of alternative options for the Aussie head coach to consider in almost every position. Moreover, players like Josh Beaumont and Jonny May will soon be making their long-awaited returns from injury and could force their way into the EPS squad.
With Autumn Internationals against South Africa, Argentina, Fiji and Australia, Jones will need to carefully consider how he will manage his wider squad this time around. Although it is almost certain England’s strongest line-up will play against South Africa and Australia, there may be some temptation to explore options in specific positions against both Argentina and Fiji. For all Argentina’s worth, they did still just lose at home 27 – 0 to a France team with little time together due to the late conclusion of the Top 14 play-offs.
South Africa will be a real focus for Jones, with the Springboks being the only team Stuart Lancaster never defeated. Despite a 14-14 draw in 2012, the last time England gained a victory over the men in green was way back in 2006 under Andy Robinson. England will certainly value the opportunity to make history again against a side that struggled to overcome a determined Ireland outfit.
Furthermore, the chance to get one over Australia at Twickenham is one that Jones will relish and would be the perfect way to conclude 2016 and his first year in charge.
Yet England will not play world number one team New Zealand until the 2017 Autumn Internationals at the earliest. Although it is likely a swathe of England players will now make the Lions tour next year – and possibly Jones himself despite his insistence he will not be involved – the Six Nations champions still have a whole year to continue to improve and develop as a team before testing themselves against the international bench mark that is the All Blacks.
Before that though, there is a Six Nations title to defend and a summer tour of Argentina to extend England’s growing depth.
But think back to October 2015 – not even a year ago – and where England were to now. The improvements that have been made have been nothing short of astounding. One can only hope England carry on with this upward trajectory. If they do so, Red Rose supporters are in for some wonderful years of rugby before a fascinating World Cup in Japan. However, Eddie Jones will be taking nothing for granted.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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