Everything seemed to be going so well for Eddie Jones and his England team, before the same old problems that have blighted English rugby for so long began to rear their ugly heads once more.
The Red Rose has had plenty of new dawns in the last 13 years since the glorious times of 2003, but the golden aura that has surrounded the Australian’s team since he took over in January is just starting to waver.
Mounting injury problems have robbed the men in white of the services of two of its inside centres in Owen Farrell and Manu Tuilagi, talismanic flanker James Haskell, openside Jack Clifford, captain Dylan Hartley, winger Anthony Watson, and of course there have been long term problems for fellow speedster Jonny May.
Hartley and Farrell are both big doubts to make the autumn internationals, and further short-term injuries to Danny Care, George Kruis, Joe Marler, Jack Nowell and Jonathan Joseph have stunted their seasons so far.
Injuries to key players are nothing new for any England head coach though. Former coach Stuart Lancaster found himself amid the farce of the 2014 New Zealand tour that saw him facing the All Blacks in the first test with half his squad missing due to diabolical forward planning by the RFU and because of the sheer number of injuries that his frontline players suffered with their clubs. These problems carried on to the November series 2014 and the Six Nations 2015 which left him unable to field a consistent team.
Now Lancaster’s successor is starting to taste the bittersweet nature of English rugby. While the standard of play in the Premiership is improving all the time and it is arguably the most competitive league in the world, the demands on the players’ bodies with the sheer number of highly competitive and attritional fixtures mean injuries are commonplace. Add on Champions Cup games, the re-introduced LV= Cup and, of course, all of England’s matches and you start to understand the strain players are being put under.
Even though England is fortunate in that it is has growing depth in all positions, every international coach wants to be able to pick their very best players – something Jones will not be able to do this autumn in several positions.
Moreover, the England coaching team’s decision to involve the reduced 37-man EPS training squad in full-on training sessions including Judo activities has been to blame for injuries to Bath and Wasps’ pivotal players Anthony Watson and Sam Jones.
After all the pomp and ceremony surrounding the unveiling of the new ‘progressive partnership’ between clubs and country, with Premiership Rugby and the RFU agreeing more training days for the England squad, it appears the relationship between the two sides is not quite as healthy as it has previously been painted.
Saracens’ director of rugby Mark McCall has recently voiced his frustration about the allocation of training days (via The Guardian):
“We do not have control over the contest of England’s camps, nor should we. What I would prefer to talk about is that, from my club’s point of view, Premiership Rugby could have fought harder as to when these camps were situated [in the season calendar]. We would like to have been involved in that discussion and to have one 10 days before the first Champions Cup games is flabbergasting.”
Premiership Rugby were then quick to jump to their own defence (via BBC):
“Premiership Rugby believes England should not be doing full training sessions straight after a Premiership weekend,” a statement read.
“We would not expect full training sessions to occur during the two remaining two-day England camps planned this season.”
It is common knowledge that the brash and bold Eddie Jones does not suffer fools gladly, and it appears his abrasive approach to coaching England is leading to clashes with the clubs over how their players are being managed.
Even though many pundits and fans alike have criticised Jones’ predecessor Stuart Lancaster, he was excellent at maintaining good relationships with the clubs.
Despite enjoying unprecedented success with a Grand Slam and series whitewashing of Australia in the same year, it appears the former Japan and Wallabies coach is finally seeing the problems that have damaged England’s chances of becoming a consistently strong international team over the years.
His task of facing four ferocious opponents this November is becoming more and more difficult with each passing week. Welcome to the real England, Eddie Jones.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena