Jones Summer Tour warning a sign he won’t underestimate Wallabies
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | April 17, 2016
Just when you think talking points about the England rugby team have died down following Six Nations success, their first foreign head coach Eddie Jones pops up to stir the pot.
Already ensconced as firm 11/8 favourites with Coral to retain that championship next year, comments made by the Tasmania-born Red Rose boss this week warn his Grand Slam winners against complacency, yet as ever there is vagueness as he doesn’t name names.
“Personally I’ve been disappointed in three or four players who have gone back [to their clubs] and played quite poorly,” Jones said. “Those players have put their Tour place to Australia in jeopardy.”
“Some might have little injuries, and some of them have agents or the media in their ear telling them how good they are. They have just got too far ahead of themselves.”
Gossip puts Grand Slam grabbers on their toes
And so let the speculation run wild. Who is Jones referring to? The only way we will know for sure is by seeing the England squad set to Test themselves against closest Six Nations challengers Wales at the end of May before jetting off Down Under.
Jones suggests as much as a fifth of his Red Rose roster could change and he stresses the old adage about improvement being a constant thing.
“We should be happy, but we have also got to be quite aware that we have got to keep improving,” he added. “Some of the players have been told directly, some of them have been told through other sources.
“But they will get the message. We’ll see on the rugby field – 80 per cent [are playing well], 20 per cent are not, so there could be 20 per cent change in the Tour squad.”
Australia awesome when tearing Red Rose apart
What may be behind these warnings is how the match turned out when England and the Wallabies last met. An outstanding individual display for Aussie fly half Bernard Foley dumped the Red Rose out of their own Rugby World Cup.
That 33-13 win for the Southern Hemisphere heavyweights highlighted the gulf in class between the best in Europe and themselves.
Michael Cheika’s men had that record 28-point haul from kicker Foley to thank for such a rampant result, and if England are as complacent during the three-match Summer Tour as they were this past autumn, then they could easily suffer similar sizable losses.
As a former Australia boss himself, Jones understands the sporting passion and outright competitiveness that his compatriots possess. Previously, he has shielded his players from the British press, drawing commentators and pundits into aimless debates about illegal scrummages and such like.
Evolution not revolution from Tasmanian Devil
Hot air to fill column inches and precious airtime before broadcasts of Six Nations matches went out, but this time there is the sense it might not be smoke and mirrors stuff.
The Red Rose have been evolving during the first spin of this next Rugby World Cup cycle, with no real sweeping changes in personnel or style from Jones’ predecessor Stuart Lancaster.
Although the new head coach has brought instant success into the England dressing room with him, there remains the prevailing opinion this was as Grand Slams go an easy one to win.
Not even the most ardent supporter of the Red Rose could say they have put two convincing halves of rugby together during their Six Nations success this spring. And that is the biggest evidence of all that there is still much to accomplish.
It is a first step on the long road for Jones and his players building towards Japan in 2019, where the next World Cup will be held.
Ambitious England cannot get carried away
The aim of dominating global rugby is one that cannot be achieved by England short-term. No individual battle with the mighty All Blacks is scheduled yet, and the Red Rose face Tests against every other Southern Hemisphere side but New Zealand before 2016 is done.
Next year gives us the relative novelty of a British and Irish Lions Tour to that country and established rugby union top dogs, but how many in 2017 to tangle with the Kiwis will be English? The Lions can roar all they want, but start as 3/1 outsiders for a series success.
A casual glance at the Southern Hemisphere Super Rugby competition, just seven games into the campaign, shows how the All Blacks may already have a successor-in-waiting to retired kicker Dan Carter in young Waikato Chiefs fly half Damian McKenzie.
This precocious talent, who turns 21 before Wales’ Summer Tour to New Zealand, is averaging a try per game as well as kicking conversion and penalty points aplenty to give a cumulative total well in excess of 100 already.
Some similarly fresh Wallabies faces should be in line to tackle the Red Rose, as All Black and Aussie productions lines thus continue in earnest, with awesome physical specimens throughout their talent pools.
Europe’s elite, including England, need to show they can match such sides and the Springboks of South Africa, under new management themselves with Ireland coming over, in strength and skill as well as in the scrum and style.