Eddie Jones finally got his hands on some of his England players again in Brighton but, even with a Grand Slam under his belt, the challenge is only just beginning
Eddie Jones was back at the scene of his greatest triumph in rugby this week when he took a 26-man training camp in Brighton, where his Japan side beat South Africa in the Rugby World Cup, and now after six months in the job he knows what it is like to be England coach. It pays the big bucks, but boy, do you have to work for it.
No-one expected Japan to beat South Africa but with the largest playing numbers and the most cash-rich union in world rugby everyone expects England to right up there in the rankings – somewhere they haven’t been for a while now. The Australian has catapulted them back up to fourth, with the Grand Slam, and they have got to remain there, or climb higher, until at least the pool draw for the Rugby World Cup next May.
Last time the draw was made – ludicrously in December 2012 – Wales had slipped out of the top eight, thanks to a last-minute defeat to Australia in the last autumn Test, and England were not in the top four. So Australia, then ranked third, England and Wales all ended up in the same group and we all know what happened then. Anyway, moving on…
Jones then has a game with a depleted team against Wales, three Tests in Australia, autumn Tests against South Africa, Fiji, Argentina and the Wallabies and a Six Nations campaign to keep England where they are. Or risk another pool of death by a thousand passes.
As he commented in Brighton while he tried to finalise his squad for Australia: “We can’t have any excuses because this is a key part of the calendar and they’re ranking Tests, so they’re super important. The news has come out that the World Cup draw is being done in May 2017 which gives us 13 Tests.”
“Our main goal was to get better and improve over the Six Nations and to win the tournament and we did that. We went up in the world rankings. The next step is to play the number one and two sides in the world in New Zealand and Australia and we’ve got the Wallabies.”
England have played the so-called ‘big three’ 17 times away from home since winning the 2003 World Cup and have won once in the southern hemisphere, and drawn once. The win was against Australia, in Sydney in 2010, and the draw came against South Africa in Port Elizabeth in 2012.
In between some of the defeats have been eye-watering for England fans and no way to build your world ranking ahead of a World Cup draw.
Jones has a no-excuses way of working but the distractions mounted up this week as he was grilled in the Malmaison Hotel in Brighton Marina. He might be playing down the significance of the next 13 games but those people scarred by the last World Cup won’t be for sure.
He told us the prop sat out training because he had a hip niggle. About 24 hours later Marler pulled out of the Aussie tour to get his house in order, after his couple of aberrations this season.
Then there’s his captain Dylan Hartley, who has played 17 minutes of rugby since the Grand Slam game in Paris and Sam Underhill, who seems to be his favoured long-term option at openside but willl not be considered in England colours until the autumn. Throw in the fact that an England coach only has his players for about 16 weeks a year and he is up against it.
As he admitted: “We have to relearn how to be part of an England side. All of the players have been back playing for their clubs and doing as their clubs have asked them to do and now they’ve got to learn to play how England wants them to play.”
The Slam, a make-do-and-mend job, was the easy bit and the hard bit is just starting. But that is why the top man gets the cigar and if Jones keeps England in the top tier of the rankings he’ll have earned every Aussie dollar.