Eddie Jones has nailed his colours to the mast with his selection of his hookers for the Six Nations but it is premature to write Tom Youngs out of the England picture just yet
By Adam Hathaway
Eddie Jones has finally got his feet under the desk at Twickenham and don’t Tom Youngs and a few others know about it and that Fast Eddie is the man in charge?
When Jones breezed into the Twickenham media room, an hour after announcing his first squad on Wednesday, ahead of the Six Nations, he was his usual wise-cracking self and the one-liners flowed. It is doubtful whether the Leicester hooker Youngs, and a few others, saw the joke but it gave us a clue to where Jones’ priorities lie.
He was not the only casualty, as Jones left plenty of blood on the floor pumping from the veins of some of Stuart Lancaster’s most highly-regarded lieutenants, and some may never see HQ in a white jersey again.
A few of the droppings were predictable enough but no-one saw the omission of Youngs coming in the acres of newsprint previewing the unveiling of New England. Maybe we should have.
When Jones pitched up before Christmas he told us he wanted his hookers to hook the ball and he has been true to his word.
On Saturday after the Tigers last-gasp win against Northampton an in-form Youngs chatted to the press and did not look like a bloke who had been told his neck was on the line and he was more than likely to be on Leicester duty than at Murrayfield on the first weekend in February.
As Charlie Morgan has explained elsewhere on rugbyworld.com Jones is a fan of getting the ball out of the scrum quickly, as Japan did at the World Cup when they could have been out-muscled, and it looks like he is going the same way with England.
Youngs was probably England’s best forward around the park during the World Cup, but hookers hook, and throw in well at the line-out, and anything else is just peripheral for the new head honcho at Twickers.
It might not be a coincidence that Jones’ assistant Steve Borthwick is a major line-out anorak and Youngs has missed the target occasionally.
Back-to-basics stuff might not have worked out for John Major but it may just do the trick for Jones, who knows that results are the only currency he will be judged on.
As an old school ex-hooker himself, with Randwick and New South Wales, Jones is probably aware of Youngs’ comments a couple of years ago when he said he was struggling to get a grip on the new scrum laws. Then Youngs said he was not too keen on hooking the ball at the set-piece because it made him feel at risk.
Then he told us: “Look, I don’t want to come across as a wimp or as someone whingeing about what went on in the past. But when blokes used to hook for the ball 15 years ago, everyone around him in the scrum was a lot lighter than they are now, probably less powerful, too. Now, you’ve got to decide to strike or not, twist your body across to get your foot to it or even just your knee. You are more vulnerable.”
No-one would accuse Youngs of being a wimp. The bloke has won 28 England caps in the front row and been a Test British and Irish Lion after converting from centre after prompting from the former Leicester coach Heyneke Meyer. He is not going to get sand kicked in his face on the beach anytime soon, he just has to adapt to the desires of his new national boss.
At 28, Youngs could come again but Jones obviously fancies Dylan Hartley, possibly as captain, and Jamie George and seems keen on Luke Cowan-Dickie, who was one of the first players name-checked by his predecessor four years’ ago.
Jones has put his coat on the hook on the back of his office door for sure. Hookers have to hook and until Youngs cracks that we probably won’t see him in the foreseeable future running out for England.