Eddie Jones knows his reputation is on the line and it shows in his selection for his first Test match with England
By Adam Hathaway
Ever since Eddie Jones was appointed as England head coach just before Christmas he has fed us the line that he is only worried about the Scotland game at Murrayfield on 6 February.
Get that one out of the way and it was Italy away etc, etc, etc and the usual one game at a time stuff coaches spout when big matches get closer.
And it looks like he was telling the truth. When 10 players were released from the Elite Player Squad on Tuesday there were 23 left standing and those, barring a late change of heart or anyone tripping over an extravagantly-priced bacon roll at Pennyhill Park, will make up the match-day group in Edinburgh.
There is an account on Twitter run by someone called @pragmaticeddie and it looks like whoever is behind that has worked out the boss or might even be the boss himself.
Jones is on a bit of a sticky wicket anyway. The last coaching team were talking about the 2019 Rugby World Cup before they had played the 2015 version and Jones has to have one eye on Japan. He also has to have two eyes on immediate results because if England start flunking again he won’t be around for the next tournament.
Jones has had the training centre at the team hotel re-painted and removed some of the quotes – including one from Arnold Schwarzenegger – that were on the walls but his new broom has not brought a complete re-branding of the team picked by Stuart Lancaster last year.
He would probably take five 3-0 wins in the Six Nations, I know a few England fans who would, and the identity of the ten players who were released from camp is revealing. It reveals it is not going to be a complete revolution under the Australian and he would rather travel to Edinburgh with a few blokes who have played together now and then.
Fans of Elliot Daly and Maro Itoje, in particular, might not agree but once the red mist over Daly’s omission had gone you could see the logic.
If we assume Owen Farrell is going to play at 12 then Jones needs cover there. Daly could probably do it, he can do most other things, but Ollie Devoto has played there more often even if he struggles to get into the Bath team.
If you hadn’t watched any club rugby this year then you would think Jonathan Joseph should get the nod over Daly in the 13 channel. But if you factor in the point that Jones told us he had a decent enough idea of his side the day he took over in December then the Wasps’ man exclusion is almost understandable. Almost.
With Joe Launchbury and George Kruis set to start in the second row then, if you are heading to a scrap in Scotland, it probably makes sense to have Courtney Lawes and his 42 caps coming off the bench.
Tough on Itoje and even tougher on Daly, who is in the form of his life, but their chance will come before the end of the Six Nations and on the trip to Australia.
Jones looks set to give debuts to Jack Clifford, Paul Hill and Devoto off the bench and he probably won’t have a single new boy in his starting XV. Murrayfield, with Scotland fancying it after their World Cup near-miss against Australia, is not the place to blood kids. They will get a run-out sometime, maybe even a week later in Rome which is a much more hospitable place for a green English rugby player to go.
As Jones said, at the tournament launch on Wednesday at the swanky Hurlingham Club, “We have got to get the players right to play Scotland at Murrayfield in front of 65,000 Scottish fans who will be going crazy. That’s pressure when you are there so we have got to select the players with the skills to cope with that.” Then he added the killer blow – “None of them are international players at the moment.” Ouch.
Jones is on the thick end of £500,000 a year at Twickenham but knows it is head on the block if things go wrong next week. Itoje and Daly will be around long after the coach is in Barbados with his feet up watching the cricket.