England are unbeaten having navigated Murrayfield and Rome with comfortable, if not inspiring, wins. So how has Eddie Jones fared so far? Here's his half-term report...
Eddie Jones retained the 23-man squad who beat Italy 40-9 in the second round of the Six Nations as he prepares his team to play, what Sir Clive Woodward was slated for describing as the first division teams. Two down and three to go for Jones and as we won’t be filing a half-time report for Jones at the interval in England’s next game against Ireland at what he has done up to now.
I wonder how Jonathan Joseph was feeling before the start of the Six Nations when there was a mass call for Elliot Daly to be parachuted into the starting line-up. Joseph, at that stage, had won 16 caps and scored five tries including four in last year’s championship – although two of them came off the wing when Mike Brown was concussed against Italy and Stuart Lancaster re-shuffled his back line.
He was part of a misfiring Bath side but you could hardly blame him for that when the problems were elsewhere. Joseph got a hat-trick in Rome, one interception, one thanks to some Danny Care brilliance and one a powerful finish. Jones sent Daly back to Wasps again this week so that is the 13 spot is probably settled until the summer tour at least.
Keeping them fresh
Jones has tweaked the travel schedules of the team to keep them fresh. The not-very lamented captain’s run – a half-paced run-through at the stadium 24 hours before the match – has gone and England now travel the day before the game rather than two days prior to the fixture. Jones assuages that the captain’s runs fatigues a team too much when they should have their feet up and only the kickers go the ground now.
This week Jones has England staying in Kensington and training at a local school rather than being cooped up in Bagshot. Who knows they might even do a spot of shopping on the High Street or have a coffee or two. He is also planning a trip to Bath in the other fallow week.
This is nothing new here though. Stuart Lancaster – remember him? – took his squad to Leeds and Loughborough to relieve the five-star tedium. But he hit the buffers when England were in the same place from July to the World Cup.
Wolf pack has moved kennels
No tries conceded in two games is a decent effort in anyone’s book even against Woodward’s second division teams. Paul Gustard has brought a bite and speed to England’s defence that anyone who has been watching Saracens for the last few years will recognise. Those who were at Allianz Park on Sunday, as Wasps put eight tries and 64 points past the reigning champions, will wonder if Gustard really does have supernatural, wolverine-like powers – we will find out when the likes of Robbie Henshaw and Jamie Roberts pitch up at Twickenham.
We will draw a discreet veil over England’s line-out in Rome, however, and Jones’ claim that the 9-10-12 axis of Youngs, George Ford and Owen Farrell is one of the best in the world.
Keeping them on their toes
Jones says he has a fair idea of his starting line-up for his first match at Twickenham as England coach and he may be in the minority. For Italy he mixed and matched a bit and no-one had any idea that Ben Youngs would be starting until a couple of days before the match. Although we probably should have twigged when Youngs was put up for Sunday newspapers before the team had been announced. Danny Care was not cock-a-hoop but put a brave face on it and did the business when he came on after 49 minutes, particularly in making Joseph’s second try. How Youngs got the Man of the Match award remains a mystery and we can probably expect Care to get the nod against the Irish. This one could run and run though but that’s no bad thing.
Jones has done what he said he would do and got to Twickenham with two wins in the bag. He is still in honeymoon mode but that could all change after the matches against Ireland and Wales. Things are about to get a whole lot tougher. As a former teacher, Jones will recognise the phrase – satisfactory but will need to improve to make the next grade.