Eddie Jones had turned England from World Cup failures into Grand Slam champions, so how did he do it? Read on...
It has been a long time coming for England but they finally got over the line and won a Grand Slam for the first time since 2003 with, mostly, a group of players who have not managed to do it in the last couple of years. Eddie Jones has not had much time, and has acknowledged Stuart Lancaster’s part in the clean sweep, but some of the things he has done have made a difference.
Change of captaincy
The choice of Dylan Hartley as England captain was not met with universal approval – especially by people who have not actually met the bloke – but it showed what Jones wanted England to morph into. Hartley is an engaging fellow off the pitch but most of us would not fancy facing him in full war paint on and Jones knew that. Hartley’s charge sheet is as long as your arm but if you had talked to Jim Mallinder, his director of rugby at Northampton, you would have known what the hooker brings to the side away from the grunt-and-grind by organising barbecues for academy players and having a word for everyone.
On the pitch Hartley brings an edge and Jones also pulled out a rabbit out of the hat with his choice of vice-captains. Mike Brown and Owen Farrell were not big eye-brow raisers, but Billy Vunipola was and he has relished the new responsibility. Chuck in James Haskell and the former captain Chris Robshaw, who have more than 100 caps between them, and the leadership group looks pretty tasty. It paid off in Paris when Hartley was stretchered off with 13 minutes left and the game was in the balance.
Remind the players they are at work….then tell them when they are at play
No one could ever say that Lancaster was shy of hard work but Jones has ditched the days off in the week when players could head back to their families. Instead they do a recovery session. They are at work after all so why not? The 6am starts and 8pm finishes have not met with universal approval but they did last Saturday night when the players knocked off the Slam. After the Wales match, which landed the Six Nations a week early, the players got stuck into a few beers at Pennyhill Park but it was back on duty straight away on the Monday morning.
Jones sets the example and he controls everything. Two days after England had landed their five-timer he was in Richard Cockerill’s office, at Leicester, with the Tigers’ boss and the club’s conditioning staff. Leicester’s England brigade, traipsing into the Oval Park training ground in Oadby, at least know if one person is not going to take his foot off the gas, it is Jones. And he was lining up trips to Saracens, Exeter, Northampton and Bath in the rest of the week.
Picking players for a job
Jones loves a number 12 who breaks the gain line and clearly fancies Manu Tuilagi in this role on the summer tour to Australia. But with Tuilagi just coming back from injury at the start of the Six Nations he did not fall into the trap of getting any old basher in and just tweaked things. He put Farrell in at inside centre –giving England the two-ball player option at 10 and 12 and Farrell responded by being one of the best backs in the tournament.
It was not exactly re-inventing the wheel. Stuart Lancaster had Farrell playing outside Charlie Hodgson in his first two internationals in charge in 2012. Again his hand was forced by the absence of Tuilagi. Likewise, Jones reckons there are no natural sevens about – although Gloucester and Matt Kvesic fans might disagree – and got James Haskell to do the job. Haskell responded with his best string of England performances, apart from the yellow cards, since making his debut in 2007.
Using the bench
Jones is not too fussed about making sure everyone gets on the pitch like some coaches. Ollie Devoto and Paul Hill left Murrayfield after the opening match still looking for a first cap and Devoto must be wondering where his will come from after being sent back to Bath.
Likewise with the scrum-halves. Before the game against France, Jones told us that Danny Care would start and Ben Youngs would come on ‘and win us the Grand Slam’. Most thought that was a pre-emptive strike for the standard substitution on the hour but, after Care’s stunning opening try, Jones chucked on the Leicester man after just 43 minutes.
He wanted the kicking game to improve and Youngs did more than that by making Anthony Watson’s try after Billy Vunipola’s bust. This was not coaching by numbers or the stop-watch. At prop, Dan Cole finished four out of the five matches – although he was binned in the Wales game – when many front-rowers are trained to play for an hour. He is the best England have got, so why not keep him out there? Prior to this Six Nations Cole had not completed a Test since the game in Dublin more than year ago.
Dose of good fortune
No coach can do without the odd dollop of luck and Jones, who admits he likes a day at the races, has copped his fair share and has landed up at the pay-out counter. The fixture list gave him a couple of games to get his eye in, and an injury to Joe Launchbury forced him to give way to the hype and start Maro Itoje in the second row against Ireland – even though at the start of the Six Nations Jones was saying the 21-year old was not a Test player.
We all know what happened next and the hype over the Saracens man will only get bigger with a British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand coming up next year.