Eddie Jones has pulled off most of his tricks since pitching up with England but there is one he cannot fast forward.
We haven’t quite worked out if Eddie Jones is putting something in the tea down at Pennyhill Park but whatever he is doing seems to be working as a succession of players tell us how hard they are working, how fit they feel and how everything is sweetness and light after the Rugby World Cup flop.
In the last week alone, the Aussie has cottoned onto the fact that England might not be the flavour of the month with the other Six Nations countries, has told us that the match day 23 squad are 30 per cent fitter than they were a month ago, that Elliot Daly is finally ready for Test rugby but England still don’t have any world class players.
The first one is an episode in stating the bleeding obvious but the next two are pretty quick turnarounds. Talk about water into wine and all at express pace thanks to Fast Eddie. For his next trick he will be knocking up lunch using a couple of loaves of bread and few fish but even Jones can’t do anything about injuries. On Wednesday morning Joe Launchbury was fine, by Wednesday tea-time he was out – but he is ticking most of the boxes.
The 30 per cent fitness thing I don’t get. Every rugby player I know spends buckets of time on fitness, chucking tin in the gym and probably not enough time on skills. In 1995 when the game went professional we were told that not having to do a day job would give players more time to recover and work at things like passing, kicking, throwing in at the lineout and all that jazz.
None of those core skills have improved over the last 21 years but blimey can these boys throw some dumb bells around in the gym. So how Jones has got them 30 per cent fitter in less than a few weeks, if he has, is probably down to training smarter which is not the greatest advert for the Aviva Premiership.
You never know, it could all be bravado, Jones is playing us like a Steve McQueen card-sharp, and he is doing it all to give the players a boost. Daly was not a Test player two weeks ago but he is now, although if he gets on against Ireland on Saturday it will probably be at inside centre. Jones, though, has stopped short of telling us he has any world class players in the squad. That takes time and even Jones can’t conjure up a few top-notchers in a month. There are a few who could get there – Maro Itoje, Daly, Manu Tuilagi, George Ford, Billy Vunipola and Owen Farrell have all been mentioned but no one is there yet.
There have been enough good players coming through the Under-20s in recent years that you would like to think one or two of them will turn out to be world-beaters, but not for the minute. Mike Brown broke ranks at the end of the World Cup saying hardly any England players would get in a British & Irish Lions team let alone a World XV and even a month of Jones has not swayed the full-back.
“I said it at the end of the World Cup and there is no change,” Brown told us on Wednesday. “We have only been together four weeks so my view hasn’t changed on that. Eddie is the boss and he said it, that’s what counts. I said it too but it doesn’t matter what I say.”
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According to Jones, England will have a team ready for real international rugby by the end of the Six Nations, which is slightly inconvenient as he has to give them back to their clubs so they can kick the proverbial out of each other. But to get a crop of world-class players will take a little bit longer – even for Jones.
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