Eddie Jones’ England are not scheduled to play New Zealand until 2018 and that can be interpreted as good and a bad thing for the man in charge
Napoleon famously said he would rather have lucky generals in his ranks than good ones and Eddie Jones definitely both falls into both categories in a rugby sense. He is a great coach, no denying that, but he has had the rub of the green since taking over the England job before Christmas. Gary Player the nine-time golf major winner always maintained that the harder he worked the luckier he got and Jones has a similar work ethic but he has hit the jackpot out on a few things.
The Six Nations fixture list worked in his favour, with England’s two easiest away games coming first up, whilst he got used to his squad, and potentially the two toughest opponents arriving at Twickenham before the Grand Slam clincher in Paris.
And the Australians had a few big guns missing as Dylan Hartley and co whitewashed them on the summer tour. Jones has also had a fair dollop of good fortune with injuries which can put down to luck or good management or a bit of both.
But where he has had a massive dose of good luck is in the fixture list between now and the next World Cup or has he?
Jones can do no wrong in English rugby at the moment. Barring a few barbed comments from Exeter’s Rob Baxter, about the national coach’s treatment of Henry Slade, it has all been sweetness and light and with the Test team, under Jones, nine from nine why wouldn’t it be?
But he hasn’t played the All Blacks yet……..
England have played New Zealand in Test matches 40 times and won just seven, the last coming in 2012 after 20 minutes of Manu Tuilagi-inspired mayhem. Clive Woodward’s team beat them twice and drew with them once but it is pretty thin pickings apart from that.
And the good news for Jones is that his current squad only have to play the Kiwis once before the next World Cup – and that is not until 2018. But that is bad news as well.
After the first two Bledisloe Cup matches, where New Zealand beat Australia 42-8 in Sydney and 29-9 in Wellington, the Welsh 3-0 series defeat earlier in the summer does not look half as bad as it did at the time, and England’s 3-0 win over the Wallabies does not look quite so good.
The All Blacks are so far ahead of the rest of the rugby globe at the moment they are like Tiger Woods in golf in the early 2000s. The latest World Rugby rankings have the New Zealanders on 96.30 points, England miles behind on 89.49 and South Africa tucked in, in third, on 86.41 that is similar to the distance between Usain Bolt and the rest of the pack in the 200m in Rio. If England played Steve Hansen’s team at Twickenham in the autumn the visitors would be about 1-5 in the betting shops.
But the way the fixtures pan out over the next few years it looks a shade of odds-on that Jones will be wearing the same grin for the at least 12 months that he wore in Sydney in June.
If were a bookmaker you would have England as favourites to beat South Africa, Fiji, Argentina and Australia in the autumn internationals at Twickenham.
The Twickenham brigade have not beaten the Boks since 2006, the closest they came was the 14-14 draw in Port Elizabeth in 2012, but they will fancy their chances this time around.
The men with the satchels already have England as favourites to win the Six Nations Slam again, then, with the wind in the right direction on the tour to Argentina, Jones could theoretically be 20 from 20, unlikely but possible with visits to Cardiff and Dublin to come, and still not have played the best team in the world.
There will surely be the odd hiccup along the way but England are a short price to still be ranked second in the world come 2018 but they would not been judged against rugby’s ultimate yardstick. And that will be nagging all of their supporters.
That is great for your job security but the Australian is a shrewd and knows the big test of his team is to come. Some people bleat that we see too much of the southern hemisphere sides and the mystique of the old days has gone but in this case Jones could probably do with a game against New Zealand to see exactly where England are.
As he said: “We want to be the No.1 team in the world, and we are miles away from the All Blacks. We’ve got to keep improving. It’s important the players understand they have to keep getting better.
“New Zealand have been up there all the time and it’s about time someone put in a real challenge to them and we’re going to be the side to put the challenge to them.”
Easier said than done and luckily, or unluckily depending how you view it, for Jones it won’t be coming in the foreseeable future.