With it being two years since England’s early World Cup exit on home soil, and just under two years until Japan 2019 kicks off, Eddie Jones has officially entered (you guessed it) phase two of his reign as England coach.
This is a critical juncture for Jones, as the next 12 months will give him ample opportunity to assess which of his squad will be up for the challenge of the World Cup, and which will be shipped off to the rugby glue factory, also known as the Japanese Top League.
This will culminate in a mouth-watering match against the All Blacks on November 10 next year – the first time they will have clashed in four years and a true marker of their potential performance in 2019.
However, Jones’ men have quite a bit of rugby to play before then, beginning with their Twickenham Test against Argentina on November 11, and including a full slate of Autumn Internationals, the Six Nations and a tour of South Africa.
The Aviva Premiership is a much higher quality proposition than it was even a few years ago, and this season has promised to be a cracker, however at present it resembles M*A*S*H, with the likes of Billy Vunipola, Jack Nowell, Chris Robshaw and Tom Wood all spending time on the sidelines amidst an injury crisis across all clubs.
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Perhaps the best thing that could’ve happened for Jones to prepare for this was the two-Test tour of Argentina in June. Being shorn of his Lions call-ups enabled him to throw several newcomers in at the deep end, with most swimming and not sinking.
This will come in handy as surely by September ’19 he will need to have moved on from the angriness of Mike Brown, the thuggishness of Dylan Hartley, the stupidity of Manu Tuilagi (still dining off his 2012 All Blacks game) and the witless ‘banter’ of James Haskell.
There is a theory that bounds around football regarding how certain managers are destined to be restrained by the law of diminishing returns, best demonstrated recently by Roberto Martinez at Everton and Slaven Bilic at West Ham. They had both replaced very safe, plaid and pragmatic managers, and their loosening of the previous regime’s constraints, combined with adding their motivational spirit, instantly turned the teams around, leading them to unprecedented heights.
By mid-way through their second seasons the magic had worn off, and their third seasons were disasters (Bilic’s third-season disaster is currently unfolding).
After the loss to Ireland in March this year, I thought this effect could take hold, as Jones had re-invigorated everything to do with English rugby after taking over from the headmaster-like Stuart Lancaster. Perhaps this was the ‘magic wearing off’ moment?
Instead, it was a blip – Jones has taken full advantage of the groundwork that Lancaster laid, and elevated players like Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje into some of the best in their position in the world.
Jones appears to be a different man to the one who presided over the Reds’ 92-3 loss in 2007 (never forget!), with the spikiness and belligerence being replaced with more of a wink and a nod, a piss-taking element if you like, in most his ‘out there’ comments. His willingness to learn from outside influences, such as football genius Pep Guardiola, are impressive and breaks the mould of ‘proper rugby men’ being obsessed with rugby, and rugby only.
A life-changing stroke in 2013, in the midst of his time as coach of Japan, more than likely has something to do with his second wind as a top-class international coach, with all the perspective that sort of event brings.
If Eddie Jones can keep England on the upward trajectory they are on, he should be feted as an Australian rugby legend. Take it easy on the Wallabies though, mate.