It’s fair to say that I have a love-hate relationship with Eddie Jones. I’ll never forget the 2019 World Cup semi-final win over New Zealand, but many of his squad selections over his seven-year tenure have baffled and continue to baffle me and my fellow England fans.
Many of these are where Jones takes a very long time to select an up-and-coming premiership star yet to play for England. Sam Simmonds, Marcus Smith, and Alex Dombrandt are all examples of this. What was even more frustrating was that they all took to Test rugby like a duck to water.
But then Eddie seemed to change his ways and took his chance in the form of a Lions tour to blood new players. Yes, these two periods may overlap slightly, but Jones gave debuts to Adam Radwan, Jamie Blamire and Freddie Steward than he would have before.
This leads us now to the ‘new England’. I would say this is the England who defeated the Aussies and Saffas in last year’s Autumn Nations Series. It was a mix of the old, new and relatively experienced. In the first category you had Jonny May, Ben Youngs, Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes. In the second were Tom Curry and Sam Underhill. Finally, in the third was the previously mentioned Steward, Smith, Simmonds, Dombrandt and Blamire as well as Raffi Quirke, Bevan Rodd and Aussie-born Nic Dolly.
All of the players in each section played in the South Africa win, and one thing was for sure: there was more of the new than there was of the old. This looked to be the perfect mould for an exciting side that could challenge for the 2023 World Cup and even win it, led by Jones, who by not listening to the media, brilliantly integrated the young English talent and got them used to Test rugby.
Then the 2022 Six Nations happened, where Jones became even riskier and played more inexperienced players. Luke Cowan-Dickie was starting, with Nick Isiekwe being brought in. England were disappointing then, losing more games than they won. Eddie seems to have now become scared, and reverted back to his old ways, being the more conservative, unpopular version of Eddie Jones among the English public.
The reason I say this is because of his squad selection for the Australia summer series. Billy Vunipola and Danny Care are back in the England fold. Both have had a long time out of the England squad and were assumed to be gone forever, especially in Care’s case, but Jones never rules out a player, and after good form from both – I have bemoaned Eddie for not reselecting Care for the last one and a half years – they are back. However, there are still four uncapped players in the newest Test squad.
It seems Jones believes a slightly less brave team selection is the way forward towards a World Cup-winning side, and I see why he thinks so. It worked so well in the autumn, but when he became more adventurous earlier this year it didn’t work.
However, don’t be fooled into thinking it will be boring, boring England come next month.