As Eddie Jones prepares to name his side for the opening game of the 2016 Autumn Internationals against South Africa, the final preparations for this massive fixture are being made by the England Rugby Head Coach.
If you thought Sir Clive Woodward had a meticulous approach, seeking to control just about every aspect large and small, it seems Jones is another obsessive. Woodward famously put his squads through commando assault courses – Jones has them doing judo.
But as England head into the Autumn Internationals, the Australian’s philosophy remains founded on the basics – fitness levels, attitude and getting selection right. His man-management is basic too. It seems to revolve around – do it my way and give it everything all the time.
Tom Wood recalled as England look for perfect start to Autumn Internationals
And, if he doesn’t think that is happening, then he is straight-talking. Northampton flanker Tom Wood, an England regular, was thought to be in line for the captaincy when Jones arrived. Instead he was out.
Jones told him at the start of the year that he was being omitted as his displays for Northampton had been ‘average’. Only now, with injuries having created an opening, is he back. You can safely say that Wood has got the message.
And, just as Pep Guardiola has refused to compromise his methods at Manchester City despite issues surrounding playing it out from the back, with goalkeepers expected to be brilliant with their feet, so it is the same for Jones.
He has refused to hold back on the intensity of his practice sessions, insisting that England must raise it if they are to compete with the best. That hasn’t always gone down well.
There were plenty of mutterings when three members of the England squad suffered serious injury at a training camp in Brighton. Wasps flanker Sam Jones had his leg smashed in a judo session, Bath winger Anthony Watson broke his jaw and Exeter’s Jack Nowell faces weeks out of action with a torn thigh muscle.
Was Jones at risk of going through so many players that the team wouldn’t be good enough when it came to the real thing?
His response, at the recent camp in Vilamoura, Portugal, was to bring in Melbourne Storm’s Jason Ryles for two weeks to assist full-time defensive coach Paul Gustard ahead of England’s opening game against South Africa, with Jones saying: “We want to bring that harder edge to our defence. To beat the Springboks we need our defence to be absolutely brutal.”
In many ways, it is an exemplary approach albeit you can overdo these things.
He wouldn’t be the first to so shatter his players in training that they had little left to give when it mattered – British and Irish Lions coach Graham Henry was accused by some leading players of over-training the squad in 2001. “Graham Henry trained us to a standstill,” claimed England winger Dan Luger.
Let’s hope Jones has got the balance right.
England’s strength in depth will be tested during Autumn Internationals
Injured players not considered for selection include Jack Clifford (Harlequins), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs), James Haskell (Wasps), Maro Itoje (Saracens), Sam Jones (Wasps), George Kruis (Saracens), Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs), Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers), Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby), and Mike Williams (Leicester Tigers).
So, who will step up?
Uncapped prop Kyle Sinckler has been compared with Jason Leonard and if he is half as good he will be some player at international level.
Nathan Hughes, the Fijian who has qualified via residency, and is regarded as a destructive ball-carrier, looks set to claim a slot in the backrow.
Much will depend for England victory hopes on the engine room, set to be Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes, both warriors, if a little beaten up. Indeed, so beaten up that Josh Beaumont, son of former England captain Bill Beaumont, has been drafted in as cover for Lawes who is fighting to be fit following the recurrence of a knee injury.
In the backs, the George Ford and Owen Farrell partnership is pivotal.
Playing South Africa first is a huge challenge because they are arguably the most dangerous Autumn International series opponent. But they have been on a bad run having lost five of nine Tests this year including conceding nine tries in a record 57-15 hammering by the All Blacks. Not since 2006 has a South African team been defeated so many times before an autumn tour to Europe.
Jones will need to rotate players after that one because it will take so much out of them.
But they should still have enough to beat Fiji and Argentina. Finally, it is Australia, smarting from that recent 3-0 beating Down Under and fresh from rolling over Wales.
England v Australia at tiddlywinks would be ferocious so expect fireworks on the rugby park. Can England win all four? I think they can but it will be a big ask. South Africa, proud but hurting, will be belligerent. Australia could struggle to contain the England pack.
So, bring it on. It will be a fantastic spectacle.
England Autumn International Corporate Hospitality Packages now on sale!
England will be looking to maintain their perfect record under Eddie Jones in the Twickenham Autumn Internationals 2016. Eventmasters are delighted to offer official Twickenham corporate hospitality packages for these four superb games – allowing you to see all the action in VIP style.
Please follow the links below for more information:
England v South Africa – Saturday 12th November 2016
England v Fiji – Saturday 19th November 2016
England v Argentina – Saturday 26th November 2016
England v Australia – Saturday 3rd December 2016