And so the bright new era of English rugby under Eddie Jones has begun, but instead of fanfare, there is already a murmur of unrest amongst the faithful.
Whilst the appointment of Jones was greeted by many as a positive step forward for the much maligned RFU, things have quickly taken a more muted turn. What could have been a unique opportunity to shake things up whilst still being able to retain the core of a solid squad, has quickly turned in a case of simply reassembling the same pieces for a difficult Six Nations opener against Scotland.
Nobody would have condemned Jones for retaining the core of previous incumbent Stuart Lancaster’s squad, however to field virtually the same XV as the one which petered out of the World Cup so miserably leaves the coach on a hiding to nothing. Should England claim victory at Murrayfield then many may believe Jones was simply making the most of the work done by Lancaster and his team, but lose, and suddenly things could get ugly.
Had the Australian selected a squad with a few fresh faces and England had gone down to an opening day loss in Edinburgh, there would obviously have been disappointment, but equally there would have been understanding from the loyalists. The likes of Maro Itoje and Elliot Daly have been hammering on the selection door for 18 months now, and yet haven’t even made it on to the bench for the Calcutta Cup clash.
Whilst there are several new faces on the bench in Ollie Devoto and Jack Clifford, in addition to the criminally under utilised Jamie George, it hardly speaks of a brave new dawn. Not that England needed a complete re-build, rather a refresh of some of the team with an injection of Southern Hemisphere panache, and a much improved in-game intelligence.
The biggest concerns still remain under Jones with both the twelve and seven shirts being handed to players who will be somewhat outside their comfort zones. Whilst both Farrell and Haskell have experience in their designated positions, it is limited at best with both having flourished in other positions. In fairness, injuries have somewhat dictated selections, particularly at 12, but there were still other better suited options in each position.
How Matt Kvesic hasn’t been given an opportunity is confounding, whilst Saracens bright young talent Will Fraser hasn’t even made the squad. At 12, whilst Farrell has been outstanding for Saracens in the 10 shirt this season, he has thus far failed to impress in a 12 shirt, particularly in a senior England side. His direct replacement off the bench, Ollie Devoto, is also a somewhat confusing selection given he isn’t even a regular starter at Bath.
The reality is that if England win, then the selection decisions will be overlooked as the inevitable hype train rolls on, however this may simply mask a problem that recurs at a later date, much like during the Lancaster era. However, should England fall at the first hurdle at Murrayfield this weekend, Jones could find himself in a somewhat difficult position before his tenure has even properly begun. Let’s hope we see some bolder moves when England travel to Rome the week after.