Perhaps it was a World Cup too soon for this young England squad. That will certainly be the narrative of England fans, and, this week, it has been the narrative of Eddie Jones too. In fact, Eddie Jones has gone above and beyond this week, declaring he intends to make England the greatest rugby team the world has ever seen. He’s bold, you can’t deny that.
Six times he said it, across two press conferences. This is classic Jones: brash, vague, diversionary, deliberately throwing the press a statement soundbite to run with so they don’t end up talking about anything he disapproves of. He, like Jose Mourinho in some ways, is a master of the art of direction, deception, diversion; bending the public narrative to his will.
England were under pressure last year, failing to produce results or performances of the required quality, and suddenly half the worlds’ press were talking about the lack of specialization in the modern game and Jack Nowell’s potential prospects on the flank. That is exactly what is going on now. Jones wants people to be talking about greatness; what constitutes greatness? which teams would you class as great? can England become great? What he doesn’t want to talk about, is Saracens, the salary cap, Steve Borthwick’s departure, Vunipola, Slade and Nowell’s injury absence, squad harmony etc. etc.
“My aim is to make England the greatest rugby team the world has ever seen,” said Jones, deflecting from these issues, ignoring the fact he is only likely to coach them for another two years. “That’s my mindset. Our job is to make sure people remember the good things about English rugby, Why can’t we go out and play fantastic football against France?”
And fair play to him, but questions still persist. Steve Borthwick was an important figure in that dressing room, he is now gone. Billy Vunipola an integral part of that team, he is out, without direct replacement. Odds are on Tom Curry to switch to the base, perhaps with Lawes or Itoje dropping back to provide some meat from the flank, although the impressive Ben Earl may have something to say about that.
Finally, there is the intangible issue of squad harmony, how has the Saracens debacle impacted the dynamic at the England camp?
According to Jones, the squad will meet this week for talks. “We need to get everything out on the table, 100%,” he insisted. “It is common sense. Say what you feel. If players are angry about it then say it.”
Nobody is privy to these discussions, but Saracens’ misdemeanors must surely have caused a bit of commotion within the playing group. Only time will tell, but England have issues of their own to navigate before getting carried away with their own ‘greatness’, that is for sure.
Written by Joe Ronan.