England go to Murrayfield having lost five of their last seven Six Nations games away from Twickenham. What a remarkable statistic that is, from a side who just three months ago were annihilating the All Blacks.
Their defeat against France was hopefully a wake up call rather than a nail in the coffin, and yet Jones looks set to repeat the mistakes in selection he made last week. There will be no Finn Russell to face, whilst Mako Vunipola looks set to return, Manu Tuiliagi is a doubt, and so England may struggle with ball carrying presence in the back division.
“We need to find a way to get some more power because you’ve got to carry through bodies,” Jones said, recognising this. “We’ve got to find a way to have more variety.” This comes just a week after making France go all weak at the knees with predictions of England’s ‘brutality.’
I was one of those who was rather blase about the risks of picking Tom Curry at number eight. He is precociously talented, I thought, he is clever, he is tough, how hard can it really be all that pushing from the back of the scrum? Can’t be much different from doing it at the side, surely?
Alas, he looked underweight in the loose and uncomfortable at the base on Sunday, and with Jones neglecting to call up either Alex Dombrandt, Sam Simmonds or Nathan Hughes, could face another steep learning curve against Scotland.
Jones loves to talk about the declining importance of specialists in the modern game. But, judging in Curry’s success on the flank and struggles at the base, this is clearly not the case. Would it not be better to pick form players in their natural positions, rather than constantly attempt to reinvent the wheel, very publicly flexing your own intellectual muscles in the process?
It feels almost like a kind of late-reign Mourinho selection move from Jones: ‘look at this, look how innovative/strange/bizarre this is.’ One designed not to win the game but to make a statement of sorts. Designed to reaffirm who is the boss. To deflect attention. To ask questions off the pitch, rather than on it. It is strange, and to a certain extent disrespectful, to England’s opposition and their array of fine specialist number eights alike. It has not worked, why not fix it?
Likewise, Jones could not resist having a pop at Scotland either, condemning “the scene two years ago when they tried to goad a couple of players. And they were successful. Historically they’ve done that through the ages. That’s the way they stay in the game and they’re good at it.”
As ever with Eddie Jones, all this nonsense looks fantastic when England are winning, but when doubts start creeping in that perhaps the World Cup was a blip in an otherwise downward trend since 2018, then it can all start to look slightly ridiculous.
Written by Joe Ronan.