Another year’s Six Nations has come and gone, and Eddie Jones’ England revolution continues at its so far sedate pace. ‘Evolution not revolution’ has been the phrase of choice for the majority of commentators, but it seems unfair to reduce Jones’ contribution to a mere continuation of a process begun under previous incumbent Stuart Lancaster.
So far, Jones’ tenure has seen a complete overhaul of England’s style of play, turning them from the lumbering unit that struggled through the World Cup campaign into an inferior but ambitious version of the dynamic southern hemisphere sides they must look to emulate and, eventually, to better. Jones has got his England side playing the kind of fast-paced, aggressive running rugby that fans love to see and, while it may bring errors at first, it is obvious to even the most casual observer that this is a distinctly more dangerous England side than we ever saw under Lancaster’s reign, bar a few stellar one-off performances.
Perhaps the most exciting element of Jones’ tenure so far though is the myriad of burgeoning talents who are challenging for a spot on the tour to Australia in a few months’ time.
In the centres, Jones is beyond spoiled for choice. With Owen Farrell demonstrating his ability to operate perfectly well outside of his normal comfort zone at 10, Jonathan Joseph proving his mettle yet again, the return from injury of wrecking ball Manu Tuilagi and talented playmaker Henry Slade, the blossoming talent of Wasps’ Elliot Daly, and with the likes of Luther Burrell, Billy Twelvetrees, and Kyle Eastmond waiting in the wings, England may never have had so many options in the crucial midfield roles.
Likewise, the availability of four potentially world class locks in Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Courtney Lawes, and Joe Launchbury shows the outstanding depth that English club rugby has for so long threatened but failed to deliver to the national set-up.
Equally, there are signs that some of England’s more established stars are finding their feet under Jones. Chris Robshaw, stripped of the captaincy but having lost none of his indefatigable desire to bleed for the shirt, has looked much more at home playing at his natural position of 6, while new captain Dylan Hartley was a revelation and looked every part the model captain.
The most visible change has been the performance of Billy Vunipola, who was nothing short of phenomenal, and was unlucky not to be named player of the tournament. That Jones has unlocked the potential of Vunipola in such a short time speaks volumes of his ability as both a coach and as a man-manager, and should sound a warning bell to those who doubt the quality of England’s squad.
The real issue for Eddie Jones may be deciding what his best starting line-up is once all of the first-choice picks are fully fit.
England have genuine star quality among their ranks and several players with real x-factor potential, so it will be beyond fascinating for rugby fans to see just who makes the cut in this new era of English rugby.
For the record, if Eddie is reading, here is my pick for the England XV on the Australian tour, assuming all are fit and in form: 15 – Anthony Watson, 14 – Jonny May, 13 – Jonathan Joseph, 12 – Henry Slade, 11 – Jack Nowell, 10 – Owen Farrell, 9 – Danny Care; 8 – Billy Vunipola, 7 – Matt Kvesic, 6 – Chris Robshaw, 5 – George Kruis, 4 – Maro Itoje, 3 – Dan Cole, 2 – Dylan Hartley, 1 – Joe Marler.
I’ll take payment in the form of free flights and tickets to the Aussie tour.
Image courtesy of Bixentro.