Eddie Jones keeps faith in World Cup ambition despite downturn | Sport


When Eddie Jones took charge of England after the last World Cup he felt his third year would be the most challenging. It would follow a Lions tour, after which the England players involved would not have as long a rest period as their colleagues in the other three home unions and it would be a period when what had been new would have become routine. Being dethroned by Ireland in the Six Nations and slipping from second to fourth in the world rankings at least means November’s long-awaited meeting with New Zealand will no longer be billed as a rehearsal for the World Cup final in Japan next year.

Five successive defeats this year has robbed the England head coach of some of his lustre but he has not lost any of his buoyancy. “One hundred per cent,” he replied when asked if he was convinced that England were still potential World Cup winners. He gave the same answer to an enquiry whether he knew his best squad.

Jones had just announced his 44-man training squad for training camps this month and next, a mixture of the tried, the reincarnated in the form of Chris Ashton, and the new, or punts as Jones labelled Joel Kpoku and Jordan Olowofela. He described the selection as almost hypothetical, a contractual obligation in the elite player deal between Twickenham and Premiership Rugby, and there will be changes before the first of the four autumn internationals at Twickenham against South Africa.

Jones closely watched England’s progress in the football World Cup and hopes to meet their manager, Gareth Southgate, in the coming weeks. “One of the important things learned from that tournament is that you need your team to play the style that suits your players,” he said. “While it is good to have different opinions, you need clarity about the way you are going to play. Have I got that? 100%.”

Clarity is not a word that has been attached to England this year, problems at the breakdown blighting their performances in the Six Nations and in South Africa, where they blew healthy leads in the opening two Tests, unable to control the pace of the game. As Test rugby becomes faster, so it contrasts more with the Premiership’s greater obsession with possession.

“It is not my job to influence how the Premiership is played and I don’t think they would welcome it,” said Jones when asked whether he had made approaches for the refereeing of the breakdown in the Premiership to become more attuned to the international game and the European Champions Cup. “I’m not Alexander the Great: this structure has been set up for years and you are expecting a little Aussie like me to break it in three?

“Unless you break it, there will be no change, but I cannot control it and am happy to work with that we have. The only thing I can affect is how the breakdown is refereed at international level: there are ongoing discussions between referees and coaches. I have an input, but I do not have any role with the Premiership.”

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And so Jones will continue to point his players in a different direction to the one that their clubs do. He will have a couple of months to work with them before the World Cup. “We did not handle the big moments well in the first two Tests in South Africa,” he said. “If we get our full squad, our best players together, we will have a very, very strong team that is capable of winning the World Cup. We would have 750-800 caps with an average age of 27, a proven World Cup-winning profile. Drop down to 300-400 caps and the reality is you sometimes do not handle big situations well. Experience can change that.”



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