‘Suck­ing on a dummy’

Sunday Star-Times - - NEWS - Emma Keel­ing

English rugby team child­like ahead of to­day’s game.

Sol­i­dar­ity and em­pa­thy are fall­ing through the air, land­ing softly in the drifts of red-and-or­ange leaves. It’s that time of year — au­tumn tours in the north af­ter a bru­tal win­ter in the south. A time when play­ers limp in uni­son and coaches are so tired they start us­ing preg­nancy as a metaphor for rugby. Eng­land coach Ed­die Jones has fallen out of the top branches with a thump. Fans, some of his play­ers, and his de­parted back­room team of coaches also ap­pear slightly dazed. They’re over there in the cor­ner, hud­dled to­gether for sup­port, wait­ing for the ther­a­pist to ar­rive. With just un­der a year un­til the World Cup, Eng­land are clutch­ing a blan­ket and suck­ing fran­ti­cally on a dummy, such is the dis­ar­ray their side ap­pears to be in. The baby metaphor is a lit­tle odd, but apt. In the lead-up to to­day’s game against South Africa, Jones pointed out the dam­age the 2017 Lions tour in­flicted on his play­ers’ prep for the sea­son. The re­al­i­sa­tion had hit him like that very first ex­plod­ing nappy. ‘‘Ev­ery­one tells you how dif­fi­cult it is, but you never know un­til you are up at 3am five morn­ings in a row.’’ Yup, Jones is now in the poo af­ter a ter­ri­ble run of form since his glow­ing start. Con­cep­tion is the fun part, un­less you’re in the room or coun­try next door, as was the case for any­one com­ing up against Eng­land in the early care­free days of Jones’ coach­ing ten­ure. New Zealand fans prob­a­bly re­mem­ber it as a nasty bout of morn­ing sick­ness. That queasy feel­ing grew worse as the weeks went by un­til we sat look­ing green and sweaty, watch­ing the men in white equal the All Blacks’ world record 18-match win­ning streak. But, as many of the rest of the world’s rugby jour­nal­ists have re­ported, the All Blacks get an easy ride from the refs, and in this case, the uni­verse pitched in as well, help­ing those beau­ti­ful Ir­ish lads bring Eng­land back into the real world with a sharp slap on the bum. Con­grats New Zealand! I’m sure Steve Hansen, be­ing the Dad he is, would take no sat­is­fac­tion in an­other man’s coach­ing pains. He sym­pa­thises be­cause he’s suf­fered the same prob­lem when faced with a long sea­son of painful con­trac­tions. He wants a 16-week break from the lads – I mean for the lads – each year. Just how many tantrums it would take to pierce the decades of plugs stuffed in the ears of World Rugby is un­known. For Jones, the screams from the ter­ri­ble twos are still echo­ing in the trou­ble­some threes. Af­ter a hor­ror show in the Six Na­tions and South Africa, and a loss against the Bar­bar­ians, where their de­fence leaked like the afore­men­tioned nappy, Jones did what any freaked-out par­ent would do; got a new vil­lage in to try to raise a World Cup-win­ning team. It seems Aussie Ed­die is con­cerned his yel­low-and-green psy­che may be con­fus­ing the play­ers, so this week he an­nounced for­mer cap­tain Will Car­ling as a lead­er­ship men­tor who can ex­plain what it means to wear white. The cleft-chinned one joins for­mer All Blacks coach John Mitchell, who’s now shoring up the de­fence, along with new speed and con­di­tion­ing coaches. Jonny Wilkin­son will con­tinue to swoop in like a rock-star un­cle. When you read this you will know whether Eng­land man­aged to over­come South Africa at Twick­en­ham. I doubt there will be tears, but a loss would see Jones hold­ing an­other dirty nappy. Could the stink con­vince RFU bosses to send him from the fam­ily home? Prob­a­bly not this close to the World Cup, but with the All Blacks com­ing to visit next week­end, Jones bet­ter get the adult di­a­pers ready.

For Jones, the screams from the ter­ri­ble twos are still echo­ing.

GETTY IM­AGES

For­mer Hur­ri­canes skip­per Brad Shields talks with Eng­land coach Ed­die Jones af­ter his in­ter­na­tional call-up.

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