‘Sucking on a dummy’
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.
Former Hurricanes skipper Brad Shields talks with England coach Eddie Jones after his international call-up.