Jones wants at least 20 of his play­ers on Li­ons tour

➤ Eng­land head coach work­ing with Red Bull to take anal­y­sis into a new di­men­sion in an end­less quest for im­prove­ment

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Daniel Schofield Ed­die Jones is an am­bas­sador for Um­bro, which will be launch­ing its new Eng­land Rugby kit on Mon­day. Visit um­bro.co.uk/rugby

Eng­land coach Ed­die Jones says that the squad for next year’s Li­ons tour to South Africa could con­tain at least 20 of his play­ers. The big­gest con­tin­gent pre­vi­ously was the 20 Eng­land play­ers called up for the ill-fated 2005 se­ries in New Zealand which the tourists lost 3-0. But Jones (left) has chal­lenged the cur­rent Eng­land play­ers to give Li­ons coach Warren Gat­land a se­lec­tion headache. The Eng­land coach has also promised greater co-op­er­a­tion with clubs in terms of work­load on play­ers he calls up.

Ed­die Jones bris­tles at the very sug­ges­tion that he could use one of his au­tumn games to ex­per­i­ment with team se­lec­tion. “The last ex­per­i­ment I did was about 39 years ago, when I was 21, in bi­ol­ogy,” the Eng­land head coach said. “I re­mem­ber open­ing up a rat. Coaches don’t ex­per­i­ment.”

This com­ing from a coach who moved open­side flanker Tom Curry to No8 and once po­si­tioned Billy Vu­nipola in the mid­field so Joe Cokanasiga could pack down at the back of a scrum.

In truth, Jones has a mag­pie’s eye for bright, shiny things, whether that be play­ers or trends within the coach­ing world. What he re­sents is the no­tion that he hands out Test caps like con­fetti – de­spite call­ing up 135 play­ers to Eng­land squads in five years – and es­pe­cially that he could be swayed by pub­lic opin­ion.

That may spell bad news for Wasps flanker and turnover ma­chine Jack Wil­lis, who has ap­peared to many to be the stand­out player since the Premier­ship’s re­sump­tion. “There are a lot of good back row­ers around and there’s a lot of good com­pe­ti­tion,” Jones said. “The law in­ter­pre­ta­tion favours good, con­test­ing back row­ers and he’s one of a num­ber of good play­ers.”

Se­lec­tion is nat­u­rally a sub­jec­tive mat­ter. What oc­cu­pied much of Jones’s think­ing dur­ing lock­down, which he pre­dom­i­nantly spent in Ja­pan, was how to make it more ob­jec­tive through the use of data. Ac­cord­ing to Jones, rugby data comes in three forms: the live ex­pe­ri­ence, sit­ting in the stands when he will typ­i­cally be pay­ing at­ten­tion to only one or two play­ers the en­tire game, a video re­play of the match and the raw sta­tis­tics.

This third area is where rugby lags sig­nif­i­cantly com­pared to foot­ball, which is why Jones has been in con­ver­sa­tion with the Red Bull sport­ing em­pire. Ar­guably no foot­ball club have played the trans­fer mar­ket bet­ter in re­cent years than RB Leipzig.

Us­ing a cen­tral data­base, shared by sis­ter clubs Salzburg and New York, Leipzig have re­cruited play­ers such as Chelsea for­ward Timo Werner and Manch­ester United tar­get Dayot Upame­cano on a rel­a­tive pit­tance be­fore sell­ing them on for huge profit. With the Rugby Foot­ball Union also spon­sored by Red Bull, Jones has been able to speak to Thomas Stoggl, the head of re­search and devel­op­ment at its ath­lete per­for­mance cen­tre in Salzburg. They had planned on col­lab­o­ra­tive test­ing and as­sess­ment ex­er­cises be­fore the Covid-19 pan­demic struck. “Red Bull have done re­ally well and they’ve been quite in­no­va­tive, par­tic­u­larly in how they re­cruit play­ers based on the in­for­ma­tion they col­lect,” Jones said. “So we are go­ing down that track. One of the things that is im­por­tant in that area is be­ing able to fi­nance the re­search, so we are deal­ing with that.”

Jones’s frus­tra­tion is that met­rics within rugby, such as tack­les made, me­tres run and passes, will re­veal only a snap­shot of a player’s im­pact on a game. “Take Mako Vu­nipola, prob­a­bly one of the best loose­heads in the world,” Jones said. “He car­ries the ball 15 times a game. His long­est carry is prob­a­bly three sec­onds. So he has the ball in his hand for 45 sec­onds. So for 79 min­utes and 15 sec­onds he is work­ing off the ball – and we don’t re­ally have any met­rics to mea­sure the ef­fec­tive­ness of his move­ment off the ball.

“What we are look­ing at is if there is any op­por­tu­nity to col­lect data that is mean­ing­ful in terms of giv­ing feed­back on more ef­fec­tive move­ment off the ball. It is a big project. We will keep in­ves­ti­gat­ing.”

Jones and the RFU have also been in touch with the Eng­land and Wales Cricket Board as well as cy­cling’s Sir Dave Brails­ford about how to main­tain a bio­sphere for the mooted Eight Na­tions tour­na­ment.

This week, Jones and his newlook coach­ing group are lead­ing some ses­sions with Cham­pi­onship side Eal­ing Trail­find­ers. Jones says it has acted as cru­cial prepa­ra­tion for the au­tumn se­ries.

“We’re a very young group,” Jones said. “We need to im­prove our level of coach­ing and Eal­ing is an op­por­tu­nity to do that.”

Cut­ting edge: Ed­die Jones has taken on ‘big project’ to gain an ad­van­tage

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