FLOPS ARE SAFE
Jones can drop only 10 from World Cup
EDDIE JONES officially starts work as England’s head coach today but the Australian will not have quite the clean slate he had envisaged and no doubt wanted.
When he was named to succeed Stuart Lancaster, the 55-year-old made it clear he would judge players with a fresh perspective and select his squads and teams accordingly. However, his desire to make his own immediate imprint will be restricted. In the shortterm, Jones will find that his hands are tied, to a certain extent.
Under an agreement between the RFU and the leading clubs, the England management are permitted to announce a 33-man senior squad next month featuring no more than 10 changes from the World Cup squad. Whether he likes it or not, Jones will — theoretically — go into a year of potentially huge significance without full control over who he is able to work with.
Not only will Jones inherit at least two-thirds of his first squad from Lancaster, he will also take over a perilous situation in relation to the crucial World Rugby rankings. England are currently in eighth position and the new regime faces a race against time to climb into the top four and minimise the chance of being in another World Cup ‘pool of death’.
While the timing of the draw for the 2019 showpiece in Japan is yet to be confirmed, it may come as early as next December, in which case Jones’s side will have 13 Tests to surge up the chart and, in all probability, avoid New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. However, 10 of those matches will pit them against higher-ranked nations.
It is understood Jones is still in Tokyo and is unlikely to arrive in London until later this week. However, the former Australia and Japan coach is renowned for his work ethic and is bound to have already begun tackling the pressing issues, such as the identity of his preferred assistants.
Once in this country, he will start to sift through myriad selection options. There were 31 players in the World Cup squad and Sam Burgess has since returned to rugby league, so Jones must include at least 20 of those involved in the hosts’ ill-fated campaign.
Yet, in reality, wholesale changes would have been unlikely, even if the slate were truly clean, given the age profile and potential of the existing squad, along with Calum Clark and Luther Burrell, who were the official stand-by players.
In addition, Jones will name a 32-man Saxons squad even though the second- string team have no imminent fixtures, which means a purely administrative process will provide him with a safety net below his senior squad.
If a player such as Jonathan Joseph is still injured in mid- January, he will be included anyway and then replaced by an understudy from the Saxons. And if Jones can promptly establish a rapport with club coaches, he may be granted added wriggle-room.
When it comes to the onerous schedule he faces, the full 2016 programme will be announced at Twickenham tomorrow. After the Six Nations — Scotland, Italy and France away and Ireland and Wales at home — England will host Wales again in a one-off May encounter before a three-Test tour of Australia. They will then take on South Africa, Argentina, a Tier 2 country and Australia again in a gruelling autumn series.
World Rugby are pushing for the next World Cup draw to be held as late as possible to ensure seedings are based on relatively up-to-date rankings.
But tournament organisers are keen to start marketing the event promptly, which may mean the draw has to go ahead in a year’s time, so Jones will have to hit the ground running in his new role.