FLOPS ARE SAFE

Jones can drop only 10 from World Cup

Daily Mail - - Rugby Union - @FoyChris by CHRIS FOY Rugby Cor­re­spon­dent

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.

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