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Jones in­sists he will be pick­ing strong Eng­land teams dur­ing au­tumn Tests

- by CHRIS FOY Rugby Cor­re­spon­dent Sports · Rugby · Quincy Jones · England · England national football team · Italy · Fiji · Ireland · Leicester City F.C. · George Martin · Hull City A.F.C. · Stephen Curry · Mako Vunipola · Championship · Ealing · United States of America · South Africa · Lions · Eddie Jones · Barbarian F.C. · GPS · Dylan Hartley · Mitch Mitchell · Umbro

ED­DIE Jones is gear­ing up for a hec­tic au­tumn sched­ule with no plans to per­form major surgery on his Eng­land line-up — even though they face six games in seven weeks.

When it comes to the sci­ence of Test selection, the na­tional coach sees it as a prag­matic equa­tion: pick teams to win.

He sees no need to wield the scalpel — in fact, he hasn’t done so since en­gag­ing in a spot of ro­dent ex­plo­ration in his stu­dent days.

‘The last ex­per­i­ment I did was about 39 years ago, when I was 21, in bi­ol­ogy,’ said Jones. ‘I re­mem­ber open­ing up a rat.

‘Coaches don’t ex­per­i­ment. Test rugby is about do­ing your coun­try proud, pick­ing the best play­ers and get­ting them to win.

‘Part of that process, as we’ve shown, is iden­ti­fy­ing good young play­ers, giv­ing them an op­por­tu­nity and find­ing out which ones are go­ing to come through. We are iden­ti­fy­ing those young play­ers who we think can be bet­ter than the play­ers in the squad.’

Now the Pre­mier­ship has re­sumed, there has been spec­u­la­tion about the rook­ies who might be catch­ing Jones’s eye, be­fore games against the Bar­bar­ians, Italy, Fiji, Wales and Ire­land — then a pos­si­ble eight-team tour­na­ment fi­nal.

Much of the at­ten­tion has been fo­cused on the mul­ti­tude of back-row­ers mak­ing strong Test cases. As re­ported by

Sports­mail last week, Le­ices­ter pair Tommy Ref­fell and Ge­orge Martin are on the Eng­land radar, on the strength of show­ing po­ten­tial in a strug­gling Tigers side.

Wasps open­side Jack Wil­lis has also been widely ac­claimed — along with Sale’s Ben Curry.

Asked about Wil­lis, Jones said: ‘There are a lot of good back-row­ers around. The law in­ter­pre­ta­tion favours good, con­test­ing back-row­ers and he (Wil­lis) is one of a num­ber of good play­ers at the mo­ment. I’ve been rea­son­ably con­sis­tent in how we se­lect. We want to have peo­ple hard on the ball. That’s a back-rower’s job.’

Jones has al­ways re­garded selection as an in­tu­itive process as much as a sci­en­tific one, but he is mov­ing with the times and em­brac­ing for­mu­laic meth­ods of as­sess­ment.

Rugby is awash with facts and fig­ures — in­clud­ing GPS data — but Eng­land are striv­ing to en­hance this work by em­u­lat­ing the ad­vances be­ing made in football.

‘There are met­rics around per­for­mance and football is way ahead of us in this area,’ said Jones. ‘That is one rea­son we’ve spent some time look­ing at football. Take Mako Vu­nipola, who is prob­a­bly one of the world’s best loose­heads. He car­ries the ball 15 times a game.

‘His long­est carry is prob­a­bly three sec­onds. So he has got the ball in his hand for 45 sec­onds. 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.

‘We have very crass data but we have to see if we can 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. We are deal­ing with fi­nanc­ing the re­search at the mo­ment.’

For Jones, this is one side of his high-pro­file job — ac­quir­ing knowl­edge and push­ing bound­aries. An­other is deal­ing with hu­man emo­tion. That is a big fac­tor when a player is told his

Test ca­reer is over. In his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Dy­lan Hartley, Jones’s long- time cap­tain, opens up about an of­ten harsh Eng­land en­vi­ron­ment and his own abrupt demise.

While the book shines an un­com­fort­able light on Jones’s ap­proach, he has no com­plaints. There has been no fall­ing- out with Hartley. The pair met re­cently for a chat.

‘I have not read the book,’ said Jones. ‘All I know is I had a nice cup of cof­fee at his house.’ Hartley was bluntly told last sum­mer that there was no way back for him after 97 caps and Jones added: ‘That’s all been dealt with. Fin­ish­ing your ca­reer is a tough time. No one likes some­thing be­ing taken away from them.

‘I don’t know what Dy­lan has writ­ten. It could be 100 per cent true. It could be 100 per cent false. It could be some­where in the middle, which is usu­ally the case.’

Jones has been watch­ing games and as­sess­ing those who will be in his au­tumn squad when it is named next month.

He and as­sis­tants John Mitchell, Matt Proud­foot and Si­mon Amor have also sought to blow away the coach­ing cob­webs by tak­ing ses­sions at Cham­pi­onship club Ealing this week.

After a con­gested au­tumn cam­paign, they will have the next Six Na­tions ahead of them soon enough.

Then, while Eng­land go on an end- of- sea­son developmen­t tour with Tests against the USA and Canada, Jones ex­pects a large num­ber of his play­ers to be in South Africa with the Lions.

He said: ‘How many will go on the Lions tour? I hope 20-plus. I want to see a record. I want our side to be by far the dom­i­nant force in the Lions. That will be a con­se­quence of them play­ing well for Eng­land.’

At the end of a gru­elling do­mes­tic sea­son, is that a re­al­is­tic ambition? ‘Yeah, 100 per cent,’ he added.

It is an as­ser­tion which sums up Jones — bullish, bold and op­ti­mistic.

Ed­die Jones is an Um­bro am­bas­sador. Um­bro launch their new Eng­land kit on Mon­day. Visit um­bro.co.uk/rugby

 ?? GETTY IM­AGES ?? Winning smile: Jones is chas­ing au­tumn vic­to­ries
GETTY IM­AGES Winning smile: Jones is chas­ing au­tumn vic­to­ries

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