England buck winning trend of old heads
Ever since Eddie Jones was appointed England head coach, he has been fixated on arriving at the World Cup with a first XV containing a certain number of caps and age profile.
“If we get our full squad, our best players together, we will have a very, very strong team that is capable of winning the World Cup,” Jones said last August. “We would have 750-800 caps with an average age of 27, a proven World Cup-winning profile.”
There is a good reason Jones put a premium on such figures. Research undertaken for The
Daily Telegraph by Esportif ’s Intelligence Division shows that the starting XVS of the World Cup winners since rugby turned professional in 1995 have contained an average of 663 caps with an average age of 27.84.
The statistics also show a steady trend to more experienced teams claiming the William Webb Ellis Cup. The New Zealand sides that won the 2011 and 2015 tournaments did so with 694 and 906 caps and an average age of 27.9 and 28.7.
Yet in the past 12 months, Jones has waved goodbye to nearly 400 caps, with Dylan Hartley, James Haskell, Chris Robshaw, Danny Care and Mike Brown all dropping out of his plans. “I thought we would carry quite an experienced team to the World Cup,” Jones said. “Then I found out I needed to make changes so I had to start again.”
The promotion of Tom Curry (21), Sam Underhill (23) and Joe Cokanasiga (21) has lowered the age profile. The XV who started England’s penultimate warm-up match against Ireland contained 601 caps and had an average age of 26.1. Taking that team – with Mako Vunipola replacing Joe Marler – as Jones’ strongest XV, England would be aiming to become the first side in the professional era to win the World Cup without a player over the age of 30 in their team. Ben Youngs, who turned 30 at the start of the month, is their eldest statesman. Both the 2015 New Zealand team and the 2003 England side had five players aged 31 or older. Of the main contenders, England have the second-least experienced team behind South Africa, whose side to face the All Blacks in their opening World Cup match has 542 caps. Australia have a similar total to England’s with 611, then there is a big jump to Wales (790), Ireland (832) and New Zealand (878). Jones was asked why he believed England could win the tournament without the requisite experience. “The game’s changing a lot because it’s become such a power game. Experience is always important but maybe we can get around it.”
Young gun: Tom Curry, 21, is one of several fresh faces Eddie Jones is using