Jones tells his rookies to put team ahead of personal glory
RUGBY CORRESPONDENT in Kobe Eddie Jones has warned his rookie team not to go off-script in pursuit of personal glory as they prepare to take on a United States team the England head coach likens to “15 Donald Trumps – aggressive, brash and ready to take on the world”.
Jones has made 10 changes for the match here tomorrow as he looks to cope with the draining demands of a four-day turnaround between games and is acutely aware of the trap players could fall into if they see this as their one chance to make an impression, only to undermine the cause by playing to their own personal agenda. “That’s the danger with these games,” said Jones, who has picked an inexperienced Bath pairing on the wing in Joe Cokanasiga and Ruaridh Mcconnochie, as well as Willi Heinz at scrum-half, with Lewis Ludlam on the flank.
“It’s the second or the third game where players might think it’s their only game of the World Cup and go out there trying to play for themselves, rather than for the team.”
At the 2007 tournament, Jones was a consultant with South Africa and recalled a match against Tonga. “We were lucky to beat them,” he said. “A number of guys played outside the team and played for themselves, so one of the most important things in this game is that the players play for the team, and if they play for the team they put themselves in a better selection mix.”
One of those tyros is Heinz, who has no concerns that individuals might stray from the game plan. “We have spoken a lot about team cohesion and it is something we have worked hard on,” said Heinz, who was a surprise inclusion in the World Cup squad, having made his Test debut only during the August warm-up matches.
“I don’t think anyone is going to fall into the trap of thinking, ‘I’m getting a start so I really need to go out and prove my point’. We all know we have a massive goal we want to achieve and this game is another step in trying to achieve that. And the way we do that is by all buying in and for each member of the team to go out and nail their role. The coaches make it clear what your role is and if you do your piece of the puzzle we will get the performance we are after.”
The inexperience in the XV is offset by the inclusion of the likes of No8 Billy Vunipola, who makes his 11th successive start. The Saracen has played right throughout the warm-up period and into the tournament itself, one of only five starters retained from the laboured opener against Tonga in Sapporo on Sunday. It is inconceivable that he will not be the first-choice pick for England’s remaining pool games, against Argentina and France, and also through the knockout stages were England to progress.
Jones acknowledges that Vunipola’s poor track record with injury over the past couple of years was “a consideration”, but refuted the notion that it was a risk.
“It’s a risk him going out and eating Kobe beef tonight,” Jones said. “It’s much better he plays rugby than goes out and eats beef. He loves rugby, loves playing, he wants to play. We have a squad of 31. We have a plan for each player. Some need to play a lot of rugby, some players are much better playing every so often, and we have tried to manage that with injuries. Mark Wilson [who had a minor issue with his knee] is better from the bench this week. But we want Billy in his best condition and his best condition is to play rugby. He’s still got another two-three per cent [of fitness conditioning] to go.”
Another who has managed to get himself into good shape is tighthead Dan Cole, who draws alongside Jonny Wilkinson as England’s third-most capped player with 91. It was only a year ago that Cole’s international career looked to have hit the buffers. Yet the 32-year-old refused to throw in the towel.
“Ninety games in the most physically demanding and exacting position is a massive achievement,” Jones, a former front-row player himself, said. “Dan has got a passion for rugby. That is the greatest love of all for a player. He has been able to regenerate himself, reinvigorate himself, worked hard on his fitness and accelerating capacity.”
Joe Marler, Cole’s loosehead partner, was also out of consideration a year ago after retiring for personal reasons from the Test arena. He, too, has rekindled his ardour.
“The first week Joe came back into camp, he looked out of sorts,” Jones said. “I think he thought, ‘I don’t know whether I’ve made the right decision here’. He was so far off the pace, but he’s such a good player that it didn’t take him long to respond. He’s a bit of a larrikin, but also a very serious rugby player who understands the game well.
“He has a strong, calming influence on the field – as funny as that might seem. That is massively valuable. This squad is quite young, so having those older two props is quite important.’
England have decided to opt for caution with centre Henry Slade, who picked up a bump to his knee against Tonga in what was his first appearance since damaging his knee in the Premiership final for Exeter on June 1.
Firing: Billy Vunipola will make his 11th successive England start tomorrow