on from where a fine Ashes series left off. England have barely registered on the story chart out here and have not been fully tested in wins over Tonga, the United States and Argentina.
So, as Jones appeared at a team hotel where the Christmas decorations are already out, you could feel a distinctly un-festive air settling in. Nobody could accuse him of playing safe with his starting XV – particularly the dropping of George Ford – or in the appearance in England’s camp of yet another Australian adviser, Ricky Stuart. “Well that’s a lovely story you’ve cooked up,” Jones replied to a question about Stuart. “Ricky and I are old mates, we’ve known each other for a long time. He presented jerseys to the Wallabies during my time as a Wallaby coach, I’ve known his strength and conditioning coach since 2007 and he wanted to come over and have a look at what we’re doing – and it’s as simple as that.”
Jones spent much of his news conference trying to persuade his audience that “finishers” are as important as “starters”. In other words – that Ford and George Kruis would retreat to the bench happy just to be part of the collective. We all know international sport does not work this way. England’s players still have faith in Jones’ decisions and they certainly respect his power. On the line in
Oita, though, is his ability to win the defining games with a group of players who have lost, under the current coach, to five of the other seven quarter-finalists.
The Dublin Six Nations defeat in 2017, Scotland’s comeback from 31-0 down to draw 38-38 at Twickenham only seven months ago: there are plenty of reasons to doubt whether Jones can turn this crop of England players into world champions. Equally, there are reasons to think he can, starting with his experience in World Cups, England’s depth and the absence of a truly hot tournament favourite. If this is as far as Jones can take them, the cry for help in 2015 will return as a scream.
For the Wallabies, the worst aspect of Samu Kerevi developing into a world-class centre over the past two years is the fact that he is about to leave Australia behind.
Kerevi, cousin of former Australia international Radike Samo, signed up to a three-year contract with Suntory in Japan earlier this year and is scheduled to join the Top League powerhouse after the World Cup on a reported salary of about £630,000 per year, allegedly a third more than Rugby Australia’s best offer.
Losing key assets is nothing new for Australia but the fact that Kerevi, a tackle-busting behemoth of an inside centre, at 26 years old is just about to enter his prime means his departure will sting more than most.
“It is a loss, a big loss. A shame to lose him when he is right at the peak of powers, rather than two to three years down the line,” admits Rod Kafer, the former Wallaby international and Leicester Tigers back. “Samu gives you that ability, genuinely, to beat people one on one, either by going over the top of
them or around them. He has very good feet for a man who is 109kg, he is very fast, with an excellent offload.”
Kerevi has also become the mainstay of Australia’s midfield amid confusion at both half-back and outside centre. Michael Cheika has regularly chopped and changed his half-backs this year in search of a winning combination.
There was a case for a younger Kerevi (below) to go to the 2015 World Cup as a bolter, but defensive inconsistencies needed to be ironed out. Huge strides in that area, and moving from outside to inside centre, have transformed him into a top operator.
His numbers this year highlight that increased influence on Australia’s attack, posting careerhigh figures in 2019 for carries, metres made, clean breaks, defenders beaten and offloads.
“Samu is absolutely world-class, right at the peak of his powers,” Kafer says. “Manu Tuilagi is a fantastic footballer on his day, in a similar vein to Kerevi. As that big, go-forward guy, Samu brings you a deft short-passing game and is a really impressive player.”
The other area where the Wallabies will miss Kerevi significantly is his leadership. Appointed as captain of the Queensland Reds ahead of this year’s Super Rugby season, Brad Thorn, the Reds head coach, praised Kerevi’s “humble and hard-working” outlook.