Keeping Up With The Jones

By The Way - Weekly Columns


6th February 2016 saw the beginning of a new era for English rugby. Eddie Jones’ first match in charge of the Red Rose was at Murrayfield against opponents England will face again tomorrow, Scotland. In fact, there are only three changes to the England starting XV that started two years ago, Courtney Lawes, Nathan Hughes and Jonny May the three to come in. That familiarity in selection is something that has been common with Jones’ reign. He has a formula and he will stick to it making it hard for players on the outside to break in. There are a couple of exceptions to that though. Elliot Daly enjoyed a breakthrough year in international rugby in 2017, culminating in being one of the stars of the Lions Tour and Sam Simmonds, who took his chance superbly in the absence of Hughes and Billy Vunipola. Largely though England have stuck with familiar faces who have delivered, there appears to be no record of Maro Itoje or Joe Launchbury having a poor game for their country. The two big calls Jones made when he took over was to make Dylan Hartley captain and move Owen Farrell across to 12 and play George Ford at fly half. Ford and Farrell have become so key to England’s play in the last two years and have the ability to tear sides apart as Scotland found out at Twickenham last year. That 61-21 scoreline last March was so far removed from that opening match at Murrayfield in 2016 where England got home 15-9 in a game that in truth would have been quietly forgotten about had England not gone on to win a Grand Slam. England have showed they can win games both ways under Eddie Jones. An attacking game built on a largely solid defence is something that could go far in Japan in 18 months time. There are tough tests to come starting at Murrayfield tomorrow with France and Ireland still to play in the Six Nations. Then England go to South Africa before a four game Autumn series that features a first meeting with New Zealand since 2014. The England bandwagon is building nicely towards Japan but the reminder of 2018 will tell us for sure if this England side can be Rugby World Cup contenders.