Eddie Jones puts heat on England in search for World Cup game changers

The head coach wants quick ball and athletic forwards and the newcomers touring South Africa suggest a change of direction

The heat is on Eddie Jones, after three successive defeats in the Six Nations ended his long honeymoon, and it will be turned on his England squad when they prepare for next month’s three-Test tour of South Africa with a machine humidifying the indoor training facility at their base in Bagshot.

The head coach has next year’s World Cup in mind more than the altitude for their first two matches against the Springboks, in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein. He wants his players to be prepared for potentially hot, humid conditions in Japan and the machine will be given an airing before this year’s autumn series and the 2019 Six Nations.

“Our training centre will become a heat and humidity environment,” says Jones, who coached Japan from 2012-15. “Some players will struggle and it will have a detrimental effect on how they play rugby. There are ways you can overcome that and this is one. It is important to do it now because it enables us to find ways to help them cope in the World Cup.

“The temperature in the training facility will reach 30 degrees with 75% humidity. You could have eight weeks in Japan at that temperature: no one knows because it can fluctuate significantly but in Tokyo that temperature is regular. It becomes a different game, like playing in a thunderstorm. The ball becomes slippery and we want to get the players used to those conditions, because we do not have the luxury of playing in Japan beforehand.”

Jones will be without a core of experienced players in South Africa. Some, including Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes, Anthony Watson and George Kruis, are injured; others, such as Dan Cole, James Haskell and Danny Care, have been “rested”, and it is in those who have been omitted that the direction Jones is taking to Japan may be tracked. Would Mike Brown and Chris Robshaw have a summer off but for injuries to Watson and Sam Underhill?

In the Six Nations England were the least effective team at the breakdown, struggling to recycle ball quickly and slow down the opposition. They lacked dynamism and were largely narrow and one‑paced. But both the tour squad and the group assembled to train in Brighton next week for the 27 May match against the Barbarians at Twickenham have an emphasis on mobility as well as power.

“The game is only going to get faster and more athletic,” says Jones. “All the law interpretations are geared to the ball being faster: New Zealand drive the laws and they are obsessed with quick ruck ball. It is going to happen and we need to improve there. We have to change not skill sets but behaviour.”

Danny Cipriani will be told by Eddie Jones to be instinctive but continue to play the game ‘north-south rather than east-west’.
Danny Cipriani will be told by Eddie Jones to be instinctive but continue to play the game ‘north-south rather than east-west’. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

South Africa have reacted to three stagnant years after the last World Cup by appointing Rassie Erasmus and aligning their Super Rugby franchises with the Boks. Jones notes the difference that would make but when asked whether he would be lobbying for the breakdown in the Premiership to better reflect international rugby and the Champions Cup, a greater contest for possession that would encourage clubs to groom and play specialist openside flankers, his reply shows he is resigned to noninterference. “I can’t control that,” he answers. “How can I have an influence? I do not own any club. We don’t control the referees, the clubs do.”

So Jones must plough on without the synchronisation most of his rivals enjoy. “You need specialist 7s: that role has become even more important as the game has changed, with a distinct responsibility at the first breakdown, and 6 and 8 have complementary roles, but the breakdown now is about every player.”

The front- and second-row choices for South Africa highlight the need to play with sustained pace and Jones has called up Dan Robson and Danny Cipriani, who are adept at getting the ball wide quickly.

Jones says he knows 70% of the squad he will take to Japan and is looking for the other 30%. Jones is taking the 18-year-old Sale playmaker Cameron Redpath to South Africa even though he has not made an appearance in the Premiership this season. Five of the seven inside backs, excluding the scrum-halves, are 10s, with Henry Slade, who started in that position for Exeter, and Ben Te’o the exceptions, as Jones strives for quick ball.

Coaches regularly come up with wheezes such as contraptions that turn the air hot and humid, but it is players who will win the World Cup. “We want someone to come through who will give us something different,” says Jones. He wants his players to be instinctive, starting with the fly-half George Ford, who now has Cipriani to push him. “Certain teams want the 10 to play as part of the system and that takes away his instinctiveness. Our job is to open that up for him. We want to see what Danny can add. He played the game east-west [running laterally] but now he is more north-south so he is worth having a look at. Just tell him to leave his dinner suit at home; you can’t play rugby in that.”


Paul Rees

The GuardianTramp

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