Monday 20 February 2017

Jones gets on his bike after England's Aussie heroics

Mick Cleary

Published 27/06/2016 | 02:30

England's head coach Eddie Jones celebrates with player Maro Itoje after defeating Australia. Picture: REUTERS/David Gray
England's head coach Eddie Jones celebrates with player Maro Itoje after defeating Australia. Picture: REUTERS/David Gray

Beware the breakaway. Eddie Jones will get a full insight into the perils of peaking too early when he hooks up with the Australian-backed Orica-GreenEDGE cycling team at the Tour de France next weekend.

Australia 40 England 44

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There is no time for standing still in Jones's world, no time for basking in the triple-whammy success of English rugby over the past fortnight, the Saxons beginning the upturn with their series win in South Africa, which was carried on emphatically with the 3-0 series victory over the Wallabies and crowned by the U-20s' win at the Junior World Cup. One wallow, though, does not make a summer in Jones's eyes.

England's Jack Nowell runs with the ball as Australia's Dane Haylett-Petty tries to tackle him during the second half. Picture: REUTERS/David Gray
England's Jack Nowell runs with the ball as Australia's Dane Haylett-Petty tries to tackle him during the second half. Picture: REUTERS/David Gray

England are starting to play the way Jones is by nature - forever restless, forever thinking, probing. They certainly did on Saturday at the Sydney Football Stadium. They found a way to win.

Jones takes nothing for granted, which is why he's heading to France to study the workings of a professional cycling team. There is no other sport in which the members of a team sacrifice themselves so much for the glory of another, and that is the essence of Jones's approach - the nurturing of world-class individual talent within the framework of a team.

The head coach will also study issues such as recovery and dealing with stress, but he is essentially pushing himself to be better. The England players may have scattered far and wide from Sydney for a well-deserved five-week break but they will be aware that their boss is still on duty.

The umbilical cord between Jones and England grows stronger. The Australian was asked if he felt satisfaction at a clean-sweep over the country he had coached, cocking a snook at those who sacked him in 2005. He said it had not even crossed his mind, so immersed was he in this project.

England players celebrate as they hold the Cook Cup trophy after defeating Australia. Picture: REUTERS/David Gray
England players celebrate as they hold the Cook Cup trophy after defeating Australia. Picture: REUTERS/David Gray

It is not about nationhood as much as the pursuit of excellence.

But just as Jones is a man of conviction, so are his team. Jones believes that Mike Brown is a better option than the Aviva Premiership Player of the Year, Alex Goode, one of five in the 32-man party not to see action. Likewise, Exeter's much-hailed centre, Henry Slade.

The ins-and-outs of the debate are irrelevant. It is Jones's way or the highway. If they fail to deliver, he will substitute them. It was Luther Burrell in the first Test and Teimana Harrison here.

Tactical masterstroke or initial selection cock-up? It does not matter. Jones is decisive. He made his original call, saw that it was not working so reacted. How many other coaches have ever done that?

England's coach Eddie Jones, left, celebrates with captain Dylan Hartley after their clean sweep of Australia in their rugby union test series in Sydney. Picture: AP Photo/Rick Rycroft
England's coach Eddie Jones, left, celebrates with captain Dylan Hartley after their clean sweep of Australia in their rugby union test series in Sydney. Picture: AP Photo/Rick Rycroft

That change of mindset has been the most significant element in the make-up of this England side since Jones took over. Billy Vunipola is far more assertive. Maro Itoje has been selected and prospered. Dylan Hartley, Chris Robshaw, James Haskell (whose physicality was missed on Saturday), Dan Cole and Owen Farrell - the roll-call is substantial.

They have found their inner selves under Jones, more by the arm around the shoulder than a rollicking. Jones is far more sensitive than myth would have it.

Many felt Farrell would be a guaranteed choice at fly-half. Certainly his goal-kicking - 24 points on the night, 66 across the series - has become invaluable. Jones does not follow the herd. He has always had belief in George Ford and again he was proved right.

But success is a fleeting concept for England now, as can be seen by the nature of these three Tests. On Saturday, they led, trailed, were on the ropes and finished strongly, even though outscored by five tries to four. The All Blacks are not always kingpins within a match, but there is more consistency, more reliability of outcome.

England are far from the finished article. The breakaway bunch rarely get to the finish first in cycling. And in the aftermath of a famous victory - earned on the Farrell boot and tries from Cole, Brown, Billy Vunipola and Jamie George - Jones said he would look to draft players from the U-20s and the Saxons immediately. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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