Tuesday 22 October 2019

Neil Francis: Eddie Jones reaping what he has sowed with exhausted England

England coach Eddie Jones watches his players in training at Pennyhill Park last month. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images
England coach Eddie Jones watches his players in training at Pennyhill Park last month. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

A good while ago I was part of an Ireland squad that flew to Atlanta, Georgia for some warm weather training in December/January. It was 10 days of horror training which was repugnant to my own particular constitution. We were treated like children and when we made mistakes we had to do a routine called 'Up & Downs.' These were basically goal line to dead ball line, slide down, get up, turn around and sprint to the other line. Easy if you are Keith Wood - not so easy if you are Frano. After a week of this everyone was tired and emotional, bordering on ratty.

On the Thursday before a Test match with the USA I found out that a planned 4.30am start to go to a Green Beret Army survival course for the whole day had to be cancelled by the Yanks. On the Friday before the Test the World Championships of 'Up & Downs' - everybody's thighs or buttocks were bleeding profusely as we came to the last set.

I was so tired that I finished on 28 instead of the required 30. Murray Kidd had been watching me and counting and knew I had tried to get away with doing two less. "Frano has only done 28 and pretended to do 30. On the line and do another set." Difficult to imagine being at the same popularity level as Murray Kidd but that is where I was at that moment in time.

I talked to John Mitchell at dinner and told him that what was happening was madness. The idea, I was told, was that we were to train through the 10 days and use the Test as further physical conditioning which was geared for preparation for the Scotland game in two weeks' time.

We had a full-on captain's run in the morning of the Test which left the tank at bone dry. We were awful and just about got out of jail. We played Scotland a fortnight later and we were dreadful - as flat as a beaten coin.

We look at England's lethargic Lotharios and we wonder if the Brazilian Amazon will ever recover as a rainforest of printed endeavour written by earnest men seeking a cause and a solution for England's torpor. I am sure Murray Kidd would be able to tell Fleet Street what is wrong with England at this moment in time.

Rugby Union is the most physical and physically draining sport on the planet. The elite athletes who play the professional game at international level do so for 11 months of the year. It does not matter how conditioned you are the human body is not able to absorb this level of punishment week in, week out - year in, year out.

Trying to get an edge on your opposition by taking your players over the edge, well that will backfire on you spectacularly - as it has for Eddie Jones.

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Any coach who tries to over-train or push his team too far in the lead-up or during a championship should be flogged and flogged as hard as they are flogging their players. It is the sign of a weak coach that you overdo it and demand a regime that is patently excessive. Eddie Jones has gone on record that he wants England to be 20 per cent fitter for the World Cup than they are now … forgive me, but I thought the World Cup was 18 months away - concentrate on the now maybe.

Jones took his team to Portugal on a 10-day horror physical training and conditioning session where he horse-whipped them to their knees. All so that England would be the fittest team at the World Cup … in 18 months' time!

England at their Pennyhill Park camp in Bagshot, Surrey have been engaged in the sort of training sessions that would leave the Marquis de Sade beaming. Hill sprints with weighted jackets all day long - bring on the green berets.

George Ford, who played but was an innocent bystander last Saturday in Paris, was quoted thus: "The training sessions are more challenging than games." Ford may not feature at all this Saturday.

The term 'tactical periodisation' which Jones picked up from a meeting with Pep Guardiola may be of value in the girly game but trying to make training so intense that it is easier to operate and think clearly especially in the last quarter is a great idea if all you are doing is kicking a ball around. Tiki-taka doesn't happen in Rugby Union.

England's poor form thus far is all down to a fatigue. All the penalties they have been conceding are because they are tired. The ill-discipline is down to fatigue. The defeat at the breakdown is because they are knackered, the listless attempt to attack down to the fact that there is nothing in the tank.

I've seen articles blaming it on lack of leadership, the inaccuracy of their half-backs and their inability to cope with Pro14 and Top 14 styles at the breakdown. All b***** - they are knackered. I hope Jones punished them again this week at Pennyhill - more hill sprints, try some 'Up & Downs', Eddie.

What can England do? This is a match that they have to win. A loss this Saturday would mean four losses in their last six Six Nations matches. That is unacceptable for an ambitious England side intent on winning the next World Cup. That puts us in the sort of territory where England would do whatever it takes to win.

mediocrity After Ireland won in Chicago against the All Blacks what we subsequently witnessed a fortnight later at the Aviva was a base level which the All Blacks descended to in order to ensure they won the game.

Hard to gauge whether England's unacceptable mediocrity will continue. Pride and professionalism will certainly elicit a response. They have been unbeaten at Twickenham in the championship for six years - there is a reason for that - no matter how bad they are it always takes a supreme effort to overcome them in their back yard. England, I have no doubt, will produce a backs-against-the-wall performance and will stiffen their resolve but they have many in their ranks - Dylan Hartley, Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler, Mike Browne etc - who are prepared to do anything to win this game. It could be one of the great matches, but I am certain that this game has the propensity to boil over and that would not suit Ireland.

Ireland have not come close to how good they were against South Africa in November or New Zealand the previous year but have played well enough to beat whoever they have played. We marvel at how ruthlessly efficient the All Blacks are yet we under-appreciate Ireland's resourceful application.

There will be competitive anxiety because of what is at stake and you cannot discount dry throat or an under-performance. England are undeniably vulnerable but it will require a performance of real authority and discipline to win. This team's best 80-minute performance. Schmidt to prime his team for the ultimate display to go from contenders to champions. Headmaster to Maestro.

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