Eddie Jones demands England become fittest team on the planet - 'We will be 20 per cent fitter by the World Cup'
England open their NatWest Six Nations campaign against Italy with head coach Eddie Jones demanding that his players become the fittest team on the planet.
Jones believes that England - who are chasing an unprecedented third successive Six Nations title - can become 20 per cent fitter by the 2019 World Cup. He is banking on a conditioning programme called tactical periodisation, a favourite of Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho.
“We are certainly capable of doing it,” Jones said. “I have got no doubt that we will be 20 per cent fitter by the World Cup. Our aim is to become the fittest team at the World Cup.”
After a gruelling training camp in Portugal, England’s players were pictured on Friday performing hill sprints with weighted vests just two days before they start their defence of the Six Nations title.
Fly-half George Ford says that his training sessions are now more challenging than the games themselves.
“In my personal experience in the autumn the games were tough but in comparison to training it was nowhere near as hard,” Ford told The Sunday Telegraph. “It is incredible how good Eddie and the strength and conditioning staff are at pushing the boundaries and challenging us as players. It is horrible and hard at the time but it is enjoyable because you know it is making you better as a team and a player.”
Proof of England’s increased fitness under Jones can be seen by their performances in the final 20 minutes of matches. In 2017, England won the final quarter of all 10 of their Test matches conceding just three tries and completing five shutouts.
Another key marker Jones has set himself for the 2019 World Cup is developing seven or eight “world-class” players. In 2016 after completing an unbeaten year, Jones declared no players met that criteria. Last year, he said two players had moved into that category. Now Jones seems more confident and he hopes this Six Nations campaign will provide him with more contenders.
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“Developing world-class players is ongoing,” Jones said. “There are a number of our players moving in the right direction – Maro, Mako, Owen and Anthony Watson are all guys racing towards that, and this is a great opportunity to put their foot forward.
“We want to get our set piece more consistent and our defence more ruthless. That creates attacking opportunities. We’re not too complicated. We play England-style rugby and we’re proud to play it.”
Itoje, Vunipola, Farrell and Watson were all starters during the Lions series, but Jones adds another player to that bracket: Leicester tighthead Dan Cole. “I think Dan Cole by the end of the Six Nations will be the premier tighthead in Europe,” Jones said. “His body’s changed and his scrum position is improving all the time and he’s at a great age – prime age at 31, 32 – to be the best tighthead in the world. He has to accept that, work hard, keep improving his game, and you are going to see him really flourish.”
Just as important is developing a strong leadership group that can react and adapt to changing events. England appeared to be found wanting last year when Italy unleashed their no-ruck tactic labelled “The Fox”.
Several players asked referee Romain Poite to clarify the laws and Brendan Venter, the architect of The Fox, told The Daily Telegraph last week that England never got to grips with it. Jones, however, absolved his players of any blame.
“There wasn’t a lot of confusion,” Jones said. “If a player asks the referee a question and the referee doesn’t answer politely, the confusion is with the referee, not the player. I watched the game again on Tuesday night and I thought we reacted brilliantly.
“In 2003, England had great leadership within their team. That’s what we’re striving to develop; a great leadership group of eight or nine players, surrounded by three or four lieutenants that basically run the team. When situations are put in front of them, they work it out and get on with it quickly.”