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Jones looks for momentum to exorcise the spectre of de Klerk


Virimi Vakatawa. Photo: AFP via Getty

Virimi Vakatawa. Photo: AFP via Getty

AFP via Getty Images

Virimi Vakatawa. Photo: AFP via Getty

By the reckoning of Eddie Jones, the last World Cup cycle was about aggressive defence, South Africa finishing it by suffocating England.

With the Six Nations' launch heralding the beginning of the road towards 2023, Jones joked about waking up to the spectre of Faf de Klerk hovering above him.

That fate befell plenty of his players in November, as South Africa deployed the scrum-half in a free role. De Klerk continually shot out of the defensive line to ruffle England.

Having whisked in Simon Amor from the sevens set-up as attack coach, Jones is eager to combat similar tactics by developing his team's variety and verve with ball in hand.

"One of the key stats when it comes to winning in Test rugby is running metres," he explained. "That means you have momentum. We've got to find different ways of creating momentum and getting into the opposition 22 as quickly as we can."

At the Stade de France next Sunday, England will come up against Virimi Vakatawa, arguably Europe's most dangerous game-breaker, among a host of athletic, explosive carriers.

Having faced Racing 92's outside centre for Saracens a week ago, Owen Farrell said: "He's strong, powerful but unbelievably well balanced."

While England's intelligent kicking undid them a year ago at Twickenham, France have defended stubbornly in recent years, too. Fabien GalthiƩ's new recruit will enhance that.

Indeed, Jones suggested that Shaun Edwards could have an immediate impact on the "robustness" and "tackle selection" of France. England's ability to break down and pick apart opponents will receive a stern challenge straight away.

As he follows the success of Warren Gatland and Edwards, built on the foundations of disciplined, destructive defence, the theme of Wales head coach Wayne Pivac has been steady evolution - and stringent strategic detail - rather than revolution. He said: "The guys have been made aware of the style of game we want to play, the positional specifics and roles they have to play as a 12, as a four or five or a six or whatever."

Alun Wyn Jones grinned at the topic of Edwards, admitting that he "can't wait to see what he is going to do".

As for Wales's tactical development, their 34-year-old captain asked for supporters to show patience to the reigning Grand Slam champions.

"You'll get some players who will look for the shadows and say 'I hope it doesn't come to me'," Jones admitted. "You'll get others that will have a go and think 'If I fail, I'll move on'. We're very fortunate that we have a group that are relishing the opportunity, the challenge to be part of the evolution. It is probably going to be a bumpy road. People remember Gats's first Grand Slam and his last. There were a few years that we didn't get much.

"When those times come, that's the true test of the squad and where we are, whether we persevere with the way we want to play. That'll be the truer test."

Perspective is little problem for Pivac. Years ago in Auckland, he worked as a police officer. This comes in handy. "The ability to elicit information from people that don't necessarily want to talk to you is a skill in itself," he said. "There's also ability to read body language.

"Once you go to someone's house and tell them that a loved one has passed away unexpectedly, you can sit down with a rugby player and tell them that they're not getting picked."

Sunday Indo Sport