Ddie Jones and England have arrived in Australia for a tour that will not do as much as many fans and pundits think should decide their future as head coaches.
Jones will remain in charge until the end of next year’s World Cup in France, serving eight years and two world tournaments. It has been a turbulent time of ups and downs for players and staff turnover. And while this visit may have a minimal impact on his job security, it will determine how this last chapter works.
Despite cutting his wings a few times over the years, Jones is extremely powerful in Tokenham. And one man he reports, CEO Bill Sweeney, is currently recovering from pulmonary embolism. The good news for Sweeney is that the picture of life after Jones – a turning point in his day – is now much clearer.
In Steve Borthock, a realistic candidate has emerged from the premiership. The former England captain is just 42 years old, but he did well to lead Leicester to the title this year. Borthwick worked with Japan and England under Jones and took the Tigers’ job to a low ebb. He can’t even believe how quickly he turned things around.
He leads young English coaches, including Alex Sanderson (Cell) and George Schwington (Gloucester). So whatever happens to Sean Edwards, which RFU has become accustomed to avoiding, there are English options for England’s coaching staff when Jones leaves.
It’s all about Jones for the next 18 months. England landed in Perth, where it was raining once this week, and went straight to the Indian Ocean to form a team. For what it feels like to be in power, Jones has to pull off a slightly different group of old and new faces.
Australia has been his favorite opponent, winning eight out of eight. Half of them have represented real high points – the 2016 Whitewash Tour, the World Cup quarter-finals in Oita – and they have always figured out how to play Windup Merchant in Australia this week. In 2016, he hit a memorable hit about his body line series to surprise his players in general.
Very few of them had hysterics before the tour, Jones kept his answers simple and didn’t rush, perhaps admitting that things weren’t going so well. England finished with two wins out of five for the other six countries in a row and suffered just one embarrassing defeat against Barbarian.
It was the same scene four years ago, when England played a series of changes in South Africa, losing 2-1 as they entered the final round of Jones’ World Cup cycle. Leading figures from the early part of his era – Dylan Hartley, Chris Rubshaw, Mike Brown, James Haskell – either arrived at the end of the tour, or at the beginning of the end. Tom Curry was the diamond that emerged, and was a catalyst for improvement.
This time, Jones has gone in a different direction. While there are eight uncapped players, he has gone back to the few who suggested he left. Notable are Danny Carey, 35, who last played in 2018, and Mako and Billy Wonipola, 31 and 29, respectively, who last played in 2021 in six countries. Others who fell after the tournament, such as Jamie George and George Ford, have since returned. Elite Daily has been in and out again.
Jones is constantly being ignored for all the losses and class acts, there is a lot of quality in this England squad.
Jones’ position has been weakened by a series of injuries to key players. Kyle Sinclair is his only test class tighthead. The absence of Sam Symonds and Alex Dombrand leaves Wonipola as the only No. 8 specialist. In midfield, George Ford, Henry Slade and, most damaging, Mano Toilagi, are all injured. Ben Youngs has been rested to live with his family, and to get a full pre-season before a campaign, which will test him at the age of 33.
This is England, though, so for all the losses and class actions he keeps ignoring, there is a lot of quality in the squad, and an interesting combination to discover, at least in Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell midfield, Joe Cocanasiga. Roaming with Beyond them.
In the 2019 cycle, the refreshed squad on the tour of South Africa began to click in the 2018 Fall International competitions, followed by some spectacular performances in six countries, then three before the World Cup. Spent months working together. This is the blueprint for Jones, and it starts now.