‘The last experiment I did was about 39 years ago on a lab rat’: Eddie Jones insists he will be picking strong England teams during autumn Tests
Eddie Jones is gearing up for a hectic autumn schedule with no plans to perform major surgery on his England line-up — even though they face six games in seven weeks.
When it comes to the science of Test selection, the national coach sees it as a pragmatic equation: pick teams to win. He sees no need to wield the scalpel — in fact, he hasn’t done so since engaging in a spot of rodent exploration in his student days.
‘The last experiment I did was about 39 years ago, when I was 21, in biology,’ said Jones. ‘I remember opening up a rat.
England coach Eddie Jones has been busy after the resumption of the Premiership season
‘Coaches don’t experiment. Test rugby is about doing your country proud, picking the best players and getting them to win.
‘Part of that process, as we’ve shown, is identifying good young players, giving them an opportunity and finding out which ones are going to come through. We are identifying those young players who we think can be better than the players in the squad.’
Now the Premiership has resumed, there has been speculation about the rookies who might be catching Jones’s eye, before games against the Barbarians, Italy, Fiji, Wales and Ireland — then a possible eight-team tournament final.
Much of the attention has been focused on the multitude of back-rowers making strong Test cases. As reported by Sportsmail last week, Leicester pair Tommy Reffell and George Martin are on the England radar, on the strength of showing potent ial in a struggling Tigers side.
Coach Eddie Jones has no plans to perform major surgery on his England line-up
Wasps openside Jack Willis has also been widely acclaimed — along with Sale’s Ben Curry.
Asked about Willis, Jones said: ‘There are a lot of good back-rowers around. The law interpretation favours good, contesting back-rowers and he (Willis) is one of a number of good players at the moment. I’ve been reasonably consistent in how we select. We want to have people hard on the ball.
That’s a back-rower’s job.’ Jones has always regarded selection as an intuitive process as much as a scientific one, but he is moving with the times and embracing formulaic methods of assessment.
Rugby is awash with facts and figures — including GPS data — but England are striving to enhance this work by emulating the advances being made in football.
‘There are metrics around performance and football is way ahead of us in this area,’ said Jones. ‘That is one reason we’ve spent some time looking at football. Take Mako Vunipola, who is probably one of the world’s best looseheads. He carries the ball 15 times a game.
‘His longest carry is probably three seconds. So he has got the ball in his hand for 45 seconds. For 79 minutes and 15 seconds, he is working off the ball, and we don’t really have any metrics to measure the effectiveness of his movement off the ball.
We have very crass data but we have to see if we can collect data that is meaningful in terms of giving feedback on more effective movement off the ball. It is a big project. We will keep investigating. We are dealing with financing the research at the moment.’
For Jones, this is one side of his high-profile job — acquiring knowledge and pushing boundaries. Another is dealing with human emotion. That is a big factor when a player is told his Test career is over. In his autobiography, Dylan Hartley, Jones’s long-time captain, opens up about an often harsh England environment and his own abrupt demise. While the book shines an uncomfortable light on Jones’s approach, he has no complaints. There has been no falling-out with Hartley. The pair met recently for a chat.
‘I have not read the book,’ said Jones. ‘All I know is I had a nice cup of coffee at his house.’ Hartley was bluntly told last summer that there was no way back for him after 97 caps and Jones added: ‘That’s all been dealt with. Finishing your career is a tough time. No one likes something being taken away from them.
‘I don’t know what Dylan has written. It could be 100 per cent true. It could be 100 per cent false. It could be somewhere in the middle, which is usually the case.’
Jones has been watching games and assessing those who will be in his autumn squad when it is named next month.
He and assistants John Mitchell, Matt Proudfoot and Simon Amor have also sought to blow away the coaching cobwebs by taking sessions at Championship club Ealing this week.
After a congested autumn campaign, they will have the next Six Nations ahead of them soon enough.
Then, while England go on an end-of-season development tour with Tests against the USA and Canada, Jones expects a large number of his players to be in South Africa with the Lions.
He said: ‘How many will go on the Lions tour? I hope 20-plus. I want to see a record. I want our side to be by far the dominant force in the Lions. That will be a consequence of them playing well for England.’
At the end of a gruelling domestic season, is that a realistic ambition? ‘Yeah, 100 per cent,’ he added.
It is an assertion which sums up Jones — bullish, bold and optimistic.
l Eddie Jones is an Umbro ambassador. Umbro launch their new England kit on Monday. Visit umbro.co.uk/rugby