Eddie Jones says he is not a magician after England are far from magic
‘I can’t suddenly make them more athletic. All I can do is try to maximise the players we have’
England’s Owen Farrell looking dejected after defeat to Scotland at Murrayfield last Saturday. Photograph: Reuters/Lee Smith
Even before things turned ugly on his Sunday morning train, this was always going to be a bumpy week for Eddie Jones. Encountering a few mouthy fans on his return south may have been unpleasant, but it was nothing compared with the intense discomfort his team endured at Murrayfield last Saturday evening. If there had been an emergency cord available, England would have yanked it after 20 minutes.
And now everyone wants to know how the wizard of Oz is going to fix things up between now and next week’s increasingly tricky-looking trip to Paris.
One fine Scottish performance does not instantly make England a busted flush – 24 wins from 26 games remains a more than decent strike rate – but the flaws it exposed are not all of a type that can be simply massaged
“I’m not a magician, mate,” shrugged Jones, as the snowflakes started to settle on the pavement outside Oxford’s Randolph Hotel.
What may just interest England’s forthcoming opponents, however, is what he said next.
The Australian had just been asked whether England’s turnover woes and lack of pace to the breakdown compared with their Scottish counterparts might tempt him to alter his side’s stylistic approach.
“We can’t win that way,” came the blunt reply. “One thing I know is we can’t win playing pattern football. We don’t have the athletic ability to do it. I have them for 13 weeks a year. I can’t suddenly make them more athletic. All I can do is try to maximise the players we have. We’ve got good players, but we don’t have the ability to be athletically better than other teams.”
Forget the short-lived Tunnelgate row, Ryan Wilson’s crooked fingers (who knew?) and Elliot Daly’s imminent return to fitness. Jones has long felt that England’s best chance of beating New Zealand is by negating them, rather than taking them on at their own all-court game, but never has he more clearly articulated the uncomfortable reason why.
Previously he has spoken about playing to England’s traditional yeoman strengths up front; now he seems to be saying he has no other option, and is effectively cobbling together a World Cup-winning side from an old fairy liquid bottle and a bit of sticky back plastic.
Jones being Jones, of course, this could just be his crafty way of -winding up his forwards to the point where they come steaming out at the Stade de France determined to flatten everyone and everything. If that is also what happens against Ireland it will be job done.
The snag is that some of England’s bigger rivals may prefer to take him at face value when he complains about having only limited time in which to fashion a world-beating side.
“It took New Zealand eight years to fix it – we’re trying to do it in four, so everything’s a bit more difficult for us.”
Eh? You can almost hear the sympathy oozing from every pore from Inverness to Invercargill. Even if it’s true, it sounds horribly like an pre-emptive excuse.
Rather less debatable was Jones’s admission his side had “played poorly”, and received “a harsh lesson”. So too his acknowledgement they should have “reacted quicker” to Scotland’s breakdown threat and urgently needed to tighten their midfield defence.
Either way he is still backing his team’s attitude: “I’ve seen various commentaries about various things, but any team that wins 24 in 26 games has got a bit of steel about them. Yes, we were caught short on Saturday but...I don’t need to worry about the steel or the character of these players.
“The reality is that the more games you win, the closer you are to a game like this. That’s human nature. We think we’ve prepared well, they get a few things going their way, the crowd gets excited, the referee gets excited, and we get a bit disappointed.
“Then you’ve got an imbalance between the physical and the mental. The ability to swing that momentum back is what we need to find next, and that’s not easy. The problems we’ve got are still there even if we win the game. The result just magnifies them.”
The healing process this week has started with an old-school honesty session among the coaches – “we’re working round the clock to fix it” – and Jones’s Sunday afternoon chat with Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford also helped to put things in perspective.
“He mentioned a lot of matches where things went wrong, and a lot of the times you don’t have a solution to it.”Even top gurus, in other words, have their off days:
“We all think we’re clever, but we’re not so clever because our game’s an inexact science. We don’t have robots, we have human beings. There are no shortcuts, guys. We all wish there were.” – Guardian