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Jones: No regrets over 'gut feeling' subs policy that hurt England

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/The RFU Collection via Getty Images

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England boss Eddie Jones has insisted he has no regrets regarding his decision-making at Murrayfield during last Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations loss to Scotland. His team were in control having bounced back from a 6-10 interval deficit to silence the home crowd and lead 17-10 with just over 15 minutes remaining of the championship opener in Edinburgh.

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However, after making a quadruple substitution that included the removal of lone points scorer Marcus Smith, England imploded coming down the finishing straight, sparking a huge outpouring of criticism about the coach and the way his team lost its way. 

He explained on Tuesday, when England started back training for their round two match versus Italy in Rome next Sunday, that his decisions regarding his use of replacements are more dependent on his gut feeling rather than data-driven by live in-game statistics, a policy he eventually shed light on following an initial testy reaction when asked questions about his Murrayfield finishers.

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“I’m in charge of it, mate, so my opinion is the only one that counts and we have a plan like every coach does but we adjust it to what is happening in the game,” he said when first quizzed how much of his bench use was pre-prescribed and how much of it was reactive.

His disquiet continued when the follow-up question was: “Could you give us a context of why Harry Randall stayed on the bench, why was it right for Ben Youngs to stay on?”

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“I’m not going to go through each player and discuss my replacement plan,” retorted Jones. “As I have said, we have moved on to Italy, mate. That is all retrospective and really not of much value going forward. The only thing I am worried about is Italy.” 

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Later in the session, however, Jones mellowed when questioned more tactfully and by the end of the briefing he had explained there were four core elements that generally fed into his thinking when it came to making replacements during an England game and that criticism of his choices doesn’t affect him. 

“Everyone had got a judgment and I’ll tell you, I have been a television commentator and I was the smartest coach in the world, I got everything right and it is easy with the hindsight of a replay to get everything right. I don’t have any regrets about what happened on Saturday in terms of the replacements we made. 

“There were a number of circumstances that happened that didn’t control what we would have liked to have done with the replacements. As you know, we got a yellow card which upset the applecart a little bit which we weren’t planning on.

“In going forward the big thing for me is we have got a squad of 23 and we want to maximise the squad of 23 and how much time a replacement gets depends on the performance of the starting guy and what he has been showing at training, so we will always be weighing those things up, looking at the game. It’s quite a complicated equation of what we look at and it is not as simple as maybe it is made out to be.”

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Could Jones go into any detail on the ‘complicated equation’ to help explain the process of substitutions to fans who watch his England team? “It’s a good question and I’m happy to go into that generically because it changes for every game. There is no one formula. What we try to do is assess the momentum in the game so then we try to assess whether we can make changes that can add to the momentum of the game or change the momentum of the game. That is one thing. 

“Secondly, then we look at the major contests in the game, where are we winning, where can we add to that and if we are not winning, what are the contests we need to start winning to win the game.

“Then thirdly or fourthly you are looking at the performance of the player who started not only in terms of his skill but also in terms of his physical capacity and the sort of game it is, whether it is a high running game, a slower game with a lot of breaks, and then we are looking at the form of the finisher. How impressive have they been during the week, can they add to the situation? 

“So we are weighing up all those four things. Do we have a plan going into games? We have a rough plan but we don’t just follow the plan. We try to make decisions based on those things,” he said, going on to add his thoughts about in-game data.  

“We really don’t get any good live data during the game. It is more about what we are seeing and what we are feeling and I have got four assistant coaches feeding into me with their thoughts and we try to collate those. Sometimes it will be based on what they say and what they feel and sometimes it will be based on what I feel, and we try to come to the best decisions. 

“We get basic stats on actions but they don’t tell us anything more than we know. We don’t get any live GPS because of the stadiums, we don’t have the technology to do that so the information, in reality, hasn’t changed much for 25 years during the game. So it is about your observation, it’s about your gut feeling which is generally based on some data.

“So, for instance, each of the players we know have got a stress signal of when they are tired so we learn that about the players and when we take a player off it is because they have shown us there is some sort of physical distress and they don’t have much left in their tank. There is a little bit of science about that, but a lot of it is still gut feeling.”

The final query on the hot topic for Jones was whether out-half Smith exhibited a ‘stress signal’ that led to his removal and the entrance of George Ford for England at Murrayfield? “I’m not going to go back into the game but I feel at that stage we needed to change things.” 

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