Marcus Smith's England is bigger than Eddie Jones and he must change
Normally Amazon delivers. An impatient rap on the door and there it is; whatever you’ve ordered, on your mat. The screech of the transit van’s wheels decree they couldn’t stay for long. There’s elsewhere to be; it’s a big job.
So is playing rugby for England. Not that young Marcus seems to care. As the budding maestro trundled out first onto the Twickenham pitch to warm up, the risible comments from his new boss still had an embers’ glow. Distractions? This boy does anything but. He went Premiership Trophy, England debut, then British and Irish Lions Tour this summer, without so much as a wink at the camera. Alas Mr Jones, Mr Smith you know not. Some sequins were born to shine.
Not that they really got the chance to flaunt him. Smith tiptoed around the Twickenham turf too far from the tiller. Against an impotent Australian side, he should have been more central; given more rope. As it was, he seldom skipped. He ran a couple of trademark arcs, double pumped a wide hole for Steward to hit but in the main, was a line removed from any real mischief: shame. You wonder what could have been done.
But why is this? Why do things feel as though they aren’t quite right? My theory revolves around control.
It won’t take you long to find a story on Eddie Jones and his control issues. His incredible hunger for detail and planning – he barely sleeps in his pursuit of covering every eventuality; the fear that he creates to manipulate and position his team to further greatness; his inability to allow others to feel autonomy, means high levels of staff turnover.
But in opposition to this is a brilliant, arguably unique, rugby brain. There is no one quite like Eddie Jones in terms of game knowledge. He gives those around him a great deal; players, fellow coaches, support staff recognise that the gift of the Australian is in the content, rather than the delivery. A training session with Jones is a terrifying prospect, but if you can navigate it, the rewards are vast.
Jones has his own ideas about how things work. And Yokohama was something of a magnum opus. He has seemingly retreated there in many ways, his reliance on the legacy of certain players, but not even Jones can stop time. The ticking clock brings Generation Marcus: a player bigger than Jones himself. He brings a new way of thinking about England and, at the moment, Jones is not yet there.
So, we find ourselves in a period of huge struggle. One that does not exist anywhere else than within the six inches of the Tasmanian’s brain. My guess is that Jones will progress and once he has come to terms with the sort of player Smith is, England will benefit. In the meantime, the watching public will have to endure the sort of performances that took place yesterday. Ones that do a job but fail to leave us satisfied.
Societies and communities exist along an axis of freedom and control. Under Jones, England Rugby sits quite tight to one end. Smith’s greatness, and it is already a ‘greatness’, positions itself much closer to freedom. This period of transition will be fascinating. For all Smith’s achievements to date, he mustn’t get distracted from his greatest challenge; changing and developing Mr Jones’ incredible rugby mind.
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