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Nigel Owens uses a Gatland comparison as he backs Eddie Jones

By Kim Ekin
(Photo by David Davies/PA Images via Getty Images)

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Former international referee Nigel Owens reckons England have a lot of work to do ahead of next year’s World Cup following a disappointing Six Nations campaign – but insisted that Eddie Jones is still the right man for the job. England suffered a 25-13 defeat to France on Saturday to finish third in the Six Nations, igniting questions about the Australian’s position in charge of the 2019 beaten finalists.   

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Owens, though, has backed Jones to wait out the storm and lead England to a successful campaign next year. “When you are 18 months out from a World Cup it’s a big ask to change any coaching set-up really,” said Owens to William Hill. “It’d be a huge gamble to do that. 

“Eddie has won a Grand Slam with England, Six Nations titles, he took them to the last World Cup final and outplayed New Zealand in that semi-final. They played brilliantly in that game, probably one of the best England performances that one has seen. So he has definitely still got the ability to lead them into the World Cup.

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“If you look back at Warren Gatland, there were times in that ten or eleven years coaching Wales when he didn’t have the best of seasons. But then the next season he got things right and would bounce back. Wales went to the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2019, the quarter-finals in 2015 and the semi-final in 2011 which they should have won… 

“But it will be interesting to see how Eddie and England go over the summer and in the autumn as they do need to now start getting some wins in and build up some confidence as the World Cup is getting closer.

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“England have shown glimpses in the Six Nations. They played well in Paris and they played well against Ireland, even though they lost those two games. But there is something not quite right there. They have got some quality players, with Owen Farrell still to come back, who will bring a lot to the side, particularly experience-wise. But they have got a lot of work to do.

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“They have shown glimpses but they are nowhere near winning the World Cup at the moment, so they have got a lot of work to do in that respect – but it looks like it’s work that can be done pretty quickly. They have got the players, they just need to find that rhythm, style and confidence.”

Away from Jones and the England situation, Owens believes France are the favourites to win the World Cup following their Grand Slam success and home advantage next year, but he suggested they still need to work on a few things. “They are my favourites for the World Cup next year. The fact they are playing in France is the key to it, but Ireland are in a good place at the moment, New Zealand will always be strong, South Africa as well…

“France are going in there as one of the favourites. The only question I do have is, like we saw in Cardiff in that second half against Wales, when the pressure is on, how will they deal with it? What are they going to be like against South Africa, New Zealand, or even Ireland or England, if they go into the World Cup in form? 

“What will they be like if there is only a couple of points in it and there is pressure on them? But there is another year-and-a-half to go so they will keep improving. But at the moment, they are not out and out favourites like New Zealand in 2015. They are still favourites but it will be interesting to see how they go in the build-up to next year.”

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Owens, who last week outlined some constructive criticism for this year’s championship referees, also said that Italy’s win against Wales on Saturday proved that they deserve their place in the Six Nations, despite some calling for them to be replaced. “Italy showed with that win they belong in the Six Nations. I have been supporting Italy and saying that Georgia and the others are not good enough to replace Italy. They are not of the standard to replace Italy. 

“Italy have struggled in recent years, of course they have, but Georgia are not better than Italy. If you look in recent years, Benetton have been playing some great rugby, and that was Kieran Crowley coaching them. And he seems now to have got the Italian players for Italy playing like Benetton were playing, as we saw on the weekend.

 “I hope those calling for Italy to be chucked out of the Six Nations are feeling a bit embarrassed now. And what happens next year if Wales finish with the wooden spoon? They were only a few points ahead of Italy this year. What happens then if you are talking about the bottom side being relegated? The Six Nations is special and needs to stay the way that it is. The weekend has put that argument to bed.”

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