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The 'big' reason why one England player doesn't want Jones sacked

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

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Knives have been sharpened for Eddie Jones in the wake of the 32-15 England loss to Ireland last Saturday – but one player who had plenty to feel aggrieved about in the past with the Australian has given him a vote of confidence heading into this weekend’s Guinness Six Nations finale in France. Sam Simmonds spent years in the England wilderness, the Exeter No8 even getting to tour South Africa with the 2021 Lions before Jones finally ended the player’s near four-year wait to be capped by his country.

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Simmonds started the March 2018 defeat to Ireland and despite recovering from the serious knee injury he suffered not long after that Six Nations appearance, it took until last November’s Autumn Nations Series game versus Australia to finally bridge a 44-month gap in between England caps. 

The back-rower is now part of the 2022 Six Nations campaign, starting in the losses to Scotland and Ireland and coming off the bench in the wins over Italy and Wales. With England out of the title equation, as they prepare to take on the Grand Slam-chasing France, there has been plenty of speculation that Jones has taken the team as far as he can and shouldn’t be in charge for the 2023 World Cup.  

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However, the effects of his coaching received support on Tuesday from Simmonds who gave the England boss the thumbs up despite this year’s mixed results mirroring the fortunes of their 2021 effort. That culminated in the fifth-place finish that prompted Jones to try-out new players such as Marcus Smith, Harry Randall and Freddie Steward while also giving Simmonds his shot at redemption after an incredibly exhaustive wait. 

It was put to Simmonds at his lunchtime media briefing that the knives were out for Jones 24 hours earlier when the coach fronted the Monday press session and the question posed to the 27-year-old was, ‘Is he the right man to lead England forward?’  

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Simmonds replied: “He [Jones] has improved my game. I wouldn’t say there is a player that has come through into camp that hasn’t gone away – whether they are playing or whether they are going back to their club – that hasn’t improved and taken things on board that Eddie says. His experience in the game is amazing and when he talks, boys listen. 

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“I feel like as a group this campaign probably more than any other we have come together as a squad. Although it hasn’t maybe reflected in results, the Scotland and most recently the Ireland game, I feel like people can see, especially at Twickenham, it felt like people could see what it meant for us as players to play for England. 

“But also we are not just playing for England, we are playing for the coaches and I guess it is big to see that and now much maybe confidence we have in what Eddie does in how we played the game at the weekend.”

The 34-man squad announced by Jones on Monday to train for two days at Pennyhill ahead of the trip to France included the name of Jack Willis for the first time since his terrible injury suffered just minutes after scoring his first England career try in the February 2021 win over Italy. With Tom Curry now out injured, Willis was asked to showcase how his comeback is going just weeks after getting back into the action at Wasps.  

“Tom is a big miss. Any international team would miss someone of his quality but Jack being fit is amazing,” reckoned Simmonds. “He has worked hard over the last year. I know what it is like to have knee injuries, how hard it is to fit back, and his wasn’t straightforward and had a lot of bumps on the road for him.

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“To be able to put some games together for Wasps in the last couple of weeks and to be back in the international mix is amazing. We have got good players coming back in. (Sam) Underhill coming back in, Alfie (Barbeary) has been amazing throughout the whole campaign. It is a shame losing Tom but we have got some boys to come back in to fill a spot.”

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