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'We're not going to name it': England decide to play waiting game

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

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Eddie Jones will delay publicly revealing his latest England squad leadership group until he names the team that will take on Scotland in the opening round of the Guinness Six Nations on February 5. The English boss placed great emphasis some months ago on how he changed up the approach to running his squad for the Autumn Nations Series. 

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When naming the team for that series opener versus Tonga, Jones nominated Ellis Genge, Courtney Lawes and Tom Curry as vice-captains in an XV that was to be skippered by Owen Farrell. 

“The leadership team’s job is to influence and get the best out of the team and we feel that the greater the diversity in the leadership team, particularly with the number of young guys in the team, is suited by having those three guys as vice-captains,” he explained at the time. 

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This revamp was quickly put to the test with Farrell a late drop-out from the team that started that opening match in November, his isolation resulting in Lawes taking over the matchday captaincy – a role he was to reprise a fortnight later versus the Springboks when Farrell was again unavailable. 

It was last week when Farrell was named England skipper for the upcoming Six Nations but that plan has been scuppered by his latest injury setback. Farrell will now miss the entire championship and with Lawes currently going through the return to play protocol following a concussion, Jones has held off publicly announcing his team’s leadership group for the start of the tournament.  

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“We are not going to name it,” he said. “We are going to wait until we name the team for Scotland but we have got a group of players that are assuming responsibility for their job. And the reason I am not going to name it is there is the core leadership and there is a greater leadership group. For instance, we had two events on Tuesday that were run by the team. The first one was with Jessica Ennis and George Furbank and Maro (Itoje) took responsibility for that.

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“Then in the nighttime, we had team communications (meeting) that we ended up having I think in a pub (due to a fire-enforced hotel evacuation). So they had it in a pub and Maro took responsibility for it. What we are trying to do is there will be a core group which is made up of four of five vice-captains but they are almost like the cabinet and they have got to make sure they devolve some roles and responsibilities to other guys in the team.”

Saracens boss Mark McCall has endorsed the leadership abilities of his player Itoje. “Maro has been outstanding around our group. He has always been a player who leads by example but he has added way more to that, especially in the last two or three months. The influence he has on his teammates has been outstanding.”

Curry, one of the November vice-captains, paid tribute to the absent Farrell and gave his take on the leadership approach within the England squad leading into the Six Nations. “Owen is gutted and he is a brilliant player. The strength and the direction we are going in is group thing in terms of the leadership group, there is a brilliant voice in there with a great experience. 

“Owen is a great player and a great leader but we have got to make sure we step up and that is the exciting challenge. Yeah, it doesn’t fall on one person’s shoulders or one person’s responsibility – that is where we can pull together and push forward in a really good direction.”

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The hotel evacuation, injuries and covid have made for an eventful preparation week in Brighton, but the unexpected is something Jones and co have enthusiastically embraced. “We don’t ask for it but when it comes our way we accept it and I really like how the players handle it, how they just take it in their stride and get on with it,” said the England coach.

“The game of rugby teaches you that. We had that difficult game in Wales last year where possibly two decisions were maybe highly debatable and we didn’t handle that as a team as well as we would have liked and we want to learn from that. 

“All these sorts of things that we have had over the last 48 hours are opportunities for us to get a little bit stronger and a little bit more adaptable and think quicker on our feet. You don’t suddenly become a team that is adaptable, you are always moving towards it and we are moving in the right direction.”

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