Why Eddie Jones deserves credit for changing his ways - Andy Goode
Eddie Jones’ England squad announcement has made waves again but, with one notable exception, he has picked on form and we should be applauding him for that. Clearly, Owen Farrell, who hasn’t played since mid-November, is the man with the special dispensation and is treated differently because of his leadership credentials.
Farrell’s inclusion was expected but it is the addition of another fly-half, almost exactly ten years younger than the England captain, that has stolen all the headlines. It’s no reflection on Orlando Bailey because he is a youngster with a fair bit of talent and hopefully a very bright future in the game but I’m as bemused as everyone else about his inclusion ahead of certain other players.
There are other fly-halves who could have got the nod as well but, of course, George Ford is the name on everybody’s lips. He is 28-years-old, has 77 caps to his name and is in the form of his life. I understand the need to regenerate the squad but it is a bigger squad now with 36 players included and I was convinced that Ford would be recalled because of that.
The one thing I would say is that Marcus Smith will perhaps benefit from not having the pressure of a bang in-form Ford breathing down his neck. Everyone has been clamouring for him to be given the keys to drive this England side forwards and now he very much has.
I just hope Jones hasn’t backed himself into a corner if Smith and Farrell both pick up injuries because that was the case against Tonga in the autumn (Smith only trained fully at that week’s captain’s run and Farrell was a false positive test issue) and we saw George Furbank starting as the England No10. If that happens during the Six Nations, Ford should be getting a phone call.
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Clearly, as well as being a bigger squad, this is a more fluid squad than the ones picked over the past couple of years when there was a reluctance to bring players in and out because of Covid. “We think this 36 for the first training week reflects a good balance of experience and up-and-coming talent,” Jones said.
Don’t be surprised if this squad changes a fair bit in the weeks to come and the likes of Sam Underhill and Elliot Daly have already been namechecked as players who may come back into the fold at a later date.
Billy and Mako Vunipola’s names are going to be mentioned every time an England squad is named as well but the harsh facts are that they aren’t in the top two in their position anymore, with Ellis Genge, Joe Marler, Alex Dombrandt and Sam Simmonds ahead of them.
Ben Earl and Adam Radwan can count themselves more unlucky to miss out, having been involved in the international setup more recently, but Alfie Barbeary and Ollie Hassell-Collins have been on fire for their clubs recently so it is great to see them picked.
Barbeary hasn’t just been picked on his performance against Toulouse but it was a hell of a time to put in quite such a dominant display against the European champions and Hassell-Collins has made more linebreaks than anyone else in the Premiership this season.
At 6ft 4ins and around 100kgs, the London Irish man also has all the physical attributes to make the leap to international rugby. I commentated on an Irish game at the start of the season and I was taken aback by how big he was up close.
Ollie Chessum is one inclusion that will have shocked a fair few people but I have been so impressed with him for Leicester and I’m really glad to see him in there. Jones likened him to Courtney Lawes himself and he does fit that mould as a really good lineout option who can carry and tackle all day.
He has started at blindside, number eight and second row in the last couple of months for Tigers and that versatility is definitely something that Jones is looking at with the World Cup not far around the corner now.
There are only a couple of Six Nations, a summer tour and an autumn campaign between now and the main event that Jones will be judged on and the likes of Chessum and Bailey, who can play ten, twelve and 15, become even more valuable when you are naming a 31-man squad.
Jones, of course, wants to win the Six Nations with England but there is no doubt that he has one eye on the World Cup because that is his end game. He is not going to lose his job if his team has a bad Six Nations, as we saw last year, but mixing things up now might help him in France next year.
You always look at who is not in the squad as opposed to who is actually in it but, with just a couple of exceptions, this is definitely an England squad picked on form and Jones deserves credit for changing his ways in that respect.
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