Much of what I’ve written this month in my City AM articles has reflected on messages coming out of the RFU and from England’s Head Coach Eddie Jones.
I have found a lot of those messages confusing, whether they’ve been made publicly or inferred, and I still stand by everything I’ve said.
JONES PICKING ON FORM?
Jones maintains steadfastly that he picks on form but I cannot see how that is 100% the case. Alex Goode, for instance, has been a stand-out player for Saracens but hasn’t played for England in two years. Why not? He’s consistent and has every facet covered: good under the high ball, great footwork, solid kicking game, kicks goals and is flexible.
I’ve captained England and the principle of playing for your country is that you are the best in your position. If that doesn’t happen it starts to eat away at the culture you work so hard to build together and for me players will be looking at Goode – especially Saracens players – and questioning the culture.
Later in the month, I reflected on Eddie’s injury-enforced changes after losing both Vunipola brothers on top of the absences of players like Robshaw, Launchbury and the retired Marler.
Don’t get me wrong – England’s squad is still strong, but I would say more by luck than design. Ben Morgan has been playing really well for Gloucester (like Danny Cipriani!) and the back row still has a lot of quality. Until he was knocked out against Australia last year, Sam Underhill was being talked about as the future and the Bath flanker is back in form.
Injuries create opportunity, and a handful of players now have a chance to stake a claim for a place in the team with a World Cup on the horizon. His hand has been forced, but Jones also has the chance to look at new faces – guys like Morgan, Underhill, Zach Mercer, Michael Rhodes, Brad Shields, Joe Cokanasiga – and it adds to the intrigue that South Africa, New Zealand, Japan and Australia won’t know them that well.
Once again, elements of selection are confusing. Chris Ashton is included; Cipriani is not. Hartley and Farrell are co-captains. Hartley is just not doing it at the moment.
There are question marks over some areas, but I’m sure Ashton will be flying, while Cokanasiga, Henry Slade and Alex Lozowski are all exciting options. It’s a squad full of players who are performing brilliantly for their clubs. If they can translate that into international form then it could prove very interesting for England and Jones.?
And then in my most recent piece I reflected on that fact that the RFU have made public the fact that they are already preparing for life after Eddie Jones.
One day, of course, Jones will step aside. It just depends whether that will be at the end of his contract in 2021 or following the 2019 World Cup. The RFU have made it clear they expect England to at least reach the semi-final of the World Cup and at the moment the pressure is on.
That the RFU are considering the future is understandable; what is interesting is Nigel Melville performing a U-turn, and the timing. Having previously stated that whoever follows Jones would need international experience, Melville has now started casting his eye over candidates in the Premiership.
Leinster and Saracens favourites for Champions Cup
Also this month I questioned who has what it takes to conquer Europe. It’s a different beast to the Premiership and Exeter for example are still to convince me. Are they capable of evolving their game again for the best in Europe.
Leinster’s best players are protected in the Pro 14 so they’re 100% ready for the Champions Cup and Saracens also peak for Europe.
I love the Champions Cup. It’s absolutely brutal – there is no place to hide and there are no whipping boys. Who do you think will win it this year? Let me know @OlliePhillips11