Australia vs England: Eddie Jones rolls the dice with selection but tourists in vital need of instant boost

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Australia vs England: Eddie Jones rolls the dice with selection but tourists in vital need of instant boost
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Eddie Jones has nailed his colours to the World Cup mast for next year, but must be hoping history does not rewind nearly two-and-a-half decades here in Queensland, the scene of England’s most ignominious Test match.

Boris Johnson is not the only high-profile national leader who has been under the cosh recently. Jones is feeling the heat, and the events here in 1998 still have English rugby fans breaking out in a cold sweat.

Twenty four years ago, England, under Clive Woodward, kicked off the notorious ‘Tour of Hell’ that killed many careers stone dead with a 76-0 defeat by the Wallabies.

Woodward travelled to the southern hemisphere with a callow squad who proceeded to lose seven games out of seven, including four Test matches, one to Australia, two to New Zealand and one to South Africa, and were hammered from pillar to post.

He was hamstrung by the withdrawals of a slew of players who had beaten the Springboks a year earlier with the Lions and many of their replacements were never to be seen again at the highest level.

But to this day, the former England head coach believes those disastrous weeks Down Under helped turn his squad into the kings of the rugby planet.

Jones is hoping to perform the same trick. It should be noted, though, that Woodward’s team did the job five years afterwards, while the current players have to do it next year in France.

England have their backs to the wall after last weekend’s 30-28 defeat in Perth, the series is on the line, yet Jones has picked a debutant wing, Northampton’s Tommy Freeman, 21, a scrum-half — another 21-year-old who has not started a Test — in Leicester’s Jack van Poortvliet, a centre, Guy Porter, another Tiger, who will be winning his first cap, and an ‘apprentice’ player, Henry Arundell, on the bench.

The two Tigers and Freddie Steward, yet another 21-year-old, helped their club win the Premiership title in a final against Saracens dubbed “nearly a Test match” by Jones, so that is a plus.

Jones highlighted next year’s World Cup in an RFU email release even before he walked into a Brisbane hotel room to explain his picks. If these do not work out he will have even more explaining to do, although his comments smack of a man who is safe in his job and not about to follow the PM out of the exit door.

Eddie Jones has nailed his colours to the World Cup mast (AP)
Eddie Jones has nailed his colours to the World Cup mast (AP)

In 1998, the opening game at Lang Park, now the Suncorp Stadium, ended in England losing by 10 tries in a match that ended plenty of players’ international careers. But of the 15 Englishmen who ran out that night, Jonny Wilkinson and Phil Vickery started the World Cup final in 2003, while Lewis Moody, Danny Grewcock and Matt Dawson were all involved in England’s most famous campaign after being part of their most disastrous tour.

For the record, the back-line that started that night consisted of Tim Stimpson, Spencer Brown, Matt Perry, Steve Ravenscroft, Austin Healey, Wilkinson and Scott Benton.

The one Jones has picked for tomorrow is the third youngest he has selected on his England watch after those who played against the USA and Canada last summer in glorified development games. And they are being pitched into a Test at a ground where Australia have not lost in 10 games.

Jones might have tagged this as a practice match for France next year, but there is still a series to win — and England, the coach, and the fans down here could do with that right now.

Jones has rolled the dice with selection, though, and it might just work, even if the harping on about a tournament which is 15 months away sticks in the craw.

It’s going to take time to get there and we are going to have to have patience.

Freeman is electric. He scored eight tries in his past six Premiership matches and could be the real deal, as long as he gets his hands on the ball more than Joe Cokanasiga managed last week in Perth. Porter should give England the go-forward they crave in the absence of Manu Tuilagi, while Van Poortvliet showed his sharpness off the bench last week. A good night out for those three, another one in Sydney next weekend, and then England can start talking World Cups.

Captain Courtney Lawes, who will be playing his 100th Test, has bought into the plan.

“We’ve had the conversation that we’re making these changes for a reason,” he said. “We think it’ll open up our potential and we’ll be a better team for it. Maybe not now, it’s going to take time to get there and we are going to have to have patience. We are going to go through ups and downs, but as long as we’re building towards an end product, that is the main thing for us.”

England could do with the end product arriving tomorrow before thinking about next year.

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