Eddie Jones has revealed how Pep Guardiola had a significant influence on his selection policy for the World Cup and so he is unlikely to field England’s strongest XV in their tournament opener against Tonga.
Jones had strongly suggested he would pick England’s first-choice side against the Pacific Islanders a week today as a statement of intent but he has since had a change of heart, stating that due to the likelihood of injuries and potential suspensions “you never have your best team any more”.
He is already without Mako Vunipola – a certainty in England’s strongest XV – and Jack Nowell due to injury for the first two matches and Jones revealed that Joe Cokanasiga and Mark Wilson need a “mini pre-season” before the start of next week. But whereas during the Six Nations Jones made minor tweaks to his first-choice side, he has adopted a more open strategy since reading Pep Confidential, a book about Guardiola’s first season in charge of Bayern Munich.
“They played 60-odd games and for one week he had his full squad available,” said Jones. “That’s the reality of top-level physical sports now. I have a much more open approach to selection because of that and it has evolved quite quickly in the last three or four months.
“It’s exacerbated by the fact that the game has become physically more rigorous and the issues involved with the game means that players will likely be ruled out of games.”
Jones’s approach during England’s four World Cup warm-up matches would appear to back up his claim. Whereas at the end of the Six Nations Owen Farrell seemed nailed on at fly-half, Jones reverted to playing George Ford at No 10 and Farrell at inside-centre in the record-breaking win over Ireland.
Similarly, Jones has introduced the possibility of starting Tom Curry and Sam Underhill as flankers where previously it looked to be a straight shootout between the two for the No 7 jersey.
Whichever side Jones picks, they are expected to comfortably beat Tonga – who lost 92-7 to New Zealand this month – as well as the USA four days later, with sterner tests against Argentina and France to come. “The World Cup is like the Cheltenham Gold Cup. You have to be in front at the right time and we intend to be in front when the whips are cracking,” said Jones. “We will be ready to come out of the stalls [against Tonga but] we will not be cracking the whip just yet.”