The four gambles that paid off for Eddie Jones as England rediscovered their mojo

·4-min read
The four gambles that paid off for Eddie Jones as England rediscovered their mojo - GETTY IMAGES
The four gambles that paid off for Eddie Jones as England rediscovered their mojo - GETTY IMAGES

Eddie Jones' 'New England' secured an impressive autumn clean sweep with wins over Tonga, Australia and South Africa. And while the head coach isn't getting carried away, Telegraph Sport analyses four key moves that paid off for Jones. 

Replacing the old guard

Jones says that he knew after the 2019 World Cup that this team would need refreshing around this point. 

“Sometimes you can plan the timing and sometimes the timing comes to you and sometimes it is a bit of both,” the England head coach said.

In this case a combination of a fifth place finish in the Six Nations and a youthful injection over the summer Tests, forced his hand, culling Ford, Billy Vunipola, Mako Vunipola and Jamie George – even if the latter was recalled when Luke Cowan-Dickie was injured.

Unlike his refresh in the previous World Cup cycle which saw a gradual easing out of veterans such as Chris Robshaw, James Haskell and Dylan Hartley, this was a short, sharp shock. 

While the door is not yet shut on Ford and co, the results of the autumn, the more adventurous style of play and the rise of Smith and Steward give real substance to Jones’ slogan of ‘New England’.

Marcus Smith, who kicked the winning point on Saturday, has become the face of ‘New England’ - GETTY IMAGES
Marcus Smith, who kicked the winning point on Saturday, has become the face of ‘New England’ - GETTY IMAGES

Fresh pairs of eyes

It was not just his playing group that Jones overhauled. From his coaching staff in the Six Nations, only scrum coach Matt Proudfoot has stayed on. 

To fill the void, Jones turned to Anthony Seibold, who has never coached in union before, and Martin Gleeson, who has been coaching for less than two years, to run the defence and attack respectively.

Anthony Seibold - England’s set-piece not good enough if they want to beat South Africa consistently, says Eddie Jones - GETTY IMAGES
Anthony Seibold - England’s set-piece not good enough if they want to beat South Africa consistently, says Eddie Jones - GETTY IMAGES

The returns have been obvious. England’s defence has conceded just one try in three games under Seibold while Gleeson’s attack sliced the Springboks apart for three brilliantly worked tries. Smith in particular has been singing Gleeson’s praises from the rooftops and that has been echoed by Jones. 

“You never really know when you bring a new coach in, but he's been absolutely outstanding,” Jones said. 

“His eye for detail, his understanding of the game is first-class and him and Anthony Seibold in that attack/defence area have really made a good impression on the team and they will continue to add value as we go along."

Revamping the leadership group

In came Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry and Ellis Genge as vice-captains under Owen Farrell. Yet as fate would have it, Farrell missed the Tonga game through a false-positive Covid test and the South Africa victory with an ankle injury that will rule him out until the start of the Six Nations. Genge too missed the Australia and Springboks game after a positive Covid test.

There could not be no greater stress test of Lawes and Curry’s leadership than the second half against South Africa in which they were under the cosh for large parts. For Jones, it was an examination they passed. 

Courtney Lawes - England’s set-piece not good enough if they want to beat South Africa consistently, says Eddie Jones - GETTY IMAGES
Courtney Lawes - England’s set-piece not good enough if they want to beat South Africa consistently, says Eddie Jones - GETTY IMAGES

“We stayed in the moment and didn't allow ourselves to get too flustered or frustrated by the welter of penalties going against us,” Jones said. 

“You know that at some stage of the game the game will come back to you if you hang in there long enough and they hung in there long enough.”

The knock-on effect of this could be considerable. So much of Farrell’s value was in his leadership. Now England have won a big Test without him how much does his stock diminish?

Putting faith in youth

On Saturday night, Jones admitted he “rolled the dice” when he replaced Ben Youngs, his 112 cap scrum-half, with Raffi Quirke, winning just his second cap in the 50th minute of the victory against South Africa. 

Of course, the gamble came off. Quirke injected a far greater tempo into England’s attack and scored the crucial third try.

Raffi Quirke - England’s set-piece not good enough if they want to beat South Africa consistently, says Eddie Jones - GETTY IMAGES
Raffi Quirke - England’s set-piece not good enough if they want to beat South Africa consistently, says Eddie Jones - GETTY IMAGES

Especially in big matches, Jones tends to be loathe to replace Youngs early. In the World Cup final, Youngs did not come off until the 75th minute when the game was already gone. 

Yet here he was at Twickenham handing the reins to a 20-year-old with only four Premiership starts to partner a 22-year-old fly-half.

Jones has always had a magpie’s eye for picking shiny new players in his squad, but is far less willing to dish out meaningful minutes as a long line of second-choice scrum-halves will testify. 

This was a case of Jones putting his money where his mouth is in the “New England” project by entrusting the spine of his team to young guns – Nic Dolly, Alex Dombrandt, Quirke, Smith and Freddie Steward – to see out the game against South Africa.

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