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England 29 Argentina 30

It is a fact of elite sporting life that in the final analysis of historical perspective everyone involved – from the back-room staff, kit-men, physiotherapists trainers, managers and coaches right through to the players, athletes and participants are judged by their statistics and results – and, ultimately, upon those upon the biggest stages they can aspire to, i.e. the Olympics, the Tour de France and their respective sports’ World Cups.

England head coach Eddie Jones is a “Marmite figure” in rugby union.

It was ever thus.

Separately, I was never a disciple of the much-overrated (particularly by himself) Sir Clive Woodward.

For me, he began his tenure as head coach of England promising – and trying to play – an open, “all-court” style of game and the outcome was underwhelming: England posted a slew of indifferent, mixed, results.

But Woodward’s – and England’s – lucky break arose with the chance coming together of an outstanding playing group, Woodward ditching his romantic ideas of how he wanted England to play in favour of a pragmatic but effective system that “worked” … and “the whole” maturing into a formidable winning force of which the leadership group headed by Martin Johnson was key.

It was Woodward’s great fortune that this team won the 2003 Rugby World Cup while he was presiding over it.

Some cynics argue that England won that tournament despite Woodward, not because of him.

Nevertheless, his reputation suitably enhanced by the triumph, he became a shoe-in for the post as manager/coach of the disastrous 2005 British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand for which he has a surfeit of resources at his disposal – including far too many players and the incongruous “press officer” services of Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former right-hand man in this respect.

But back to my point.

The 2003 Rugby World Cup was played in Australia.

England took on the host nation in the Final itself – and Woodward’s opposite number as head coach of Australia was the aforementioned “Marmite-tinged” Eddie Jones, who throughout entertained the media with his arrogant chippy persona, promises of how the Aussies were going to waltz to the William Webb Ellis trophy and an endless supply of maverick insults, threats and quips designed to undermine the England squad. Some might say he got his just desserts with Jonny Wilkinson’s last-minute drop goal.

Nineteen years on, we are where we are and next year Eddie Jones, now in charge, will be taking England to their second Rugby World Cup under his stewardship.

The one thing that can be said about Eddie is that he doesn’t change his spots – or, to put it another way, as a head coach of a national squad he’s a “one trick pony”: as someone who can be brought in to shake things up – and, to be fair, sometimes all organisations great and small can benefit from having that done, “he’s yer man”.

However, if you want someone to devise and carry through a considered plan featuring a controlled and well-managed series of structured developments and stages en route to producing a squad capable of winning a rugby union World Cup, Eddie would need to have a Clive Woodward-sized slice of random good luck on his side.

Jones is in a bit of a pickle at the moment.

Less that a full year from the Rugby World Cup his national squad programme gives every impression of being in a state of considerable unreadiness – ill-prepared, its players not only badly selected and indifferently coached, but also apparently unaware of what they are collectively trying to do and lacking both direction and inspiration.

I’m sorry – Eddie Jones could be said to be something of an easy target right now, but the sad fact is that some of the chickens that rugby journalists, pundits and fans have been worrying about for at least five years do seem to be coming home to roost.

I watched Saturday’s autumn international matches – and yesterday’s England v Argentina clash – on television.

The All Blacks looked slightly under-cooked but breezed past Wales who as usual talked big but failed to deliver the goods.

In Dublin Ireland looked good value for their deserved victory over South Africa.

The match at Twickenham Stadium – admittedly played in tough weather conditions- was a disappointingly low-key affair.

It didn’t “feel” like a major, serious, full-on international Test match.

It didn’t even “feel” like an exhibition (Barbarians-style) game.

From the outset the atmosphere at the ground was “dead” – I heard but two half-hearted crowd attempts at a Swing Low, Sweet Chariot communal sing-along in the whole game and neither team seemed to be playing as if future life depended upon the outcome.

By half-time, when I took time out to make my cup of tea and toast my crumpets, I have to confess that I had already “disengaged” from having any focus upon the game’s proceedings.

I shall leave Rusters – if they watched the game – to analyse the evidence of their own eyes and/or – if they didn’t – to read today’s match reports if they so wish.

All I shall offer is that, on this evidence, (to adapt a Shakespearean phrase) not only is “something definitely rotten in the state of Denmark”, but it is as plain as a pikestaff that if you are going to select Owen Farrell to play in an England team there is no point whatsoever in also picking Marcus Smith.


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About Derek Williams

A recently-retired actuary, the long-suffering Derek has been a Quins fan for the best part of three decades. More Posts