The biggest controversy arising from yesterday’s announcement of England rugby head coach Eddie Jones’s squad for the tour of Australia next month is the selection of Harlequins’ wing threequarter Marland Yarde, apparently at the expense of Saracens’ free-scoring Chris Ashton.
The argument goes that Ashton is back to his best form as a ‘try poacher’ supreme for his European Champions Cup-winning club that will attempt a treasured Double this coming weekend by gaining victory in the Aviva Premiership Final. In contrast Yarde has has had an average season – if anything, he has trying too hard in an effort to make an impact during what was a deeply disappointing Harlequins campaign.
Jones, however, sees things differently – I hesitate to say ‘from a Southern Hemisphere perspective’ – and typically just tells it like he sees it.
“It was an easy call to make …” he told yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, “… We want players who are going to grow. Chris has scored a lot of tries but there is a part of the game where you don’t have the ball. I didn’t have a long [telephone] conversation with him. My experience tells me it is a waste of time. Once you tell them they are out, they don’t listen to what you say. Chris knows what he has to do to improve his game.” [By all accounts, Jones’s last statement is understood to be a reference to Ashton’s supposed defensive frailties].
Elsewhere, admitting that Ashton had scored nine tries for the highly-successful Saracens this season, Jones added a comment to the effect that, had Yarde been playing for them, who was to say that he wouldn’t also have scored nine, or even more?
Later in the day it was reported that, although picked for the Saxons (England second team) touring squad to South Africa, Ashton had declined the invitation – a development that presumably signals either that he feels he needs a rest and/or that he is so dismayed at missing the England tour of Australia that he has effectively walked away in a fit of pique from his quest to resurrect his international career.
I read Jones’s decision thus. At 57 he took up a four-year contract with England at the back end of last year as a final hurrah to his coaching career – at one point he told reporters that had expected to spend last winter watching cricket in the Caribbean in retirement – and fully intends to arrive at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan with a squad that contains players at the peak of their powers who will have the best chance possible of winning the tournament.
Better, therefore, (in Jones’s thinking) that he should seek to develop the all-round play of the younger, gifted but as yet still flawed, Marland Yarde over the next three years than to pick Ashton to do a job on this summer’s tour of Australia but who will then be 32-and-counting by the time the 2019 RWC comes around.