WHEN England open their Six Nations account at Murrayfield on 6 February they will do so under new management. Eddie Jones was holding the parcel when the music stopped although some might argue that he was the only candidate not to run a mile in the opposite direction when RFU boss Ian Richie sidled up to him.
It’s an odd one because England have excellent players and the coach enjoys plenty of time with his squad who boast an age profile that, a little like Scotland, meant they were always going to be more competitive a the 2019 World Cup.
Jones took Australia to the 2003 final, he helped Jake White’s Springboks win it in 2007 and he had a brilliant showing in this year’s tournament with Japan. But he has experienced the flip side too. He was chased out of the Reds after one disastrous season which included a 92-3 hammering by the Bulls in 2007 and he lost the Wallaby post in 2005 after a run of eight losses in nine matches.
While he was there the Aussies played within a rigid structure and the same was true at Saracens who mirrored the Springboks in the way they kicked down town and then pressed hard until the opposition made a mistake. But in the recent World Cup Japan played a lot more fluid rugby, moving the point and angle of attack so quickly that the defence was unable to regroup before the next wave hit them.
In short, Jones looks like a pragmatist rather than an idealist; when it comes to style he wants a winning one. The problem is that England don’t really know what style to adopt because, again like Scotland, for the first time in a generation their backs are better than their big men. But the English game has been built upon the foundations of a big front five and a solid set piece for so long that it seems sacrilege to try anything else so Jones probably won’t. Instead he will look to rebuild England’s tight five strength while exploiting the talents in the back line a little better. Jones, like Michael Cheika, is a product of the Randwick club in Sydney who utilise space better than any one else. The key is George Ford. The Bath stand-off plays flat to the gain line, his awareness of space and his distribution is far superior to his rival Owen Farrell. Ford must not only start at Murrayfield but Jones must make it clear that the young ten will start every time he is fit because in him England have the closest available thing to a young Dan Carter.
Possible England XV to play Scotland at Murrayfield on 6 February:
1. Alex Corbisiero: Injury plagued but still the best loosehead in the country.
2. Dylan Hartley: Ill-disciplined but still the best hooker in the country.
3. Kieran Brookes: Dan Cole was found out in the World Cup so Brookes is next up.
4. Joe Launchbury: Big, athletic and hard working. England’s next captain?
5. George Kruis. An athlete to complement Launchbury’s bulk.
6. Maro Itoje: The Saracens flanker is the coming man, pick him now so he has 30+ caps by the 2019 World Cup.
7. Will Fraser: A proper seven and it may help that he too plays his club rugby at Saracens.
8. Billy Vunipola: His form is a little erratic but he is undoubtedly a handful.
9. Danny Care: England play off ten so pick a running threat at nine for balance.
10. George Ford: The whole edifice is build around him because he is that good... or will be.
11. Alex Lewington: Twelve tries from 19 starts last season in a London Irish team that was struggling.
12. Henry Slade: The most gifted centre in England, Will Greenwood in the making.
13. Jonathan Joseph: Line breaker, game breaker.
14. Anthony Watson: Superb finisher who can only get better.
15. Mike Brown: Regular contender for the Angriest Man in Britain award...but he can play a bit.