Eddie Jones has pledged to groom a homegrown successor after becoming the first foreign England head coach.
The Australian sounded all the right notes when conducting his first press conference yesterday afternoon, just hours after the Rugby Football Union announced he had agreed a four-year contract which will encompass the next World Cup.
England’s new head coach spoke of harnessing the traditional English strengths of a powerful set-piece and “bulldog spirit” in defence, but promised to introduce additional layers as part of a “pragmatic” approach, stressing that he would not seek to emulate New Zealand.
He hinted at his disciplinarian streak by declaring his players will face either the “angel or the devil” when his reign officially opens on 1 December, talked up the “extreme talent” in English rugby and outlined his desire to “build something special” and produce a “winning team that has Twickenham buzzing”.
The 55-year-old also broadly addressed pressing items on the agenda, namely the future of captain Chris Robshaw, who is to be given a “blank sheet”, and the identity of his assistants.
Stuart Lancaster stepped down ten days ago, paying the ultimate price for England’s World Cup disaster, but his lieutenants Andy Farrell, Graham Rowntree and Mike Catt have remained in place pending the arrival of his successor.
Jones, who includes spells with Australia, South Africa and Japan on an extensive coaching CV, will meet with each of them next month to assess whether they have a role to play in his management team. Jones has said that whoever is chosen must be English, with a view to eventually taking over when he steps down after Japan 2019.
“Over a period of time I’ll assess the coaches that are here. I want to speak to them individually and work out what they can offer going forward,” Jones said.
“If they can offer what I want then they can have the job. If they don’t offer that then I’ll look at other options. One of the goals is that by the next World Cup there will be a couple of assistant coaches ready to take over as the head coach. I see that as a fundamental part of my job. I’m sure we can do that. There are good coaches in this country.”
Jones’ vision for the style of play England will adopt during his tenure will have struck a chord with any who wearied of the repeated references made to the All Blacks over the past four years.
“I’ve got an idea of how rugby is played. Traditionally the teams that I’ve coached have always had quite good attacks,” Jones said. “England’s strengths have always been a strong set-piece and have had that bulldog spirit in defence. But then we have to add things to the game.
“I’ll look to see what players are available and then I’ll work out a way to add a ‘plus’ to our game. Rugby is all about being pragmatic.
“You have to create your own unique style of play. I want the players to believe in how England are playing.
“We won’t be copying how the All Blacks play. We’ll create our own style and I want the players to believe in that 100 per cent.
“If we get that right, then we’ll have a strong side. We want the All Blacks to be watching how England play – that would be nice, wouldn’t it?”
Four pressing issues facing the Australian as he begins his new job as England coach:
1 CAPTAINCY QUESTION A pressing concern is the captaincy and while incumbent Chris Robshaw, tainted by the recent World Cup disaster, is likely to be stripped of the honour, there are few credible alternatives. Dylan Hartley, Mike Brown, Joe Launchbury and Nick Easter are potential replacements if Robshaw is demoted, but Jones is very capable of springing a surprise. Robshaw could even lose his place in the team with Jones stating during the World Cup that he views the Harlequins back row as a six-and-a-half, not a genuine openside.
2 CHOOSING ASSISTANTS Andy Farrell, Graham Rowntree and Mike Catt – assistants under Stuart Lancaster – have been retained by the RFU pending the appointment of a new head coach, who is to decide their fate. It is hard to argue a case for the trio to remain at Twickenham given the dismal nature of England’s World Cup exit so expect Jones to bring in his own men. Those will include Steve Borthwick, pictured, who excelled with Japan in his tracksuit role. Borthwick is currently employed as Bristol’s forwards coach.
3 TOP-FLIGHT STRAIN The relationship between England and the Premiership clubs is rarely harmonious and what equilibrium there is will not have been helped by comments recently made by Jones in which he questioned the wisdom of players being contracted to clubs rather than the union. He said: “How can you manage your players when they are controlled by other organisations? In my opinion, that is the single greatest task ahead of whoever is going to be appointed as the next England coach.” As he must now work closely with the clubs, Jones may be forced to backtrack.
4 WINNING SILVERWARE The last title of note secured by England was the 2011 RBS Six Nations crown, which was won under the guidance of Martin Johnson. The most recent Grand Slam was achieved in 2003, the same year that England became world champions. For too long the sport’s richest nation, who possess the largest pool of players, have under-achieved and it is Jones’ responsibility to reverse the decline. Four successive runners-up finishes in the Six Nations are not considered good enough by the RFU or supporters.