Eddie Jones’ willingness to push the boundaries shows forward thinking | Sport


Eddie Jones was not thinking aloud when he said that he fancied trying out the Exeter wing Jack Nowell as an openside flanker. The England head coach has always looked to extend the boundaries of the game and at a time when set pieces have diminished in number and the number of rucks has exploded, his vision of teams having nine forwards and six backs is far from blurred.

“The game has become very methodical,” says Jones. “You watch teams now and you can tell what they are going to do. I went to a Pro14 match the other week and you could almost call the game. You have to look at how you can break that and there are opportunities to do things differently.”

By methodical does he mean boring? “The game goes through phases. When I was at the Brumbies, we would hang on to the ball. Some saw it as boring, others as fantastic. There were up to 95 kicks a game in the 2007 World Cup. Some hated it but 65 million people in South Africa thought it was the best thing that ever happened.

“You have to be radical in your thinking but the most important thing is to prepare for it. Jack is such a good player he could play in a number of positions for us and it is something I have been thinking about for a while. The only time the eight forwards are together is at a scrum when the ninth could stand on the blindside wing.”

Every team plays with four three-quarters now but it was a radical departure when first tried by Cardiff against Gloucester in 1884. Teams then played with nine forwards, 10 on occasions. The six backs would be made up of two half-backs, three three-quarters and a full-back. Wales experimented with a second full-back but came unstuck up front. Cardiff opted for a fourth three-quarter to accommodate Frank Hancock and the change was so successful that within a couple of years most Welsh clubs had adopted it.

“I took our head of strength and conditioning Tom Tombleson and [assistant coach] Steve Borthwick to Melbourne for five days to think about where we could take the game,” said Jones. “We spent a day with Ric Charlesworth, an ex-hockey coach who won four World Cups, two Olympic gold medals, played in the Sheffield Shield, is a doctor of medicine and a politician, a person of high standing.

“We spent a day talking about rugby to him. He is not into the game and came up with questions about how it is played. It stimulated some great thoughts and rejigged a few old ideas, like why not try Jack as a seven? I know Sam Burgess was used in the centre and in the back row during his time in the game but Jack is a rugby player, one of the most highly skilled players at the breakdown. He could play as a ninth forward because he understands the game.

“It is like Barcelona who won the European Cup playing with a false nine. You always have to look at how you can add more to your team. Our strength is our forward pack. How can we make it stronger?”

England start their preparations for the Six Nations next week with Jones hoping he had not tempted fate before the final European weekend by remarking on his shortest injury list for three years. A recent survey found a fivefold increase in the injury rate at national squad sessions under Jones but he will not be changing his methods.

“Our foremost concern is the care of the players,” he says. “The last thing I want is to injure one. The international game is different from club rugby and we need to train at a different intensity. We are always looking to improve training but we have to equip the players to play the game.”

England enjoyed an upward trajectory for the first two years under Jones but dipped last year, losing their last three matches in the Six Nations and then the first two Tests in South Africa before rallying in November. They start their Six Nations campaign in Dublin, a city where they have won once in their last seven visits in the tournament.

“We have a good team and are developing clarity about how we want to play,” says Jones. “We understand the strengths of our game and how we can maximise them as well as become more adaptable. We went away from that a bit, which was my fault. We are trying to be England, not copy anyone else. If we play like that really well, we can beat any team in the world.

“We did not focus on the Six Nations enough last year because I was pushing ahead to doing things we wanted to do to be the world’s best. Also, if I ever coach in the Six Nations after a Lions tour I would take a completely different approach. If you have 17 players who have not had a pre-season, you’re in a difficult situation. The tour had a massive impact. The reason Ireland are good is that they can win the aerial and ground contests. They also have Jonathan Sexton, who has a bat phone to the referee. He has earned that through his status in the game and we have to be good enough to counter it.”

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Source link : https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/jan/19/eddie-jones-push-boundaries-forward-thinking-jack-nowell-six-nations

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Publish date : 2019-01-19 21:59:00

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