Eddie Jones kills off England’s nanny state mindset and empowers players

The sheer scale of the Six Nations, says Eddie Jones, is just beginning to dawn on him.

Even the Jones family pet, he reckons, is aware of it. “I was saying to my wife the other day: how much media coverage there is of the Six Nations … [even] my dog’s eating his food looking at Dylan Hartley. There are advertisements on the television all the time. There’s a real atmosphere around the games. I’m sure when we get to Edinburgh we’re going to feel that.”

As ever, there was a half-smile on Jones’s lips not entirely related to the kitchen-floor fate of his audience’s carefully crafted previews. If anyone has a fair idea of what awaits England in Edinburgh it is the vastly experienced Australian, who has already coached the Wallabies and Japan against the Scots at Test level.

There is mileage, though, in making everything sound minty-fresh to him, because that is precisely the mindset he wishes to instil in his players. Forget the World Cup and England’s autumn underachievement; he wants this weekend to feel like a whole new ball game.

Hence the deliberate changes in emphasis, methods and rhythm within the England camp, even if the Bagshot backdrop and the majority of his starting XV has changed little. The appointment of three new vice-captains in Mike Brown, Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola have got everyone’s attention and the squad have already been jolted out of their normal habits.

Last weekend Jones even took them to train among the duck poo in Hyde Park for a short session. “We saw Prince Harry’s house …he doesn’t do it too tough, does he?” quipped Jones. “The dogs got the scoop on the team [lineup]; there were plenty of them there.”

There was more of the same after the team announcement . Jones had invited the students of Hartpury College in Gloucestershire to run against the senior side – “They gave us a bit of a touch-up at times … it brings that bit of edge to training” – and, unusually, instructed his players to wear their full England match kit rather than their practice gear.

“It’s important you get a feel of what you are going to look like before a game. Everything in rugby is about familiarisation so I like the main training session before we kit up to be as close as possible.”

It is also Jones’s firm belief that English rugby needs to be less blinkered and more ready to adjust on the hoof to whatever crops up. “We have to be able to do things in different places and adjust to it. I want the team to be more robust. There’s an old saying: routine is good until it becomes mundane. You have to [be ready for change]. What’s the definition of insanity?

“Different people doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.” Hence the lack of a captain’s run in Edinburgh, with only the kickers due to visit Murrayfield in advance. “I’ve done it at times with Japan. I just don’t like that fatigue on the day before. We put a lot of work into making sure the players are physiologically right and I think travelling and then training is too much. I don’t want to expose the players to that.”

How England respond will be fascinating. Jones says he has been impressed with the level of professionalism within the squad he inherited from Stuart Lancaster but is more concerned with encouraging it to think for itself. “I’m basically done now,” he shrugged, having announced his lineup.

“I can put up my feet and relax. It’s up to Dylan to run the team. During the week, as a coach, our peak is Wednesday and Thursday. After that I want the players to run it. They’ve got to run the game on Saturday.”

In other words, the nanny state mindset of English rugby is gone. Jones’s first XV includes some familiar faces but the choice of the youthful Vunipola as one of his chosen on-field lieutenants is particularly instructive. His coach hopes a little responsibility could be the catalyst that turns the big Saracen from a powerful presence alone into something even more valuable: a world-class No8 with the necessary intuition and vision to match his physicality.

“What I see in Billy is a bloke who really wants to take England to the next level. That’s the sort of bloke I want involved in the leadership group. He’s still a young lad – he still doesn’t have a credit rating – but he’s a pure guy who loves playing rugby. I think he can be a real driving force.”

Along with Farrell (“tough as nails, a real good speaker”) and Brown (“more of a quiet, assassin type”) Jones believes he has “a nice blend”. If he is proved right, there will be no shortage of positive stories for his dog to chew on next week.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Robert Kitson, for The Guardian on Thursday 4th February 2016 22.00 Europe/London

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