Dear Eddie Jones,
Firstly, let’s make one thing perfectly clear from the start; I admire you as a rugby intellect and I was nigh ecstatic when you were appointed England head coach at the end of November. Despite the fact that you don’t care what I think, and you’re an Aussie, I was genuinely pleased. And that’s unfortunately where the positivity of this letter ceases.
You arrived an enigmatic rugby professor. Brash, but not rude. Vociferous but not mean-spirited. Full of promise, and full of the things that everyone wanted to hear. You had an air of the daring. You banded about words like “form” and “potential”. You took on the daunting role of attack coach yourself and, seeing how incisive and well-constructed your previous sides have been with ball in hand, not one rugby-phile had a smidgen of doubt that you were the man for the job. Your first squad selection, notwithstanding one or two exceptionally bizarre omissions (which will be addressed later), was full of bravery and youth, just as you’d promised. You’d promised that the openside flanker would be a true openside; a “scavenger” or as you yourself doffed them, a “fetcher”, something that was previously lacking in England’s side. And your initial Six Nations squad reflected that.
This is the aura that you created. No one else. You and your reputation created it. An England squad that would be full of ambition, audacity, and accuracy. Away with the bland conservatism of previous regimes. You were going to create an England beast that would be feared once again; with rampaging front-five forwards, technical vultures in the back-row, and a balanced back-line which would be cunning, wily and explosive in attack yet controlled, disciplined and ferocious in defence.
And that beast is just a myth; a crafty ploy to get the media on your side. Your squad selection for the opening Six Nations match against Scotland is conservative and scared; feeble even. Everyone has well-and-truly had the rug whipped from beneath their feet.
In your opening Six Nations match, it is almost a foregone conclusion that you will be playing an out of form fly-half at fly-half, an in form fly-half at inside centre, and an out of form outside centre at outside centre. And yet, arguably the two form players in the Aviva Premiership – Maro Itoje and Elliot Daly – will play no part in the match at Murrayfield.
Described by you yourself as not being “outstandingly good in any area”, Chris Robshaw is set to start at blindside in the opening match of the tournament alongside James Haskell. You also described him as a “good workman-like” player which completely contradicts your coaching philosophy. Where are the artists? Why now have you decided that grafting artisans are the way forward?
Dan Cole has been uncharacteristically poor for Leicester this year, and Tom Youngs has been one of Leicester’s strongest performers. Both have Lions Test caps. Both have beaten the All Blacks. They both are revered in rugby circles. Dan Cole is included, Tom Youngs is not. So much for “form”.
You have attempted to make a statement by appointing a captain with bravado and tenacity, and this may work. But there’s no doubting that in Dylan Hartley you have picked someone who has played a very limited amount of rugby for Northampton this year and you have picked someone who has missed 54 weeks of his rugby-playing career, including World Cups and Lions tours, due to bans. Let’s examine those bans: eye-gouging, biting, abusing a referee and head-butting. Lazy comparisons have been drawn with the colossus, peerless Martin Johnson due to his own uncompromising attitude on the field and his own tendency to receive a card or two. There is a subtle difference here. Johnson was never banned for anything worse than a punch or an elbow. He relished a physical battle and embraced such a battle when it arose. He defended himself when he was being antagonised and made silly, irrational decisions in the heat of the moment which he later regretted. Undoubtedly Hartley regrets his actions, but can the Johnson comparison-drawers really claim that biting and eye-gouging are acts done in the heat of the moment in order to confront the opposition’s physical challenge. They probably can claim that, but they would be incorrect.
It seems like this is a role that you have yearned for your whole life, and you had romantic notions and principles in your head of the way you wanted to play it. But now that you’re there, and you’re living it in every fibre of your very being, you have got stage fright. Eddie, you have bottled it.
It is not at all beyond the realms of possibility that Scotland will beat England in the Six Nations for the first time since 2008 when another supreme rugby aficionado – Brian Ashton – was in charge. And you know what, Eddie, if it means we see more trousers and less talk I’m all for it.
The kindest regards,