Moore article on questions for Eddie for the 6Ns.

Courtesy of the DT:

What should Eddie Jones do now? Difficult choices await the England head coach for his 2020 Six Nations squad.

After the last World Cup, Jones said: “I tell you what happens to teams – they evolve. Some guys will lose desire, some guys will lose fitness, some guys will get injuries and there’ll be young guys come through. So this team is finished now. There will be a new team made. We’ll make a new team for the Six Nations and that new team for the Six Nations will be the basis of going to the next World Cup.”

Many hopefuls will take this comment as a green light for the wholesale introduction of nascent talent and there is, superficially, a good case for this. But before lots of young players get their hopes up, they need to balance the other considerations that will come into selection for the now imminent Six Nations. Jones cannot and will not adopt a cavalier attitude.

The first consideration is the demographic of the most recent World Cup squad. Probably only Dan Cole, Courtney Lawes, Willi Heinz and Ben Youngs can be said to be of an age where they cannot be considered for the 2023 World Cup on age alone. There are then a raft of players in their late twenties for whom form and fitness are defining factors, and the rest is as open as ever.

What about winning and continuity? It is important not to tear up the good work done in 2019, and remember England came as close as they could without winning the competition, but then nor can Jones allow any player to feel they can coast, because they featured in Japan. An air of unpredictability and getting the right edge in the squad are things for which Jones has been renowned throughout his career, and there is no reason to suppose he is about to change.

You must also consider how Jones manages the difficult question of the media when it comes to a new start. If he had listened to some of his critics, Jones’s squad would have had a raft of journeymen club players, most of whom never had the talent to play at international level, several one-cap wonders who just happened to have caught the eye with their latest performance, and a couple of mavericks whom the media love to pillory and champion, depending on their need to make copy and headlines.

One thing he cannot control, but which is mentioned by fans of other countries when they are asked why they hate England, is the way in which many feel the English media go over the top in support of their team.

Whether this is justified or not, it is certainly a perception. When England went on an unbeaten 18-game streak most of us knew there were flaws in the England team and Jones was aware of this. That did not stop the headline writers making out they were the best in the world. How he, I and a good number of others, wish the World Rugby rankings were condemned to the bin for anything other than amusement purposes.

Similarly, some of us were level-headed enough to know that England were not a team in decline when they were beaten six times in a row in 2018.

Others were not, and the raft of negative stories about Jones and his players were not pleasant and could have thrown a less experienced coach into a major state of panic. In fact, I remember one headline that did state that it was time to panic.

Then there is the need to keep winning as a major way of building confidence and being allowed to develop the squad from a position of strength. Poor Six Nations performances put any England coach under inordinate pressure and the media is always there to know better and to trumpet the cause of their favourite player of the moment.

It is the half-backs where Jones must make the biggest calls. Heinz played well in Gloucester’s weekend win over Bath but neither he or Youngs will realistically make the 2023 squad and there is little point in keeping either. Ben Spencer is playing well for Saracens and narrowly missed out on selection for Japan, but he will be 31 when the World Cup comes around. Jones is going to have to be sure he will last the course if he is going to be chosen to start in the forthcoming Six Nations.

Otherwise there is a big question mark at scrum-half, which is worrying because this is a position where you want a player who has at least 30-plus caps. There is no outstanding young candidate demanding inclusion, and all this before we get to the thorny choices at fly-half – but that will require a whole column on its own.