Jones faces defining autumn as head coach of England as World Cup nears
PUBLISHED: 08:00 02 September 2018
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In an article from our ‘Engage’ pullout, we look ahead to the next 12 months for England and head coach Eddie Jones
“Crisis? What crisis?” That’s what England head coach Eddie Jones will want to think come the evening of November 24.
It has been a rough few months for the 58-year-old, who is experiencing his most prolonged spell of criticism and scrutiny since taking the job in 2015 after the sacking of Stuart Lancaster.
In Jones’ first two years in the job, he had guided the Red Roses to two Six Nations titles (one by way of a Grand Slam), to Test series whitewashes in both Australia and Argentina, and to the joint-longest streak of consecutive Test match wins for a Tier One nation.
The current year, however, looks like being his annus horribilis with a lowly fifth-place finish in the Six Nations, followed by a Test series defeat to a South Africa side whose build-up had been a complete shambles.
There has also been a five-match losing streak, snapped only by a victory in the otherwise meaningless third Test against the Springboks in June.
In Jones’ first two years as England head coach, he had given the country real hope of winning the World Cup for a second time in 2019 and restored pride in the team after a disastrous 2015 edition as host nation.
The last few months, though, have seen that optimism wane, something that is not exactly ideal just over a year out from the World Cup in Japan.
For England to dispense of the Australian now, so close to a World Cup, would be counter-productive and yet there have been calls for Jones to go.
A way for the 58-year-old to silence his critics would be a good campaign in the Autumn Internationals, but England are hardly coming up against pushovers as the Red Roses face South Africa first up on November 3, with the Springboks still certain to be buoyed by their Test series win in June.
Then comes the toughest task of all on November 10 as New Zealand, the two-time defending world champions and current number one side in the world, come to town.
A match with Japan on November 17 may represent England’s easiest game of the autumn, but next year’s World Cup hosts, and Jones’ former employers, remain a potential banana skin – as South Africa discovered at the last World Cup.
The autumn games end on November 24 against an Australia side currently in disarray, but Aussies tend to do well when people start questioning their ability.
What Jones will need to dispel his own critics is three wins, but do results matter with a year to go until a World Cup?
Or are coaches still trying to discover what players they can call on when the chips are down, or when their stars are absent through injury or suspension?
Do coaches choose to look at their options, both in terms of tactics and patterns of play?
The autumn probably presents Tier One nations with a final chance to do just that ahead of next year’s World Cup.
Yes, you may miss out on the chance to generate some momentum, but for the Northern Hemisphere sides, that can come in the Six Nations.
After 2018’s campaign yielded just two wins from five, Jones will be looking for a response from his squad next spring.
Whether previously key lieutenants such as Dylan Hartley and Chris Robshaw will still be part of Jones’ plans will be decided after the autumn.
But whoever starts for England in their opening game of next year’s Six Nations will do so away to defending champions Ireland on February 2.
Then comes the clash with the French on February 10, a game that will always be difficult as, in typically Gallic fashion, you never quite know what frame of mind Les Bleus will be in.
A difficult start to the Six Nations continues on February 23 with a trip to Cardiff to face Warren Gatland’s Wales, before the Red Roses end with home games against Italy on March 9 and Scotland on March 16, when they will still hope to be in contention for the title.
While Jones needs a good autumn to silence some of his critics, a triumphant Six Nations campaign is of greater importance if England are to be successful in Japan in 2019 and win a second world title, to add to their 2003 crown.
Tough decisions lie ahead for Jones in the coming months as he looks to get his England squad in the best possible shape ahead of the 2019 World Cup.
But rest assured, the dogged 58-year-old remains the best man for the England job, even in a time of crisis.