Eddie Jones expects 'brutal' England v Wales Autumn Nations Cup game

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  • George Ford in at fly-half for Saturday’s match
  • England captain Owen Farrell joins Henry Slade in the centres
England’s George Ford and Jonny May (left) during a training session this week.
England’s George Ford and Jonny May (left) during a training session this week. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA

Eddie Jones is never shy of mixing his sporting metaphors and the England team to face Wales has sent him into overdrive. One minute the coach was talking about V8 engines revving down the highway, the next about winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup and midfield players wearing black ties. At this rate he will be a shoo-in to host the 2021 sports personality of the year awards.

There is certainly plenty of power, finishing ability and potential swagger in his 23-man squad for Saturday’s game at Parc y Scarlets, perhaps the strongest Jones has named since last year’s World Cup. From the unchanged pack who shut down Ireland so successfully to the return of the fit-again George Ford and a beefed-up bench containing six forwards and two backs, there are amber warning signs for Wales everywhere.

According to Jones, furthermore, England’s opponents should steady themselves for an even tougher time from 2022 onwards. Clearly tiring of questions about his team’s lack of recent attacking subtlety, Jones said it is all a deliberate ploy to prevent opposition analysts from uncovering too many secrets prematurely. “You never want your plan to be in place too far ahead of the World Cup because you are giving the opposition too much chance,” he said.

“The more you become successful, the more you get analysed. You do a good play or you play a certain shape and it’s on every website, every coach is looking at it, tearing it apart. So, to me, attack’s always the last thing you develop before a World Cup campaign.”

There is enough evidence of certain nations peaking between World Cups to back up Jones’s argument but two and half years of shadow boxing is a long old time.

“We are dealing with human beings,” he said and not everything in rugby can be scientifically calibrated. “All plans are good until you get punched in the mouth,” he added, briefly switching to boxing mode with a nod to Mike Tyson’s upcoming fight. “But we want to be one of those teams that people sit around in the pub and speak about.

Quick guide

England team

E Daly (Saracens); J Joseph (Bath Rugby), H Slade (Exeter Chiefs), O Farrell (Saracens, capt), J May (Gloucester Rugby); G Ford (Leicester), B Youngs (Leicester Tigers); M Vunipola (Saracens), J George (Saracens), K Sinckler (Bristol Bears), M Itoje (Saracens), J Launchbury (Wasps), T Curry (Sale Sharks), S Underhill (Bath Rugby), B Vunipola (Saracens).

Replacements: L Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs), E Genge (Leicester Tigers), W Stuart (Bath Rugby), J Hill (Exeter Chiefs), B Earl (Bristol Bears), J Willis (Wasps), D Robson (Wasps), A Watson (Bath Rugby).

“We want the England team of the 2020s to be one of the great teams that people wanted to watch … a side that played with such passion, pride and intensity it makes you jump out of your chair. Of course we can’t control when that’s going to happen but we are working towards that as hard as we can.”

Jones freely admits there are still areas to improve – “We are not a team that is humming along like a big V8 revving down the highway” – but few would dispute his sense that England are “moving in the right direction” with clear scope for further improvement.

“It will be dependent on form, fitness and desire, all of which we never know,” he said. “It is like preparing a horse for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. You try to plan for it to be right on the big day but if there are 24 horses it is normal to be a loser. Twenty-three lose and only one wins. That shows you the task we’ve got: trying to get 15 players at the right level and then build the squad up to 31 or 32 for the World Cup.”

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On Saturday, with Ford back at No 10 and Owen Farrell and Henry Slade reunited in the centre for the first time since the 2018 South Africa tour, the backline may appear relatively underpowered but Jones anticipates positive momentum. “The three guys who are playing, none will be playing in dinner suits. They have got to run, they have to kick, they have to tackle.”

England’s pack, with the recalled Luke Cowan-Dickie and Jack Willis itching to make an impact off the bench, will also be urged to go hard or go home. “We’re expecting a really tough, brutal sort of game,” Jones said. “Wales are in a situation they probably relish … nothing would make their season sweeter than having a win over England. There will be a lot of desire and intent. We will have to play at a higher intensity than we did against Ireland to deal with these blokes.”