Jones leaves barbs to Cheika ahead of England vs Wallabies
It has become customary for England coach Eddie Jones to rip into the Wallabies ahead of rugby tests against Australia, where he was born and where he was previously coach of the national team.
Not this week.
“We are anticipating a tough game against probably the form team in the world,” Jones says, striking a conciliatory tone that is so unlike one of the spikiest characters in the game.
It was left to the Wallabies to throw the barbs in the build-up to the fifth game between the rivals in the last 18 months, with England having come out on top on the previous four occasions. Australia won the head-to-head contest immediately before that — the one that really hurt England — 33-13 in the group stage of the 2015 World Cup. England was subsequently eliminated in the group stage of the tournament it was hosting, and that’s why Jones was hired as coach to replace Stuart Lancaster.
Michael Cheika, the Australia coach and a former Sydney clubmate of Jones’, highlighted how his halfbacks were hit late in those four games in 2016 and warned how England will look to “niggle” and “bully us around.”
Stephen Larkham continued the one-way phoney war, goading Jones over the financial support provided by England’s Rugby Football Union that places his former coach under pressure to deliver results.
“If you look at the resources they have over here, he’s probably a little bit spoilt from where he’s come from,” says Larkham, the former Australia flyhalf who won 43 caps under Jones. “There’s always going to be pressure when you’ve got pretty much unlimited resources around you.”
Jones might just be focused on getting his team back on track after a rare sloppy display last weekend.
The English ran out fairly comfortable 21-8 winners over Argentina on Saturday but there were more errors than usual, perhaps due to rustiness, Jones choosing to be without two key players in Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje, and the fact that the Pumas made life difficult in slippery conditions.
“If you read the media, we are going backwards at the moment,” says Jones, who has guided England to 21 wins in 22 games since taking charge after the 2015 Rugby World Cup. “We have had one flat performance against Argentina and everything is coming apart.
“We are trying to put things back together.”
Recalling Farrell and having Itoje available again — the young lock is among the replacements — will help this weekend. Jones has been trying to manage their workload after a busy 2017 for club (Saracens), country, and the British and Irish Lions. They were rested, and missed, against Argentina.
Their importance was highlighted on Tuesday when they were selected among the nominees for World Rugby’s player of the year award.
Farrell will play at inside center instead of Henry Slade as one of three personnel changes from the team that started against Argentina. Joe Launchbury replaces fellow lock George Kruis, who doesn’t even make the squad, and Jonny May returns to the left wing after injury.
To accommodate May, Anthony Watson switches to fullback, with regular No. 15 Mike Brown unavailable after sustaining a knock to the head against Argentina.
Asked why Itoje is only on the bench, Jones says with a smile: “There might be a tactical advantage of him coming off the bench.”
Australia is unbeaten in seven test matches — a run that includes a rare win over the All Blacks in a dead Bledisloe Cup rubber — and was clinical in beating Wales 29-21 in Cardiff on Saturday.
The Wallabies conceded a season-high 15 penalties against the Welsh, so discipline has been high on Cheika’s agenda this week.
Still, the coach was happy enough to select an unchanged team, with lock Adam Coleman picked despite nursing a thumb injury this week. He will be closely monitored ahead of the game and Cheika has an extended bench in case Coleman doesn’t make it.
England beat Australia three times for an unprecedented series sweep Down Under in June 2016, and produced a stunning second-half recovery to win 37-21 at Twickenham last autumn.
England: Anthony Watson, Jonny May, Jonathan Joseph, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly, George Ford, Ben Youngs; Nathan Hughes, Sam Underhill, Chris Robshaw, Courtney Lawes, Joe Launchbury, Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley (captain), Mako Vunipola. Reserves: Jamie George, Joe Marler, Harry Williams, Maro Itoje, Sam Simmonds, Danny Care, Henry Slade, Semesa Rokoduguni.
Australia: Kurtley Beale, Marika Koroibete, Tevita Kuridrani, Samu Kerevi, Reece Hodge, Bernard Foley, Will Genia; Sean McMahon, Michael Hooper (captain), Ned Hanigan, Adam Coleman, Rob Simmons, Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Scott Sio. Reserves: Stephen Moore, Tom Robertson, Allan Alaalatoa, Matt Philip, Ben McCalman, Lopeti Timani, Nick Phipps, Karmichael Hunt, Henry Speight (one reserve to be omitted).