On Sunday morning, a Zoom screen laden with plenty of weary-eyed journalists greets Eddie Jones in his Paris hotel.
The Australian is sipping at some coffee, England just 10 hours removed from their 25-13 defeat at the Stade de France. France, victorious, lifted the Guinness Six Nations trophy last night, the side picking up a Grand Slam, a first title since 2010.
There is a contrast between the two sides, France at the very top of their game, whilst England finished third with 10 points and 15 points adrift of their hosts in the table.
For the entire week leading into Le Crunch, Eddie Jones had been experiencing something of a bloodbath in the media, some calling for the 62-year-old to be removed from his post following a disappointing Six Nations campaign.
About to head into a two-day review of the tournament with the rest of his coaching staff at Pennyhill Park, the group about to dissect every minute of the team’s performance on and off the field.
Having introduced a number of new caps to the Test match arena, and after a promising Autumn Nations Series, Jones says that he has still seen positives despite an ultimately lowkey series of performances.
“We have said very clearly how we want to play,” he said. “We want to be old England, still have that strong set piece and good defence and then we want to be more aggressive in the way we attack.
“I think the improvement in our attack has been very good, the only thing we haven’t been able to do is finish. We got into France’s 22m seven times yesterday, seven times, France got in our 22m five times, but their conversion rate was much higher than ours.
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“Theirs was 80%, ours was 40%, and that is an area that the more the team works together more, particularly out key decision makers – nine, 10 and 15 – play together, the better we will get in that area. So, there is enormous growth for us as a team in that area.”
To describe England’s attack as underwhelming is perhaps putting things at the lower end of the critical spectrum. Outside of playing Italy, England scored three tries in four games, Freddie Steward’s score on Saturday coming after 165 minutes of play.
But is there a brighter future?
Jones was quick to identify his scrum-half, fly-half and full-back. Whilst Ben Youngs got the nod in the No. 9 jersey at the weekend, he was talking about Harry Randall the other two players being the 2022 Six Nations’ leading points scorer, Marcus Smith, and Leicester Tigers’ Freddie Steward.
Following appearances yesterday, that trio only having 26 caps between them, whilst Sam Simmonds, Alex Dombrandt and others having made early inroads in their international careers, a potential for bigger things to come very much present, their national coach backing them to the hilt.
Without the likes of Owen Farrell, Jonny May, Jones says he had nearly a dozen players that have been unavailable for selection as a result of illness or injury, the Australian certainly is of the mind that more is to come, with just three campaigns between now and the Rugby World Cup in France.
“I have just got a list of players here – I have got 11 players that are all top-class international players that haven’t been available to us,” Jones said.
“You add that to the 28 we have got here, you add that to the young players like Chessum [Ollie], Dombrandt, we haven’t been able to have Rodd or Quirke, and then some of those senior guys come back, it’s a very exciting opportunity for the team to progress over the next 12 to 14 months.
“I don’t anticipate getting that squad together until the World Cup, because of the difficulties of our internal situation in England.”
That “situation” that is so briefly named, is the release of players from Gallagher Premiership clubs to the international setup.
For Ireland, Scotland and Wales it is simpler for their players who operate within their borders to be released to international camps, primarily as a result of contract centralisation.
In contrast, England must battle to get their players in camp, the entities that pay players’ wages separate to their nation. Through not being centralised, it is difficult for England to get players released far enough ahead of schedule to instil a coaches ideology or even be rested enough to deal with the vigour of Test rugby.
Player release is a small part of what surrounds Jones. Ahead of the Autumn campaign, when Jones had opted not to select the likes of Jamie George, George Ford, as well as the Vunipola brothers, the 62-year-old questioned whether those players had the desire to reach another World Cup.
A question that Jones himself faced on Sunday:
“I don’t really look at it like that, mate. Because if I didn’t have the petrol in the tank, why would I be sitting here?”
Later, on Sunday afternoon, the RFU would release a statement, outlining their backing of Jones, acknowledging that the former Japan boss was building a ‘new England’ and that they continue to ‘fully support Eddie’ heading into their next campaign.
Jones very clearly backs himself too, the reasons for why being simple. In 2018, England were in a similar sorry state, but a year late made it to the 2019 Rugby World Cup Final, their semi-final victory over New Zealand no doubt going to go down as one of the nation’s all-time greatest.
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Contrast England to where France are now; on Saturday, Marcus Smith’s 10th cap for England, his opposite number Romain Ntamack, a year younger than the Harlequins man, was making his 29th appearance for his country.
France essentially restarted their cycle when Fabien Galthie took the reins, the former France captain bringing together players from the world-beating France U20 side, a side with all the potential, but needing game time to live up to those expectations.
“Teams have a cycle, and your job as a coach is to make sure that you maximise the cycle of that team,” Jones said, “which I think we did with that 2016 to 2019 team.
“They came back, and they won the Six Nations back in 2020, 2021 for us was a difficult season, with Saracens [in the Championship] and Covid, and we probably didn’t handle that as well as we could.
“Because of that, we didn’t see a lot of young players in that period play. It was only post the breakout of Covid that we got to see the young talent come through. I think the timing of bringing the young talent through has been correct.
“If I look at the performances of Randall and Smith and Steward – particularly those three guys – and then some of the young forwards, Dombrandt and Simmonds, their performances have been at a consistently good level at the Six Nations.
“I think the timing of bringing those in was right. Everyone has a different cycle, and this job was always going to be challenging for this four-year cycle, because we were always going to have a team that went a little bit longer, then you have to break that team up and start again.”
Next up for England is a tour of Australia in the English summer. Having beaten Dave Rennie’s side at the end of last year, the highest point of this ‘New England’ came a week after that Test, when England felled South Africa, whilst this Six Nations opened up the cracks of the work that still must be done.
“Never been so excited about a team,” Jones said. “I am so disappointed with the results, but I have never been excited about the prospects of this team.
“When I look at those young players and what they have learnt during the Six Nations, we have learnt more than any other team during the Six Nations.
“The young players we have got in this squad are going to be fine players, and then we have got another 11 quality players to come back in.
“We have seen the rebirth of some of our senior players, I think we are in a really positive situation. It has all got to gel together and that will happen over the next 14 months.”