Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje argued their case to feature in Saturday’s Test against Argentina, but Eddie Jones’ mind was made up. “At the end of the day they have got to understand I run the team. I make the decisions,” was his take on how the conversation went and he sees their absence in this weekend’s match as being the best call for the long term.
Jones has long talked about the need for the team to develop their own self-propelled leadership, as well as world-class players. Itoje and Farrell fit both those moulds, but despite the frequent message England are expecting nothing less than a victory over the Pumas Saturday as Jones tests his squad’s depth ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
The exact reasons behind his decision to rest Itoje and Farrell are only known to Jones. He said it is “in their best interests to do some conditioning work” with England this week, rather than focusing on the match, although it is fair to say they did not necessarily see Jones’ logic.
“They hate it, which is a great reaction,” Jones said. “They hate it because they want to play every Test. They love playing for England. They are proud of playing for England and they want to be part of a winning team. They don’t like it. So, we have got to convince them, not just me, but the rest of the staff that it is in their best interests for this period of time.”
Jones would not be drawn on whether they will return for next weekend’s Test against Australia, but this weekend’s call was made in the “best interests of the team and the individual”.
Before the British & Irish Lions departed this part of the world for New Zealand, Jones was talking about resting some of England’s tourists during this autumn window. While the likes of Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson and Mako Vunipola start against the Pumas, it was his “gut feeling” that they should play against Argentina, and the other two should be rested.
“I just said, ‘This is going to be the right thing for you. This is what we need to do for you’,” Jones explained when asked how the conversation went. The decision was partly based on all manner of data the England coach receives from ‘wellness stats’ to ‘reload and reform stats’ and ‘urine stats’.
But then there is his own coaching intuition. “It’s a bit like being a horse trainer; you see all these things but you’ve got to look at the person and see what they are ready to do,” Jones said. “All that (stats) gives you the evidence to back it up, but it’s not always right.
“I would never have picked George Smith if that was the case. George Smith couldn’t beat Dan Cole carrying Harry Williams in a beep test. That’s not a pretty sight, can you imagine that?! But he can play rugby. He didn’t need to do weeks of conditioning, he just played the game. Some players are like that and some players need to be re-conditioned.”
Jones’ approach was different with Vunipola who started all three of the Lions’ Tests against the All Blacks. “One thing I do know is that he loves playing rugby and he hates training, so that is a pretty simple equation for me,” Jones said. “He loves playing and he’s our best loose-head prop at the moment.
“I don’t see much value in him going on training blocks. We might do it in the future but at the moment he is much better off playing the game.”
Even without Farrell and Itoje in the team, Jones has clear expectations for his England side when they start off their three-Test autumn programme against Argentina on Saturday. He wants a good performance, nothing else will be acceptable.
“We just want to play well. Our whole aim is to play well, the better we play, the better it is. We just want to play well and better than last time against them.
“These are all sparring matches. You can win sparring matches but when you get to the heavyweight contests in the World Cup, it’s going to be a different kettle of fish.”