Eddie Jones pushes England fitness to the limit in quest for supremacy

first_imgReuse this content Ben Te’o ousts Jonathan Joseph to start for England against Italy in Six Nations Rugby union Eddie Jones Since you’re here… Share on WhatsApp Support The Guardian Share on LinkedIn Read more Share on Pinterest England rugby union team Read more Topics Share on Messenger Italy rugby union team Neither side will be judged on the outcome of a match that should, on the scoreboard at least, result in a healthy away win for England. The average result between the sides in Rome is 36-12, little different from the 42-12 at Twickenham, and there are 12 places between them in the world rankings, with England second and Italy 14th. More meaningful battles for both lie ahead.The championship for O’Shea is about Italy becoming more competitive, as Treviso and Zebre have been in the Pro14 this season, even in Europe, and laying a foundation. For Jones it is about closing the gap on New Zealand as next year’s World Cup draws ever closer. As his side take their first step at a football stadium towards an unprecedented third successive outright title, it is to that sport he continually turns to mine the extra 1% he believes will make the difference.A feature of England’s two Six Nations campaigns under Jones is their strong showing in the second half of matches: they trailed Italy at the break last year and were two points ahead in Rome in 2016, only to win by 21 and 31 points respectively. He calls his eight players on the bench finishers rather than replacements and in the opening match of the championship last year Ben Te’o scored the winning try against France minutes after replacing George Ford, finishing a move started by another substitute, Danny Care.“I have studied football a lot and probably learned more from it than any other sport,” says Jones. “They have a methodology called tactical periodisation that I started in my second year coaching Japan. It was only at the primitive stage then but we have developed it significantly: it has allowed us to play with greater intensity and that has been shown by our performances in the last 20 minutes of matches.“I was one of those coaches where the training went well but the team did not play well. I could not work it out and, having always loved watching the Premier League, I asked myself how the top teams played 45 matches a year consistently well.“I started to investigate it and talked to a few people. I went to Qatar and spoke to a person down there who worked with José Mourinho about the concept because it originated in Portugal. I took it from there. With the help of a number of people we have developed the concept further and our aim is to be the fittest team in the tournament. One of the reasons northern hemisphere sides have done well [against teams from the south] recently is that they are fitter.”England came from behind in the second half in their first three matches in last year’s Six Nations. If they tended to play in spurts, a team that in the four years before Jones had finished second in the championship after a solitary defeat each year, three times on points difference, found ways of winning, being harder mentally as well as physically and more ruthless, until they lost in Dublin having already taken the title. Six Nations 2018 … we have a small favour to ask. More people, like you, are reading and supporting the Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. 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Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you. The Observer Share on Facebook features Six Nations Share via Email Johnny Sexton’s stunning drop goal snatches win for Ireland over France Jones’s first match in charge, in Scotland two years ago, seems an age away. It was an underwhelming tournament, as teams rebuilt after the failure to supply a World Cup semi-finalist the previous autumn. England won all five matches but there was little grand about their slam. Now the Six Nations supply three of the top five in the world rankings, with Scotland looking a force for the first time since they won the old Five Nations in 1999.“The standard of the competition has definitely improved since 2016,” Jones says. “That is going to make this Six Nations more interesting. What I want to see is the development of an England style of play which is based on having a consistent, ruthless set piece and then having a defence that creates attacking opportunities.“In 2003 England had great leadership in the team so that when situations were put in front of them they worked them out quickly. That is what we are striving to develop; nothing too complicated.”More big cat than fox, devouring everything in its path. By including Te’o in the midfield, Jones is adding a physical threat that has largely been absent in his time in charge. But as well as power it will be about speed, not just out wide but how quickly England recycle possession. Jones has cranked it up in training in the past couple of weeks and if the champions start as they finish in the coming weeks they will cast a longer shadow on the All Blacks. When Conor O’Shea walked up the driveway of the hotel for a dinner on the eve of the Six Nations’ launch last month, a fox ran out in front of him. The immediate thought of the Italy head coach, which sums up the suspicion that swirls in an era when stories of spying and surveillance are commonplace, was that the animal had been released by Eddie Jones as a joke to mark the tactical ploy pulled by the Azzurri at Twickenham last year.Italy threw England out of their stride by not contesting after a tackle and so ensuring there was no offside line. They called the ruse the fox to signify its cunning. O’Shea and his coaching team will not be able to reheat it at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Sunday because World Rugby changed the law, but Jones and his team can expect another example of left-field thinking from a team that have lost their past 12 matches in the Six Nations and only one of those by a single-figure margin. Share on Twitterlast_img read more