Eddie Jones launched a new England era on Monday by urging his overhauled squad to strive for greatness — once they have come to terms with the pain of the recent past.
The national coach named 34 players to prepare for the Six Nations and laid out his grand ambition. But the quest to become the best team to have played the sport cannot begin in earnest until an uncomfortable review has taken place.
England’s players reconvene at their Surrey HQ on Wednesday before flying to Portugal for a pre-championship training camp.
And while Jones wants to ensure that any tensions linked to the Saracens salary cap saga are aired and dispelled immediately, he will also oversee a postmortem into what went wrong in Yokohama on November 2.
All involved in the World Cup final, which ended with a 32-12 rout at the hands of South Africa, will have to draw a line under that agonising episode. Some of them will have moved on, but others will be stalked by the memory. Jones admitted that he still is.
‘Some people will still be hurting,’ he said. ‘Some won’t remember it and will just get on with it. Everyone is different. We’ve got to make sure we learn from it. It was a failure for us in the final. I made mistakes. I don’t think I prepared the side well. Possibly I didn’t select well and they are things that I go over every day, one way or the other.’
He added: ‘When you lose a game, it hurts. I accept full responsibility for the performance. It was my fault. I didn’t prepare the team well enough and I know how to fix it. It’s my job to prepare them well. You see bad coaching on the field. I didn’t coach well. There were various things in hindsight I’d do differently. I can live with that because I know I can do it better.
‘I’ve gone around over the last couple of weeks and met most of the players to find where they are at. I’ve already had those discussions with them. They wouldn’t be in the squad if they weren’t in the right mindset.’
Part of the reinvigoration process is the selection. Jones has brought in several new faces, led by a handful of rookies who have ignited Northampton’s revival — George Furbank, Fraser Dingwall and Alex Moon — along with established Saints Courtney Lawes and Lewis Ludlam. There’s another one, scrum-half Alex Mitchell, named as an apprentice.
Wasps fly-half Jacob Umaga is another rising-star addition, as is Saracens back rower Ben Earl. The squad has no shortage of young talent.
Jones has brought in new players and a new purpose. The so-near-but-so-far finish in Japan wasn’t good enough. Six Nations titles or clean sweeps won’t suffice, either. The man in charge has higher expectations His mission statement was straightforward, but achieving it will be anything but.
‘We want to be remembered as the greatest team that ever played rugby,’ he said.
Jones spoke about hitting the heights as England did in dismantling New Zealand in the World Cup semi-final, but ensuring that standard becomes the norm. ‘We played a great game against the All Blacks but we’ve only done that one,’ he said, frankly.
What about when they won 17 Tests in a row at the start of his tenure? ‘We never played well enough,’ Jones added. ‘I mean playing games of rugby people will remember.’
The start of the last World Cup cycle was marked by Jones talking boldly about his long-term vision. He had the 2019 tournament final firmly in his sights, even as far back as December, 2015.
This time, there was no mention of 2023 and the next global showpiece in France, but Jones dismissed any suggestion of short-termism as a result of only being contracted until summer 2021.
‘I want the team to play unbelievably well the next time they play,’ he said, 13 days before England take on France in Paris.
‘That is the only thing I worry about. What does the length of the contract have to do with it? Look at the young players we have brought in. We are building a side that is going to be great.’
Jones himself appeared rejuvenated and typically opinionated. He complained about refereeing of the tackle area and about the lack of scope for official feedback from coaches. He warned of a championship scarred by too much kicking and slow ball, creating stodgy contests. He argued that the time has come to consider having two on-field referees.
He was more forthcoming on that issue than on the absence from his squad of a specialist No 8, or a new scrum-half who is in contention to play. Deprived of Billy Vunipola yet again after the Saracen suffered a suspected broken arm on Sunday, England may deploy Tom Curry or Earl in a rebalanced back row.
For that reason and many others, there will be a new-era feel in the coming weeks. There will also be ample cause for English optimism, providing the twin ghosts of the Sarries scandal and Yokohama are swiftly laid to rest.