Image: Eddie Jones

By Nicola Kenton

  • England have lost four games in-a-row following their defeat to the Barbarians
  • England have never won a series in South Africa
  • The first test takes place in Johannesburg on 9th June
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA – England will hope to put their fifth-place Six Nations finish behind them, as they aim to win a series in South Africa for the first time.

 

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Barbarians loss raises questions

England’s first international match of the summer saw them lose to a strong Barbarians side at Twickenham. The thrilling match, which was a try-fest, ended with the Baa-Baas winning by a score line of 63-45. This loss meant that England have now lost four game in-a-row heading into the tour of South Africa.

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Several questions were raised from this game which saw non-stop action across the whole pitch. Former England player Chris Ashton was playing for Pat Lam’s Barbarians and returned to Twickenham to put on a show. The Toulon player scored a hat-trick in 25 minutes where he showed his attacking prowess with many of his club teammates assisting him. Ashton has not made an appearance for England since 2014 and has played his rugby in France for the past year. In the 2017-18 season, the back set a Top 14 record for tries scored finishing the season on 24 tries in 23 appearances.

It was clear that England has some attacking flair, as they scored six tries but it was not enough to defeat the Baa-Baas and there still seemed to be issues at the breakdown which need to be eradicated. However, there were good performances for some of the England players too with Eddie Jones stating that Piers Francis and Jack Singleton put in some impressive performances. Nevertheless, the England head coach did not the full squad at his disposal, as the Premiership final between Saracens and Exeter Chiefs was played the previous day and therefore, those players had yet to join up with the national side.

Jones told Sky Sports, “We don’t have our top 15 players. We have another 22 players unavailable, so it was a test of our depth. We’ve got 15 players to come into the squad tomorrow. Ten are going to be very confident, five will be disappointed and looking for a chance to play some good rugby. We’ve got to look at it in that context. We played against a very good, fast, powerful Barbarians team and at times, we struggled to cope with it. But as an experience for a lot of the younger players, it was absolutely outstanding. “

 

Coaching changes for Jones

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Eddie Jones has added an attack coach on a five-week contract specifically for the tour of South Africa. The England head coach has chosen Scott Wisemantel, who was his assistant when Jones was at the helm of the Wallabies and Japan. Having worked together before, the Australian knows Jones well but has admitted that he would not be afraid to disagree with his boss.

Wisemantel told the BBC, “If I disagree, I disagree, then we have a debate and vice versa. It is not easy [standing up to Jones], but that’s a real relationship isn’t it? Anyone who has worked for Eddie will realise that once you have worked for Eddie you are always working for Eddie. We always pick each other’s brains. It is a symbiotic relationship – our relationship has been about information bouncing both ways.”

Since 2015 Wisemantel has been the backs coach of Montpellier and helped them to the 2016 European Challenge Cup and they finished runners-up in the 2018 Top-14 Final. Speaking about the England squad, the attack coach added: “The quality in general is very good but is it perfect? No it’s not. So we’re going to aim for perfection. It’s a Cinderella story if we do it. I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t believe England have the players to win there and that I can make an improvement. Probably Eddie’s biggest selling point was that England has never won a series in South Africa. For me that was a bit of a challenge.”

However, the addition of Wisemantel isn’t the only coaching change that England are about to undertake. Defence coach Paul Gustard will leave his role after the tour of South Africa to become the new head of rugby at Harlequins. Gustard has been part of the England set-up since 2016 and has helped England achieve back-to-back Six Nations titles. Moreover, with Wisemantel only on a temporary contract, Jones could be without a defence and attack coach with just 15 months until the 2019 World Cup.

 

Injury problems for England again

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Another series for England followed by a growing injury list once again. The England squad are already without captain Dylan Hartley, who had to take an extended break from competition after a series of concussions. Jones had also already decided to rest some players such as Dan Cole who were part of the British & Irish Lions with the World Cup happening next year.

However, there have been injuries during the training camp with Bath prop Beno Obano being ruled out with ligament and tendon damage that could see him on the sidelines for 12 months. Furthermore, Worcester’s Ben Te’o suffered a quad injury which needed minor surgery. The position of lock has also become precarious with Courtney Lawes and Charlie Ewels unavailable due to injury, however Joe Launchbury is now a doubt for the first test with a calf problem. Exeter’s Sam Simmonds missed the first training session in South Africa due to tightness that was attributed to the flight.

Bath owner Bruce Craig slammed Eddie Jones’ methods and called the training sessions totally unacceptable. Baths would usually have several players in an England squad but with Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph both injured, as well as Ewels and Obano then there are no Bath players in the touring squad.

Jones has spoken out about the issue, “It’s not my job to speak to club owners, it’s my job to coach the national team and if he’s such an expert on training preparation then possibly he should start coaching. Maybe he wants to coach Bath, who knows? Maybe he wants to coach the Natal Sharks. I don’t really care what he says, it doesn’t affect what I do with the team. The players know that the training we do, we do for them to get better. We want to be the best team in the world and we train to get better.”

The first Test will take place on Saturday 9th June at the Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, with kick-off being at 16.05 GMT.

 

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