Jones insists he can take England forward despite Barbarians humiliation
Eddie Jones has insisted he can still reverse England’s fortunes in Australia after enduring a humiliating record defeat by the 14-man Barbarians, which heaps the pressure on the head coach before the series against the Wallabies next month.
Compounding matters, Jones faces a number of injury headaches and a potential crisis at No 8 before naming his touring squad on Monday morning after the heaviest defeat of his tenure. England went down 52-21 against the invitational side and the home team had to endure the embarrassment of watching George Kruis backheel a conversion through the posts.
Jones lost Alex Dombrandt to a knee injury on Friday and though the No 8 will see a specialist on Monday he has to be considered unlikely to tour. In addition, Sam Simmonds has already been ruled out and Jones revealed that Billy Vunipola was in contention for a call-up, only to sustain a concussion in the Premiership final on Saturday. George Ford is another player likely to be ruled out after sustaining a knee injury in Leicester’s triumph.
It means Jones is set to name a squad with a raft of senior players missing – Henry Slade, Manu Tuilagi and Kyle Sinckler are already sidelined for the three-Test tour which begins in Perth on 2 July. The head coach also has calls to make on Ben Youngs and Joe Marler, but should they both be omitted Jones will be without a wealth of experience.
In addition, England’s travel plans have been hit with the squad having to travel in four groups because of a lack of available flights, meaning the whole touring party will not be together until Thursday. Jones, however, sought to play down the significance of the defeat against the Barbarians, which follows disappointing Six Nations reverses to Ireland and France.
“We’re not going to Australia and get beaten by 50 and run the ball from our own 22 but we have a style of play that we want to keep developing now and we’ll pick and choose when we use it,” Jones said.
“We’ve got a number of good young players coming through, there’s potential for the team to get better. But I can’t sway fans, all I can do is coach the team. We used today for a particular purpose and if we play really well it would have been a great result but not necessarily great for us in the future because we wouldn’t have found out things that we need to find out about.
“No one is happy about it but again we look at it in the light of what we’re trying to do. There’s a contextual situation here, we’re trying to build a new team, play a different way, a style that suits the players and there are going to be some ups and downs.
“It’s a good reminder of how much work we have to do before Australia. From that point of view I’m really pleased with what we did. I’m not pleased with how we performed. I’m pleased with the intent of what we tried to do and it’s great preparation for Australia. But obviously not happy with the result.”
The Barbarians fielded a side brimming with impressive French youngsters while Damian Penaud, a more established member of Les Bleus squad, starred with two of his side’s eight tries. Shortly before half-time Will Skelton became the first player in Barbarians history to be sent off but, while they were three points ahead at that stage, Fabien Galthié’s side romped away from England in the second half – so much so that Kruis, on his swan‑song appearance before retiring – was able to take, and score, three conversions.
“It’s been a good week,” Kruis said. “I hadn’t been practising my kicking, I’d been practising something else. It’s been an epic week.”
The Barbarians assistant coach Shaun Edwards revealed Phil Bennett – the legendary fly-half and the man who started the most memorable try in Barbarians history, who died recently – was prominent in the squad’s thoughts.
“We’ve been watching clips all week of him, obviously the famous try has been played numerous times,” Edwards said. “I was lucky enough to meet him on numerous occasions in Wales and one thing that always shone out was his humility, for such a great player.”