ENGLAND coach Eddie Jones claims there are up to five players in his maiden squad capable of becoming world-class – but only if they change their mindset and attitude.
The Australian named his first group yesterday since taking over from Stuart Lancaster after the hosts’ disastrous World Cup.
The likes of Dylan Hartley, Chris Ashton and Manu Tuilagi return in the Elite Player Squad for the RBS 6 Nations, but the 33-man party sees a number of big-name omissions including British Lions Tom Youngs and Geoff Parling, plus Tom Wood – viewed by some as a potential new captain – and the mercurial Danny Cipriani.
There are seven uncapped players, with Sam Hill, Josh Beaumont – the Sale Sharks No 8 and son of former England captain and current RFU chairman Bill – Jack Clifford, Elliot Daly, Ollie Devoto and prodigious Maro Itoje featuring.
The other is Doncaster-raised Paul Hill, the 21-year-old prop who started at Yorkshire Carnegie before moving to Northampton Saints last summer, and who Jones “didn’t know from a bar of soap” when he started in December but has “oodles of potential.”
After the debacle of England’s World Cup last autumn, when they became the first host nation to fail to emerge from the group stages, there is clearly now a need for vast improvement.
Jones, whose first game in charge is the 6 Nations Scotland fixture at Murrayfield on February 6, accepts the quality has to be raised in England’s ranks if they are to ever eclipse their World Cup success of 2003 but believes that is possible.
“I have no doubt that in this current squad of 33 there are four or five players who if they change their mindset and attitude, can become world-class players,” he said. “If we get four or five world-class players – and I’m not going to name them – then we can be the dominant team in the world. That’s what it takes.
“Why haven’t England been dominant since 2003? Because they haven’t had those players.
“If you go back to 2003 when I was coaching against Clive (Woodward) you had (Will) Greenwood at centre, (Jonny) Wilkinson at 10, (Lawrence) Dallaglio at eight, (Richard) Hill at six, (Martin) Johnson at five.
“They were guys who have changed games of rugby and England haven’t had those players. Our job is to develop those players and if we do that the side will come through.”
Jones says he sees the injury-ravaged Leicester Tigers centre Tuilagi as a 12 who can be a Ma’a Nonu-type player “to build a side around” when finally fit, revealed he had lunch with Lancaster recently – “he was very forthcoming, a real gentlemen” – and, remarkably, added he has viewed every game in England and elite European match since starting the role on December 4.
On one of many burning issues – the role of openside flanker–- Jones said he has enlisted the help of legendary Australian No 7 George Smith, who played for him in the 2003 World Cup final and is now seeing out his career at Wasps.
“I went and had coffee with him two weeks ago,” he said. “I asked him who is the best seven you’ve played against? He told me. And they’re in the team.”
He says Chris Robshaw, the captain and openside under Lancaster, is an “out and out six” and currently “easily one of the best players in the Premiership.”
England Elite Player Squad for the RBS 6 Nations – Forwards: J Beaumont (Sale), D Cole (Leicester), L Cowan-Dickie (Exeter), J Clifford (Harlequins), J George (Saracens), D Hartley (Northampton), J Haskell (Wasps), P Hill (Northampton), MItoje (Saracens), G Kruis (Saracens), M Kvesic (Gloucester) injury replacement for D Ewers (Exeter), J Launchbury (Wasps), C Lawes (Northampton), J Marler (Harlequins), M Mullan (Wasps), C Robshaw (Harlequins), H Thomas (Bath) injury replacement for K Brookes (Northampton), B Vunipola (Saracens), M Vunipola (Saracens). Backs: C Ashton (Saracens), M Brown (Harlequins), D Care (Harlequins), E Daly (Wasps), O Devoto (Bath), injury replacement for M Tuilagi (Leicester), O Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Bath), A Goode (Saracens), S Hill (Exeter) injury replacement for H Slade (Exeter), J Joseph (Bath), J Nowell (Exeter), A Watson (Bath), M Yarde (Harlequins), B Youngs (Leicester).