Eddie Jones could never be accused of being a shrinking violet, having taken aim at some of England`s leading lights in the build-up to the hugely anticipated June rugby union series against Australia.
Jones is taking no prisoners at the moment within the England set up. In-form fullback Alex Goode, fresh from a convincing Saracens win over Racing Metro in the European Cup final and the recently anointed 2016 player of the year, was brought to down to earth with Jones stating that he had done nothing special. Perhaps this is a bit of kidology on Jones`s part to make sure that his players are not getting ahead of themselves. It was even worse for the try-scoring machine Chris Ashton who was heavily tipped to make the plane having scored a bucket load of tries this season.
England announced their squad this week with few surprises. Jones has gone for the tried and tested, rather than a youthful overhaul, in some positions.
England`s new coach has clearly not been impressed by the last few weeks of the English premiership and has shoved a rocket up some of his first teamers for not performing at the required level at their respective clubs following a victorious Six Nations campaign. Again, this is the schemer and strategist in Eddie Jones, which we England fans are rather enjoying.
The Six Nations was a poor tournament in terms of quality and the Wallabies would not have been cowering in fear of the English from what they saw. Jones knows this and he wants his squad fit and firing mentally and physically if they are a chance to make history in June.
There are a number of exciting English players for Cheika to watch out for when England arrive in Australia in a couple of weeks time. Not least is the controversial selection of former NRL Souths enforcer Ben Te`o. Jones has been a long time admirer of Te`o and has seen enough of his performances for Leinster to feel that he could fill the problematic number 12 jersey. With Manu Tuilagi out with a hamstring strain and the Ford/Farrell axis not convincing during the Six Nations, Te`o might well get a chance. Te`o is no one-trick pony either; he can hit hard in defence and like all gifted NRL back rowers, his offloading abilities will be very useful if England are wanting to play a faster attacking game.
George Kruis and Maro Itoje have established themselves as the best second row pairing in the northern hemisphere. Itoje especially will be very dangerous on the Aussie grounds if he can get a gallop on.
Jones has also gone for raw power in the shape of young props Kyle Sinckler and Ellis Genge. These two make up for what they lack in experience with explosive power in the loose. Genge rearranged Owen Farrell`s rib cage in the English premiership semi final and is no respecter of reputations.
Out wide is perhaps where England are much improved since the calamitous backline selections from Stuart Lancaster`s era. Wings, Anthony Watson and Jack Nowell are a season older, extremely quick and both are in terrific form. Alex Goode, despite Jones` lack of appreciation for his seasonal efforts, has been outstanding at full back for Saracens and should start in front of ‘Mr. Angry’, Mike Brown. Owen Farrell must start at standoff and has added much subtlety to his running game to go with his near perfect goal kicking.
The Wallabies should face an England team which is fit, motivated and powerful. Eddie Jones will relish the mind games with the Australian press and he won`t change his stance on putting pressure on his squad if there is any hint of an end of season holiday.
The concern for Jones and his coaching team will be the x-factor talent pool that Cheika has at his disposal. Israel Folau is poised to deliver having suffered a frustrating World Cup through injury. It could be a masterstroke to put him in the centers particularly if England continue to select the out-of-form George Ford alongside Farell.
I would add in Kudriani and Tomane as world-class backs, which England will struggle to contain if they are given a yard or two of space. The usual suspects up front will also have a significant say for Australia with England`s discipline still a problem. They had a high penalty count throughout the Six Nations, which could spell disaster at the breakdown.
Michael Hooper seems to have regained some of his mojo and David Pocock shows no sign of dropping off his immense turnover talents. England have not gone for a specialist openside and will more than likely persist with the physical presence of James Haskell to try and outmuscle Pocock and friends.
It may well be that England`s tried and tested will be refreshed by the exciting abilities of Henry Slade and Elliott Daley. Both are pacey mavericks with excellent hands and an eye for a gap. It may be that the x-factor off the bench rather than in the starting XV could tip the balance in England`s favour given that Messrs.’ Giteau, Mitchell, O`Connor, Ashley-Cooper and Kurtley Beale are unlikely to be involved.
This will be a fascinating series to watch with the added sideshow of Eddie Jones coming back to his native Australian shores. He is bullish and rightly so; this is a very different England team facing the Wallabies.
England have been pushed to their limits since Jones took over the reins, which was no bad thing after the World Cup debacle. Every individual in the England squad knows that a poor performance could mean curtains on their individual careers. Some of England`s best talent has been left behind in the shape of Danny Cipriani and Chris Ashton. Jones wants an all round game, not the occasional flash of brilliance.
I am going for a 2-1 series win to England but I think it will be immensely tight. Much will hinge on Pocock and Folau being fit and on form for the Wallabies. Australia have not played since November and will have new combinations that need to get up to speed with Test match intensity straight away. Contrast that to an improving England team who have five successive wins under their belt and that might be the one percent that decides it.
Bring it on.
TOP IMAGE: (By Mitch Gunn / Shutterstock.com)