England are in Portugal on their pre-Six Nations training camp, which means the players will be being put through their paces by Eddie Jones.
Jones is an interesting character – intense and hard to judge. He likes to challenge those he works with, so it’s bound to be testing time ahead of the opening match against Ireland next weekend.
He’s said previously that he likes to train at the same speed as a Test match, so there are bound to be some bumps and bruises over the next week.
Over three years into the job the Australian is approaching crunch time: a hugely competitive Six Nations followed by a World Cup in the autumn.
Peaks and troughs
His time in charge has been full of peaks and troughs. When he took over from Stuart Lancaster his new regime helped redress the balance – players felt empowered and subsequently went on an 18-game winning streak, picking up successive Six Nations titles.
However, as we saw when things were less rosy last year, his complicated personality and management style can cut both ways.
Jones is a self-confessed workaholic. He is obsessed with rugby, a real student of the game, which in one sense is a real positive, because it shows he’s fully committed to finding a recipe for success.
But it can also be a negative. The 58-year-old is like a Rubik’s Cube which not everyone can figure out. That can lead to difficulties on the pitch, with players on edge, simply trying to conform, rather than express themselves fully.
Jones is more dictatorial compared with the other northern hemisphere coaches, Warren Gatland, Joe Schmidt and Gregor Townsend, who appear more amiable and open.
He works hard to prepare the players and come up with game-plans, but I feel they can occasionally get lost in the heat of the moment when England are under pressure.
This can particularly become the case when there are not enough leaders on the pitch.
When you look at defending Six Nations champions Ireland they have plenty of big characters who will lead from the front and organise team mates on the pitch in Johnny Sexton, Connor Murray, Peter O’Mahony, Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong.
However, I don’t think England are blessed with a similar number. The co-captains Owen Farrell and Dylan Hartley are two who respond well to Jones’s guidance and have the characters to make a difference, but who else would stand up to the head coach?
Hartley is absent from the squad because of a knee injury, meaning Farrell’s presence is even more important than usual. The fly-half needs to overcome his thumb problem because he sets the tone on the pitch.
England are beginning to get away from the strategy which has in the past dominated in the Premiership of taking minimal risks, grinding away the opposition and converting pressure into points.
But in order to play the exciting, expansive style we saw to some extent in the win over Australia in November the lines of communications between Jones and his players need to be open.
As Jones enters the defining year of his England stint he needs the players who are fully on board with his plans to be at the fulcrum of his side if he is to be successful.