Ollie Phillips: Six Nations could be Eddie Jones's biggest test

 
Ollie Phillips
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2018 Natwest Six Nations Launch - Syon Park Hilton
Eddie Jones could be without as many as 18 players for England's Six Nations opener with Italy (Source: Getty)

England's injury woes have continued to mount this week and if they lose a couple of matches during the Six Nations or don’t achieve their aim – a Grand Slam – then there is a ready-made excuse.

But Eddie Jones’s charges have got to become a side that is durable and can weather storms because this situation is exactly what they could face at next year’s World Cup.

At the start of the season, the ideal scenario for England in 2018 would have been to build into the year with a Grand Slam, take that confidence into the summer tour of South Africa before facing New Zealand, the world’s No1 side, in the autumn.

Imagine the psychological boost if, come the end of the Six Nations, England can say: we had a huge amount of injuries, we had players out of form but we still smashed a Grand Slam. There would be an air of invincibility and rightly so.

Contrast that with them potentially under-performing, heading into the summer tour struggling for form and then having to face the All Blacks with confidence low, admitting that they have lost momentum in their mission to become No1 in the world.

That’s why this Six Nations is a huge test. It’s not by any means make or break, the 2019 edition in World Cup year is the big one, but I believe Jones will be bitterly disappointed if England do not achieve a Grand Slam, even with their injury problems.

With England potentially missing 18 players for their opening match against Italy they are starting to look vulnerable – not necessarily for that game in Rome but the championship as a whole – but the saving grace is other teams are in the same boat.

Italy, for me, are simply not a good side, France are all over the place and shrouded in controversy while there seems to be a lack of clarity in their decision-making, and Scotland don’t have a front-row.

Wales have injuries too and are early in the process of trying to change their style of play. That leaves Ireland without any problems as they are all fit and head coach Joe Schmidt knows how to win a game.

It’s a big hurdle for England and indeed Jones, possibly the biggest of his career. He will be hugely frustrated at having to adapt his training sessions and being unable to instil the values and principles he would ideally like to.

At the start of the season a Six Nations fixture list of Wales and Ireland at home and Italy, Scotland and France away would have screamed Grand Slam, but such thoughts have been overtaken by events.

I back Jones to have the nous and experience to handle the problems, but I wouldn’t blame people if they were starting to pick Ireland as their favourites.

Ollie Phillips is a former England Sevens captain and now a director at PwC, focusing on organisational, cultural and technological change.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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