Thursday 8 August 2019 5:08 pm

Ollie Phillips: Eddie Jones is being decisive with England World Cup squad but his intensity could backfire

Eddie Jones’s decision to name his World Cup squad almost four weeks before the official deadline is one typical of the England head coach.

On one hand it’s unnecessary because he’ll almost certainly have to make changes to the 31 names he announces on Monday due to injuries sustained in the warm-up matches and training sessions.

But on the other, it is fitting of his management style. I think he had a pretty good idea of his World Cup squad at the Six Nations in March.

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Jones is trying to provide continuity and show he’s decisive by letting the players know where they stand six weeks before their opening World Cup game in Japan against Tonga. There’s no conjecture. It’s black and white.

Once the squad is finalised England can fire on all cylinders towards their goal of winning the game’s biggest prize for the first time since 2003.

First of all, however, there’s the small matter of Sunday’s match against Wales at Twickenham, which is a cracking way to kick off an exciting period.

Squad balance

With 33 players in the current group, which has been away in Italy at a training camp for 12 days, and only 31 allowed in the World Cup squad there are some who will obviously miss out.

Injuries to winger Jack Nowell, flanker Brad Shields and prop Mako Vunipola complicates things further, but there are still a few places up for grabs.

Gloucester scrum-half Willi Heinz has been kept in the squad to face Wales ahead of Saracens’ Ben Spencer, arguably the best No9 in the Premiership last season.

BAGSHOT, ENGLAND - AUGUST 07:  Willi Heinz looks on during the England training session at Pennyhill Park on August 07, 2019 in Bagshot, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Heinz will get a chance to impress against Wales on Sunday (Getty Images)

Now Jones has made that call Heinz has to play on Sunday to see if he can step up from club rugby to international. He’s already tried Danny Care, Dan Robson and Jack Maunder, so he needs to settle on his back-up to Ben Youngs.


Ruaridh McConnochie is another uncapped player in the squad and it would be a great story if he were to make the World Cup. The 27-year-old only joined Bath in January having won an Olympic silver medal at Rio in Sevens and it is remarkable that he is in the hunt.

Lewis Ludlam was a stand-out player for Northampton last season but faces stiff competition for a place in the back row, while it’s the same for Harlequins’ Joe Marchant at centre.

Attritional atmosphere

They’ve been deservedly picked on form but England’s squad is laced with quality, so really it’s encouraging that the uncapped players are scrapping for a few places.

When picking a 31-man squad it’s about covering all eventualities, mixing styles, getting the right blend of skill sets and ensuring you can deal with injuries and fatigue.

TREVISO, ITALY - JULY 30:  Ruaridh McConnochie looks on during the England training session on July 30, 2019 in Treviso, Italy. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Former sevens player McConnochie only joined Bath in January (Getty Images)

England are an outstanding side on paper and on their day are capable of beating any team in the world. In fact, I think their biggest weakness lies off the pitch with Jones himself.

The Australian is an intense, obsessive character and that can be dangerous in a team environment, as players and coaches can be overworked. If not looked after, the atmosphere can become attritional over a long World Cup build-up and campaign.

After England play Wales on Sunday they still have further warm-ups against Ireland, Italy and Wales once more.

If all goes to plan that’s a perfect way to gear up for a World Cup challenge; if not it could scupper things before they even take off.

Former England Sevens captain Ollie Phillips is a director within the real estate & construction team at PwC and founder of Optimist Performance. Follow Ollie on Twitter and on LinkedIn

Main image credit: Getty Images

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