Six Nations Rugby 2018: Titles Eddie Jones challenges England to win historic hat-trick
Eddie Jones has challenged his England side to make further history by clinching a record third consecutive Six Nations title next year and has given his strongest indication yet that Dylan Hartley is set to continue as captain.
Hartley, the only player to start all 22 matches under Jones, each of them as captain, guided England to a fifth straight win against Australia on Saturday as late tries from Jonathan Joseph, Jonny May and Danny Care led to a 30-6 triumph – a record margin of victory against the Wallabies. England complete two years under Jones against Samoa on Saturday but the head coach already has one eye on the Six Nations next spring.
“We want a ‘three-peat’ there,” he said. “I don’t think any team have ever three-peated the Six Nations.”
While the Australian initially viewed Hartley as his “foundation captain” for his first 24 months in charge, he has given the hooker’s credentials a ringing endorsement – an approval which strengthens his claims to continue in the role through to the 2019 World Cup. “Dylan was outstanding,” added Jones, who in May stated that there was “no reason [Hartley] can’t carry on to 2019” provided he is “improving as a player and as a captain”.
“His captaincy was first-class. He’s moving from being a good captain to being a better captain. He manages the referee well, manages the team well. He’s got a good demeanour about him with the referee. It’s so important for the captain to have a good relationship with the referee. The ability to communicate effectively with the referee is so important and he does that brilliantly.
“He’s seen the bottom of the trough and he’s now surfing at the top of the crest and he appreciates relationships. He appreciates the opportunity of what he’s doing at the moment and he’s only going to grow as captain.”
Jones was tight-lipped over whether he will make changes against Samoa but he will hope to have Mike Brown available again after the full-back missed out against Australia due to a head injury. Brown was due to return to contact training when an unchanged 35-man squad reconvenes in Bagshot, but Sam Underhill suffered a head injury against the Wallabies, so must undergo the return-to-play protocols this week. As a result Sam Simmonds comes into contention for a first start, along with Danny Care, who scored one try and set up two off the bench against Australia.
“Danny came on at the right time, saw space behind and executed brilliantly,” Jones told BBC Radio 5 live’s Sportsweek programme. “He was like a little [Alexis] Sànchez playing for Arsenal, here there and everywhere looking for opportunities. He was very creative.”
Despite Jones’s praise for Hartley, Samoa, who lost 17-13 to Romania on Saturday, would also seem the ideal opportunity to hand Jamie George a first start but it remains to be seen how many of England’s players who toured with the British & Irish Lions over the summer feature, with Jones reiterating his concern over their fitness.
“These Lions players still aren’t fit and that’s the battle I’ve got,” he added. “They were better [on Saturday] and they will be better next week if they play. We’ve got to get more work into them. It’s been tough for them. They came back from a six-week series where they played 300% more than they normally play in their post-season, then they had 10 or 11 days of pre-season at their clubs then they were playing eight or nine games on the trot. It’s tough for them but we have to try to get them ready for Test rugby.
Jones also said he will monitor the progress of the New Zealand-born flanker Brad Shields when he joins Wasps next season. Shields’s move from the Hurricanes was confirmed on Sunday and he will be eligible for England as soon as he arrives, qualifying through his parents. “If he comes over and he starts playing, then I’ll have a look at him,” said Jones, before the move was confirmed.
Meanwhile the Rugby Football Union is not expected to investigate an incident between the Australia head coach, Michael Cheika, and a supporter at Twickenham. TV cameras picked up an exchange between the two and after the match Cheika said: “There are plenty of fans giving me a gob full, I can assure you. And [it’s] not nice, not pleasant. But that is the way it goes. I know when I walk down the stairs that I’m going to cop abuse but that’s the way she rolls.”The RFU confirmed to the Guardian that it has not received any official complaints however, and the governing body is only likely to investigate if it does so.