Jones’ contract expires after the tournament in France and the Australian has entered what he has described as a “last chapter” two years before the World Cup.
He named a new-look 45-player squad for a pre-Autumn Internationals training camp but has also remodelled his staff after a review by the Rugby Football Union (RFU) into a below-par Six Nations that saw England finish fifth.
Anthony Seibold has been appointed as defence coach after leaving the NRL, while his fellow cross-coder, Wasps’ Martin Gleeson, will now guide the attack in an office swap of sorts with the outgoing John Mitchell.
Former Leicester Tigers and Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill has arrived, with Jones believing he now has in place his team to guide England to victory as he prepares for a long goodbye.
“I’m definitely seeing it through to the World Cup, but after that I think we all know that my contract’s finished and I’ll be moving on,” Jones confirmed.
“I’m excited about giving everything I’ve got and I want to leave England rugby in a better state.”
The England head coach has been keen to talk up the “opportunities” that having new voices in the group can bring but the turnover in his staff has been an issue as England’s attacking and defensive structures appear set to be overhauled once more. Jones is not concerned about England’s direction after his contract expires.
“In terms of the succession, that is all the RFU. That’s not my responsibility,” explained Jones.
“What I have tried to do is develop English coaches. I’m proud of what Steve Borthwick and Alex Sanderson, whom I had a relationship with at Saracens before, are doing in the Premiership. There’s [Bath forwards and defence coach] Neal Hatley; [Paul Gustard] is now over at Treviso doing a good job.”
Of concern will also be the fact that a number of presumed potential successors have left his set-up. Close colleague Borthwick had been touted as the likeliest in-house option were Jones to leave after the 2019 World Cup, but he is now doing strong work at Leicester, while Mitchell elected to leave England and work under Lee Blackett at Wasps.
The highly-rated Sanderson jumps out as a potential successor who has not been part of the England set-up. Two of the Sale coach’s impressive group of young stars make the squad: Bevan Rodd, tipped by Jones as the most promising loosehead in the country, and livewire scrum-half Raffi Quirke.
Cockerill, a complex character who has succeeded at both Leicester and Edinburgh, comes with a certain reputation. Writing in The Times, former Scotland captain John Barclay described the coach as “autocratic” and a “malign presence” in Edinburgh after initially turning around the Scottish capital club’s fortunes. It follows a pattern established after the former Leicester hooker left the club amid rumours of player discontent and a falling out with colleague Aaron Mauger.
It is said of weak men in high positions that they surround themselves with little men so that they seem great in comparison; one could never accuse Jones of being weak.
“We need good coaches. Assistant coaches’ jobs are to fill the cracks, they are there to make sure the team is absolutely prepared to the minute, filling in the details of what needs to be done,” Jones said of Cockerill’s appointment. “He has got a fine record. I hope that after his experience with England, he is a better coach.”
There is an air of the unpredictable about the Jones’ new staff. Succession planning may be on the mind of fans of Jesse Armstrong’s hit HBO show when it returns to television in October, and Jones will hope that his new coaching team is not quite as dysfunctional as the Roy family. If they are to make the World Cup intact then Jones’ coaching staff will have remained in place for a two-year period for the first time in his tenure in charge of England.
Seibold has limited experience in rugby union though the Australian has already supposedly been advising Jones from afar. Gleeson is another relative newbie, though the former Great Britain rugby league international has at least the grounding of a pair of promising seasons at Wasps. As union borrows increasingly from its cousin, it is not coincidental that two of Jones’ new coaches come with cross-code experience.
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