Jones avoids revolutionary route to Scotland

Eddie Jones (AP)
Eddie Jones (AP)

London - Former England coach Stuart Lancaster might be forgiven a wry smile on seeing Eddie Jones's first match squad as his successors' brave new world kicked off with a feeling of evolution rather than revolution.

Partly through the Rugby Football Union's complicated arrangement with the Premiership clubs, Jones was forced to show his hand early this week, naming a 23-man squad for his first game in charge, away to Scotland in the Six Nations on February 6.

Although the squad shows 11 changes from the last meaningful match of Lancaster's reign – the defeat by Australia that ended their World Cup hopes – it still contains only three uncapped players and the starting line-up is likely to have a very familiar look.

The three uncapped players, Bath's Ollie Devoto, Harlequins back-row Jack Clifford, and Northampton rookie tighthead Paul Hill, are likely to start on the bench.

Jones declined to take a midfield risk, with Owen Farrell looking set to be pressed into service at inside centre at Murrayfield, outside flyhalf George Ford, leaving Wasps' in-form Elliot Daly, who was left out, perhaps wondering what, if anything, has changed.

Even the much-heralded captaincy issue turned out to be more of a light dusting than a spring clean. Dylan Hartley was named, and although he will play his first game since last year's Six Nations, with 66 caps he is still the squad's most experienced player.

His predecessor, Chris Robshaw, no longer calls the shots but remains in the team, switching from open-side to blindside flanker, where Jones said on Wednesday he could develop into the best in Europe.

Jones's somewhat cautious approach contrasts with Lancaster's, who also kicked off his regime with a trip to Murrayfield four years ago.

Farrell, also playing at 12, was one of three starting debutants in Lancaster's first game, along with fellow-centre Brad Barritt and No 8 Phil Dowson. Another four were blooded from the bench during the match.

He picked only six players who had started in the game before he took over – the 2011 World Cup quarterfinal defeat to France – saying from the start he was building towards the 2015 World Cup.

Jones has taken a more pragmatic approach, saying on Wednesday that his opening game against a buoyant Scottish team was no place to experiment.

"It's a Calcutta Cup game. Scotland are the form side of Europe," he said. "They're playing at home. The weather is probably going to be sunshine and 30 degrees, beautiful conditions," he added sarcastically with his trademark grin.

"We know it will be a tough game up there, so we've got to pick a tough side. We're picking 23 to do battle at Murrayfield, in front of 65 000 Scottish people who will be going crazy, and that's pressure. We need players with the skills to be able to cope with that.

"After Murrayfield I'll worry about the next games."

Lancaster's reign, which ended when he resigned in November following an RFU review into their World Cup failure, began with a ground-out 13-6 victory, England's first in four attempts at Murrayfield.

His team followed up with a nervy 19-15 win in Italy, where Jones takes England on February 14.

The Australian has hinted that he might take a few more risks in Rome, but the template seems set for a gradual drip-feed of emerging talent.

"As long as they keep learning they have great futures, it's about how hard they work," he said of the new faces, including those who missed the cut this week.

"None of them are international players at the moment. The difference between being a good club player and an international player is that three to five percent, and to make that up you have to work very hard.

"As a team you are always doing a gap analysis, but you also have to look at where the game is going. If you want to be the top team in the world you have to be playing the sort of rugbyeveryone else is 12 months later."

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