Eddie Jones has called on England to ignite the Twickenham crowd when they host New Zealand on Saturday, acknowledging the “massive effect” of his players’ response to the haka before their 2019 World Cup semi-final win. Jones compared the challenge of achieving a first home win over the All Blacks since 2012 as “climbing Mount Everest” but believes England can expose the weaknesses of their vaunted opponents.
Jones has recalled Billy Vunipola to his XV – shifting Sam Simmonds to blindside flanker in an eye-catching back row – with six of the side who began the 19-7 victory in Yokohama named to start. Six others have never played against the All Blacks before but Jones predicted that two who have – Maro Itoje and Manu Tuilagi – will be occupying New Zealand’s thoughts. Three years ago it was Tuilagi who scored England’s early try and Jones has also spoken with his players about the centre’s remarkable performance against the All Blacks 10 years ago. In 2019 his try came soon after England had lined up in a V formation while New Zealand performed the haka – a statement of intent which saw them fined for crossing the halfway line but one they successfully backed up.
“It had a massive effect on the fans, that’s what it had an effect on,” said Jones. “On Saturday we’ve got a responsibility to light the crowd up. We want to light the crowd up, whether it’s during the haka or post the haka I don’t really care.”
Jones is also determined to ensure his side fly out of the blocks – in his two matches against New Zealand as England head coach they have scored tries within the first three minutes – and urged those facing the All Blacks for the first time to avoid the dangers of showing them too much respect. “This is like if you’re a mountain climber going to the top of Mount Everest – they’re the most successful team in world rugby and the team you want to play against. For a young guy like Freddie Steward or a Jack van Poortvliet or a Marcus Smith, this is where you benchmark yourself against the rest of the world.
“It’s always in the head. You either make a decision that you go at them or you’re going to be a spectator. You’ve got to truly believe you can win; that your strengths are stronger than theirs. You’ve got to truly believe you will expose their weaknesses. I know with our team we believe we can win. We believe we’ve got strength that we can maximise against New Zealand. We believe there are weaknesses we can expose.”
Jones explained his decision to field Vunipola and Simmonds was a “horses for courses” approach to tackle a traditional area of strength for New Zealand, acknowledging it puts additional pressure on England’s lineout this week. It also means a return to the second row for Itoje, man of the match in 2019 and someone who can give the All Blacks sleepless nights.
“He’s taking on the mantle of being the energy of our team,” said Jones. “When you’ve got a high energy player like him … If you’re in the New Zealand team room one of the guys you’d be worried about is Maro because of the influence he has and the energy he brings to the game. I know he’s so excited about playing against [Brodie] Retallick and [Sam] Whitelock who are considered two of the greats of the game. He’s got that personal challenge because he wants that mantle of being the best player in the world and then he’s got to handle that subtlety and complexity of winning the lineouts. It’s a big task for him.”
Equally, Jones believes New Zealand will be preoccupied by Tuilagi, who ran amok in 2012, scoring one try and setting up two others. “When you’ve got a reputation like Manu, you get a bit of a head start. Because people are worried about you. They know what you’re capable of doing.”
While Jones has tinkered with the back row, he has stuck with his 10-12 axis of Smith and Owen Farrell, who wins his 100th England cap, despite hinting he may not last week. The two have played six Tests together and have yet to truly click with Jones admitting Smith is still a “work in progress” at international level.
“When you’re a young 10 coming through everyone gets excited, and then the game teaches you that it’s not all about excitement. There are tough periods in the game, and I haven’t seen a 10 in world rugby not experience it. You come through, you’re hitting every green and then all of a sudden you’re not hitting the green, and that’s when you find out a lot about yourself. At the end of the day, you’ve got to find that feeling again. And Marcus is going through this extraordinarily quick development as a player. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 10 develop as quickly as him.”