I'd get rid of numbers in Test rugby: Eddie

by AFP

If Eddie Jones had his way, he would abandon traditional shirt numbers because the England coach believes all members of his matchday 23 play equally important roles.

Rugby union has traditionally put the emphasis on the starting XV, with the bench long regarded as only there in case of injuries to first-choice players.

But with a maximum of eight now allowed on the replacements' bench, Jones believes such thinking has no place in the fast-paced world of the modern international game where the 'impact' substitute has become a key figure.

"As far as we (are) concerned we name a squad of 23," Jones told reporters at England's training base after unveiling his side to play against his native Australia at Twickenham this weekend.

"The only reason we have to put 1 to 15 is because of World Rugby, otherwise I wouldn't have it," Jones added. "I'd just have a squad of 23. We'd name 15 to run on and eight to finish. 

"That's the way the game's going to be."

Jones, asked if players would come round to his way of thinking, replied: "They never will because of the media.

"Not in a negative way. There's just more emphasis and status put on a starting guy than a finishing guy. That's a hard thing to change but I think the players understand we're a 23-man squad."

England fly-half Owen Farrell came off the bench to lead a second-half revival in an eventual 35-15 win over Japan at Twickenham last week while on Saturday his fellow co-captain Dylan Hartley will be among the replacements, with Jamie George the starting hooker.

"That's why I was so pleased last week," said Jones, who often refers to his replacements as "finishers".

"Owen showed how important it is to be a good team member. Some time you start, some time you finish. He did a brilliant job as a finisher. 

"Jamie and Dylan are swapping over. Jamie's done some great stuff for us as a finisher, he's got the opportunity now to show he can do the role as starter. Similarly with Dylan as a finisher."

England endured a miserable run earlier this year, losing five straight Tests before winning the final match of their tour of South Africa, albeit the Springboks took the series 2-1.

Yet victory on Saturday would mean England had won three of their four Twickenham internationals this month, with the lone reverse a narrow 16-15 defeat by reigning world champions New Zealand.

But Jones cited Ireland's 16-9 win over the All Blacks last weekend when asked if England were now a more confident side.

"Confidence is a funny thing," he said. "Just look at the New Zealand-Ireland game.

"New Zealand went into that game confident, played brilliantly the first four minutes, the last eight minutes you wouldn't have known that was a world champion side.

"Confidence comes from your first entry in the game, what you do, what you are able to achieve and how can you stick to your game plan."

Turning to England, less than a year out from the 2019 World Cup in Japan, he added: "What I do know is that this team is growing, growing in depth, growing in leadership density, growing in the interaction between the players.

"What we've seen since the South Africa tour is the fighting spirit within this side and that is only going to get better.

 "You've got to have failure to have growth. Sometimes it takes a long time."

 Thursday's team announcement came 15 years to the day since an Australia side coached by Jones lost the 2003 World Cup final to England.

Clive Woodward, England's victorious coach that day, marked the occasion with a newspaper article stressing the importance of the World Cup.

"I don't think I need that reinforcing but it's good to know you can still make money off something 15 years ago!," joked Jones.