Eddie Jones will have no option but to retain at least two-thirds of Stuart Lancaster’s England World Cup squad when he makes his first Six Nations selection in the new year.
Under the terms of the Rugby Football Union’s elite player squad agreement Jones will be allowed to change a maximum of 11 players before his first Test in charge against Scotland at Murrayfield on 6 February.
Jones starts work at Twickenham on Tuesday and will immediately discover that coaching England is a less than straightforward gig. Rather than starting with a blank sheet of paper he will be allowed to drop only 10 of the squad who went out of the World Cup at the pool stages, with Sam Burgess’s return to rugby league providing one additional space.
In reality Jones would be struggling to make a huge number of changes anyway with scant training time available to him to work with his new squad. England are not due to go into camp again until the evening of 24 January, less than a fortnight before their trip to Edinburgh, and the club programme between now and then is already full to bursting.
Jones, even so, is entitled to raise a quizzical eyebrow. To further complicate his life he will also be asked to name a Saxons squad despite the fact the shadow England XV do not have any fixtures this spring because of the crowded post-World Cup fixture schedule. Players still technically have to be part of the Saxons, however, to allow them to be promoted to the senior squad in the event of injury.
It has also emerged the Northampton pair of Luther Burrell and Calum Clark were official World Cup reserves and, as such, feature in the existing 33-man EPS squad that Jones will shortly be required to tweak.
The Australian is due to announce his reshuffled list in mid-January but currently injured players such as Bath’s Jonathan Joseph will still have to be named for administrative reasons.
Among those hoping to get the nod from Jones are Northampton’s Dylan Hartley, who missed the World Cup after being suspended at the end of last season, and the fast-rising Saracens forward Maro Itoje. Wasps’s Elliot Daly, Joe Simpson and Matt Mullan are also pushing hard, as is Exeter’s strong-running back-rower Dave Ewers.
The Saracens flanker Will Fraser, Bath’s Kyle Eastmond and the London Irish winger Alex Lewington will also doubtless get a mention when Jones, as he is expected to do before Christmas, sets off around the country to meet the 12 Premiership directors of rugby with whom he will need to strike up a rapid rapport. Four years ago, following England’s disappointing World Cup campaign in New Zealand, Lancaster ended up making 13 changes to the ageing squad he inherited from Martin Johnson.
Jones, who spent last week in Los Angeles and Tokyo, has also said he intends to meet England’s captain Chris Robshaw, among those waiting to discover whether their Test prospects will be affected by Lancaster’s departure. There is also the matter of the immediate futures of the assistant coaches Andy Farrell, Graham Rowntree and Mike Catt, who are as yet uncertain whether there is a place for them in Jones’s regime.
There is precious little time to waste. England are eighth in the world rankings and need a good year in 2016 to avoid being caught out again when the draw for the 2019 Rugby World Cup is made. This week the RFU will confirm the national side’s schedule for next year which will include a money-driven extra date with Wales in late May before Jones’s team set out to tour Australia in June. Next autumn is also set to involve a November fixture with a Tier Two nation, probably either Japan or the United States.