BAGSHOT, England, Nov 8 (Reuters) - England coach Eddie Jones’s conviction that his bench players are equally if not more important than his starters is so complete that he thinks they should have the same shirt number as the players they replace on the field.
Jones has taken to describing his replacements as “finishers” and, after making three changes to his starting team to face New Zealand on Saturday, he was somewhat exasperated at the media’s interest in the fact that Chris Ashton was chosen to start ahead of Jack Nowell - swapping their roles from last week’s win over South Africa.
The Australian made a similar change in the front row where Ben Moon was given the loosehead berth from the start ahead of Exeter club mate Alec Hepburn — another straight swap from the Springbok game.
“All we’ve done is change the order — he (Ashton) will start and Jack will finish. I don’t see a difference. If I had my way, I’d have all the players numbered the same,” Jones said on Thursday.
“History tells you that New Zealand win most of their games in the last 20 minutes, so which one is more important this week, the starter or the finisher?”
Asked why he had opted to give Moon his first international start against the All Blacks, Jones was frustrated to have to repeat his mantra. “Again guys. One is starting, and one finishing. Maybe I can’t talk English. Why don’t you understand? We start one guy and finish one guy. I see them as being equally important.”
Jones said that his conviction that rugby had become a fully 23-man operation was based on trying to deal with the ever-increasing physical demands of the modern game.
“You are trying to work out how you maximise that 80 minutes,” he said.
“The acceleration requirement of the players is 30 percent more now than it was two or three years ago, so the game’s getting physically more intense and therefore you need to be able to particularly fill the high-work rate positions with two players because it’s almost impossible now to field a front-rower for 80 minutes. “A front-row now is expected to carry the ball 15 times, make 20 tackles, clean out 20 times, sprint like a back-rower in the kick-chase line, sprint back — the requirements of the game are just so heavy now that you need that 80 minutes for every position.”
Moon gets his chance after injuries ruled out England’s three leading looseheads, but Jones has liked what he has seen from a “good, solid citizen.”
“He’s one of those blokes who goes down the coal mine for you every day. He does the simple things — no fuss, no fanfare, really good team guy,” he said.
One man who almost always stays on the pitch for the full 80 minutes despite being right in the thick of the action is Owen Farrell, though the fearless flyhalf was struggling to even run last week after being clattered by a borderline late hit early in the second half.
“If he was (Ireland flyhalf) Johnny Sexton then we’d be able to complain about him, but because he’s Owen Farrell he’s allowed to be hit late,” Jones said, acknowledging with a smile that the Irish media would seize on the comment with glee ahead of next year’s Six Nations.
“But he’s tough so he gets up and he plays. He takes the ball to the line, he puts his body on the line, he doesn’t play in a dinner suit. He’s a warrior. He gets hit, he gets up and he plays and keeps doing it.”
Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Toby Davis