One of the greatest achievements during reign of Stuart Lancaster as England rugby union coach was rebuilding the relationship between Premiership clubs and country. So why, as Eddie Jones takes over, are club sides suddenly benefiting more than the national side?
In the five European Champions Cup tables, six of the top two teams are English.
In Pool 1, Saracens lead the way after demolishing Oyonnax at the weekend. Sarries are also many expert’s tip to win the tournament this year.
Exeter Chiefs produced one of the shock results of the tournament in Pool 2 when they beat Clermont Auvergne, three years after the French kingpins hammered them at Sandy Park. Northampton Saints, Bath and Wasps are all riding high in Pools 3-5.
Contrast that with the fortunes of England in the Rugby World Cup.
They were seen as the team to repeat the heroics of Clive Woodward’s side 16 years previously, nicely placed on home soil.
What unfolded was a disaster, as England limped out of the tournament in the group stages after defeats to Australia and old rivals Wales. The question new coach Eddie Jones must ask himself going into the Six Nations next year is, what gives?
Jones will surely look first at picking his best players and strongest team.
Stuart Lancaster’s World Cup squad didn’t have talent like Luther Burrell. The man who lost out to Rugby League convert Sam Burgess has shown some spectacular form since the start of the season. The four centres Lancaster picked, including Burgess, had just 35 caps between them.
The lack of big game experience told in the tournament with the collapse against Wales at Twickenham.
The Premiership clubs, with their power and financial clout, hold all the cards. That makes the task in front of Jones even tougher. The new coach recently commented that he wanted central contracts, something highly unlikely to happen.
It’s a losing battle Jones is presumably aware of, given his comments reiterating that to play for England you must be based in England. That set his stall out in snubbing French-based players, which would have pleased a lot of those English Premiership clubs.
The clubs have benefitted from wealthy owners and richer TV deals over the past decade, much like their football counterparts. But there hasn’t yet been the giant influx of foreign talent, with a lot of homegrown players still to pick from.
There’s no doubt Jones has the talent at his disposal to replicate the form of the English club sides, but he must work smart.
How his team play will have a huge bearing on this, because England have their best chance to win a Six Nations for years in February.
It’s vital Jones utilizes the exciting backs he can pick from. If he can combine the traditional elements of English rugby and of his own tactics, with players like Burrell and Billy Twelvetrees, it could be quite a fruitful year for English rugby – at both national and club level.