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Jeff Probyn: Jones must show courage of convictions this autumn

There is that certain ‘something’ about the last remaining days before a new season that always brings a feeling of anticipation of what’s to come, but also one of dread.

It probably comes from my playing days as I looked forward to the first game knowing I had never done nearly enough pre-season training. At the end of the season I stopped training but would ride the ten miles by bike to work in London, rather than taking the car. I also spent time catching up with work that had been side-lined and family that I missed while playing.

Club pre-season training was a couple of sessions a few weeks before kick-off to get used to handling the ball again after the summer break.

It was always the thought of the first few sessions on the scrum machine and against the 2nd team pack that filled me with dread because there was no way to prepare for a scrum other than being part of one.

Always at the end of pre-season practice after the running and skills drills and semi opposed games, almost like an afterthought as the backs trooped off to the bath and the kickers took a last few shots at the posts, up went the call, ‘Forwards to the scrum machine’.

As you form up for the first ‘hit’,  the familiarity of the a scrum coming together gives you a sense of false

security that all will be good, just as it was during the last game of last season – but it isn’t.

You pack down and the pressure comes through as an eager back five drive as hard as they can, forcing around two to three tonnes of pressure through your body into a steel framed machine stuck in the ground.

It takes a while (about three sessions) before your body gets used to the pressure and everything clicks (literally) back in place and you stop getting the squiggled vision and light headedness the early practise scrums produce.

Live scrums are always a concern as the younger, fitter, stronger players try to stake a claim for the prize of a first team spot and the only thing you have on your side is your knowledge, experience and technical skill.

Fortunately, when I was playing that was enough to ensure me a long career stretching over 15 years in top club rugby and eight years in the England squad.

Anticipation is now reserved for the announcement of the first England squad of the year, a fundamental selection that sets out current England head coach Eddie Jones’, vision for the season. This is always difficult after a Lions tour, made harder by the success of those left behind and the new boys in Argentina meaning Jones has some interesting decisions to make.

With some of the England stars failing to break into the Lions Test team, will Jones stick with the tried and trusted or take a chance on the youngsters?

Admittedly, the Lions selections were about one man’s choices and the politics of a multi-national team but the tour did highlight some issues surrounding the make-up of last year’s England team.

The multi position utility player seems to be set for replacement with specialist positional players in certain areas. A true openside, but with power, rather than the ‘6 ½’ of recent years and a settled midfield with a playmaker at 10 and 12 now seems a must, particularly as Lions coach Gatland resorted to the ‘Woodward plan’ ( I believe it was Clive who first tried the two fly-half play) with some success.

Jones now has a dilemma in that he has a winning side which has a number of key players who could make the 2019 trip to Japan, but by then would be in the twilight of their international careers. Or, does he run with some of the young players who came through the summer tour but lack experience?

In many ways this is a perfect time for Jones to experiment as the Lions players can legitimately be rested for the autumn games. That would allow him the chance to give some of the new young players a bit of extra international exposure against three teams England should easily beat.

Australia are in the middle of a major rebuild and will be the underdogs this November. Argentina will travel more in hope than expectation having lost the series at home this summer, and although Samoa will be a physically tough game, I doubt they have a chance of recording their first ever victory over England, especially at Twickenham.

Experimenting this autumn could open the door for some new faces come the Six Nations and help those players gain more valuable experience, but not without possibly risking results.

Jones has said that he is preparing England to win the World Cup in two years and stated the old adage, ‘failing to prepare is preparing to fail’ and added that he is the only one guaranteed his place – but words are cheap.

This is the last year that Jones can experiment, after this season’s internationals we will know who (barring injury) will be on the plane to Japan.

I hope that in preparing the team he has the courage of his convictions and makes the changes needed to help the squad succeed in two years, whatever the results are now.

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