Eddie Jones has a reputation as a hard taskmaster and he thinks Owen Farrell can help rebuild England’s standing by ruling with a rod of iron on next month’s tour to South Africa just as one of his lieutenants did in his Wallaby days.
Farrell has been handed the captaincy duty for the three-Test series against the Springboks with Dylan Hartley absent due to concussion.
The Saracen man’s main task is to re-build team spirit in a squad that Jones thought was fractured during a disastrous Six Nations and in a country where they have only won three of 13 Tests against the Boks.
Those triumphs came in 1972, 1994 and 2000 under the captaincy of John Pullin, Will Carling and Martin Johnson respectively but it is an Australian, George Gregan, who Jones likens to Farrell.
Jones has been around the block more than once at international level with stints with Australia, South Africa and Japan, and scrum-half Gregan was his captain when he coached the Wallabies to the 2003 World Cup final.
And Jones thinks Farrell may come to emulate Gregan on the daunting trip to a host country rejuvenated by new boss Rassie Erasmus.
“That is probably close to the mark,” said Jones at England’s current training camp in Brighton.
“George Gregan was fantastic. I have never seen a stronger winner than him. He demanded stuff from the team and they were frightened not to give it to him.
“John Smit with South Africa was more consultative. He was able to bring three or four disparate groups together for a common purpose. He was brilliant at that, he challenged the coaches so he was very good on the field and very good off the field.
“Gregan was super on the field but not as good off the field.
“Then Michael Leitch with Japan. Brilliant captain. I have never seen a bloke with more courage than him. He was able to bring together, within the Japanese there are four or five different groups. Kiwis, Tongans and he was able to bring them all together for a common purpose.
“None of them started out as great captains, they all started out relatively poor captains.
“Having strong leadership definitely helps – having a leader who can unite groups. Because within our team you’ve got different groups and it’s how you unite all those guys to play for one single purpose.”
Farrell is already one of the leaders in the England team and deputised for Hartley, Jones’ first-choice skipper since 2016, in the Six Nations defeat to France but has a big task on his hands uniting a squad that the coach thinks was splitting recently. And Jones, as an Australian, thinks it takes an outsider’s eye to see the breaks.
“You go to north of England and south of England and for me it is like going to two different countries,” he added. “That is probably because I am Australian. Then you go to the south west and that is a different country again and they have got different ideas of what is right and what is wrong and none of them is right.
“Owen has a different cultural background. Dylan is from Rotorua, Owen is from Wigan. They think of things differently, they look at things differently.
“Owen will put his own stamp on the team. And we want him to do that. We obviously don’t want him to lose some of the great work Dylan had done, and he has done a lot of good things … We want to keep the good things and then bring his own flavour to the table.”
Jones also said he had not thought about a potential replacement for defence coach Paul Gustard who has been linked with a move to Harlequins and their vacant director of rugby position.
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