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England's autumn review: Team spirit, surfing and Beef Wellington


England’s successful autumn was partially down to forward Maro Itoje’s work in improving communication among the side, says head coach Eddie Jones.

With new faces in the squad, Itoje and England’s sports psychologist worked to ensure everyone had their say.

Jones told BBC Sport England’s “togetherness” had been “outstanding”.

Jones explained the side’s leadership group, including Owen Farrell, Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry and Genge, delegated the job of “team communication” sessions to Itoje.

“Younger players now – they all want to have their say,” he said.

“That more diverse leadership group has encouraged the younger players to have their say.

“Maro’s job was to facilitate with the sports psychologist in working out what the players needed to talk about, what they needed to fix to be a better group.

“Maro was outstanding in doing that. It was a growth spurt in terms of his leadership.”

Fly-half Marcus Smith, 22, seemed to agree with Jones’ evaluation, saying England’s leaders offered vital support before he stepped up to take the crucial penalty that sealed a dramatic 27-26 win over South Africa.

He said: “The referee was checking things so I had a lot of time think about it, but Courtney Lawes and Tom Curry and the leaders in the team put their arm around me and said, ‘we believe in you’.

“To have those sorts of leaders around me helps me massively through the gate and I appreciate that help big time.”

‘In surfing, you have to be ahead of the wave’

England rounded off their campaign with a one-point win against South Africa, going some way to avenge the defeat they suffered in the 2019 World Cup final.

That victory followed comprehensive wins against Tonga and Australia, with new stars like full-back Freddie Steward and fly-half Smith emerging along the way.

But Jones’ side will not stop there and he says the target is to “play better” as they look to improve on their fifth-place finish in the 2021 Six Nations when the tournament begins again in February.

“You always want to be ahead of the wave,” he said.

“When you go in the surfing contest, whoever catches the first wave gets the best ride.

“We were able to score three tries against South Africa. It showed our attack is developing nicely.

“As soon as you get good at something, the opposition take it away from you. You have got to keep evolving.

“What is that next wave? When is the next wave coming in? What do we need to look at next?”

‘Referees are in a difficult position with technology’

South Africa were without director of rugby Rassie Erasmus at Twickenham after he was banned from Springbok matchdays for a year following his controversial video critiquing the refereeing of the first British and Irish Lions Test last summer.

Australia head coach Dave Rennie also criticised the officiating in his side’s 29-28 loss to Wales on Saturday and Jones said “we must be respectful of the referee”. But he added: “It is difficult at times.”

Jones said the use of video replays by television match officials may not help the situation either.

“One of the key factors is we are trying to use video to give us more accurate judgements that can’t be done by slow-motion video,” he said.

“We have got a real problem that we are trying to use technology to improve the judgement of the game when, in fact, technology is not giving us better judgement.

“Referees are in such a difficult position now because if they don’t check something they get criticised.

“If they do check something they’re not necessarily getting the right information from the technology.”

‘Dolly graduated from Shepherd’s Pie to Beef Wellington’

Although Steward and Smith dominated the headlines, Jones highlighted the contribution of Nic Dolly, another of his newcomers.

The 22-year-old hooker was playing for Coventry in the Championship last season before joining Premiership side Leicester in March and made his England debut off the bench on Saturday with the injured Jamie George absent.

“He was eating Shepherd’s Pie at Coventry and then he graduated to Beef Wellington with us,” Jones said of Dolly.

“He has gone from zero to 100 pretty quickly. What a story in terms of resilience, in terms of just keep doing your work and when the opportunity comes – take it.”

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