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Apprenticeships Empty Apprenticeships

Post by No 7&1/2 Tue 26 Jan 2021, 11:53 am

Shamelessly stolen from the Guardian. Flirts across a few topics that are ongoing about the use of use players and style and development.

"If Lord Sugar ever steps down from The Apprentice there is an obvious replacement available. Eddie Jones loves throwing callow wannabes in at the deep end and his England training squads have regularly been peppered with them. His latest Six Nations selection is no exception, a ‘shadow’ group containing uncapped – and mostly unheralded – hopefuls such as Charlie Atkinson, Ali Crossdale, Joe Heyes and George Martin.

In theory it is a decent idea. Jones’s apprentices can discover at first hand what a fully fledged Test athlete looks like and the head coach can examine the best of the next generation. Taking a youngster out of their comfort zone is a vital part of the developmental process and simultaneously allows the national management to gauge the quality emerging from the age-group pipeline.

There is just one recurring problem. Pity those poor newcomers who do not instantly look a million dollars or snugly fit the exacting Jones template. Good luck to Atkinson, Crossdale and co but the success rate among those who have been prematurely anointed is less healthy than it should be for talented English players with something about them.

There are any number of cautionary tales out there. In Jones’s time there has been no higher-profile asterisked ‘apprentice’ than Marcus Smith, first invited to train with England as an 18-year-old in May 2017. Almost four years later the Harlequins fly-half has yet to win a senior cap, is nowhere to be seen on the latest squad list and, despite some encouraging form this season, could yet slip below the emerging Atkinson in the No 10 pecking order.

Then there is Zach Mercer. The Bath No 8 still has an eye-catching turn of pace but, for whatever reason, has become so disillusioned about the chances of Jones picking him again that he is off to Montpellier in France. Like Smith, he was deliberately fast-tracked in 2017, only to be jettisoned at the first sign of youthful underachievement. At 23, it could now be that his second cap against Japan in 2018 turns out to be his last.

Zach Mercer of Bath was capped twice by England under Eddie Jones but is now heading for Montpellier having fallen out of favour. Photograph: Ryan Hiscott/JMP/REX/Shutterstock
The long list of those who have been tried and discarded, when you examine it, is sobering. England picked 15 uncapped players for the tour to Argentina in 2017 and triumphantly won the series. How many of that up-and-coming 15 do you think are still involved in the latest England squad? The answer is three: Sam Underhill, Tom Curry and Harry Williams. Half of the remaining dozen – Will Collier, Ben Curry, Nathan Earle, Sam James, Harry Mallinder and Jack Maunder – have either never been capped or have not played a minute of Test rugby since. Joe Cokanasiga, Piers Francis, Nick Isiekwe, Denny Solomona, Joe Marchant and Alex Lozowski are also on the outside looking in, although injury and bad luck have played a huge part in Cokanasiga’s case.

The patron saint of the bunch remains poor Teimana Harrison, hauled off after 31 minutes against Australia in 2016
What about the England side who reached the World Under-20 final in 2017? True, they were hammered 64-17 by the winners New Zealand but they were a decent crop. Mercer and Max Malins were named in the team of the tournament and Ben Earl and Harry Randall both started. But what about Gabriel Ibitoye, also in the best XV in the world in his age-group, who has now moved to France? And as Wasps have now confirmed, Paolo Odogwu, on the bench that day, was only named in this latest England squad when it became clear there was interest from Italy, effectively forcing Jones’s hand.

Some of Jones’s recent picks – Ted Hill, Jack Willis, Alfie Barbeary – obviously have big futures ahead of them. Anyone with a pair of eyes can see that those three, plus Earl, Malins and Ollie Lawrence, are serious international material. The issue is more with those selected by Jones in one squad or another, flagged up as English-qualified players with potential and then unceremoniously released: Ruaridh McConnochie, Fraser Dingwall, Elliott Stooke, Brad Shields, Alec Hepburn, Gary Graham, Cameron Redpath, Sam Simmonds, Will Spencer, Lewis Boyce, Sam Moore, Ben Vellacott, Ben Loader, Jason Woodward, Josh McNally, Josh Beaumont, George McGuigan, Paul Hill, Tom Ellis, Jono Ross, Ben Spencer, Semesa Rokoduguni et al.

Here’s hoping the same does not happen to Alex Mitchell, Jacob Umaga, Josh Hodge, Jack Clement, David Ribbans, Ollie Thorley, Tom de Glanville and George Furbank but the ratio of hits – Kyle Sinckler, Ellis Genge – to misses in terms of Jones’s youthful squad call-ups has been uncomfortably low. The patron saint of the whole bunch, lest we forget, remains poor Teimana Harrison, hauled off after just 31 minutes of the third Test against Australia in 2016. As the back-row later admitted: “Your confidence does take a hit when something like that happens.”

Danny Cipriani has found life similarly tough having been cut from the England picture since helping them beat South Africa in Cape Town in 2018. What would have happened had he, Smith, Mercer and the rest been allowed slightly more leeway and not had their self-belief shredded? Some will say that is just top-level professional sport: a ruthless dog-eat-dog environment in which more sensitive breeds will always struggle.

But what if a deeper issue is at play? What if it is more about talent management, about picking players when they are absolutely ready rather than too soon, about persevering with people rather than discarding them at the first hint of weakness, about employing more carrot and less stick? English rugby, as things stand, is in danger of becoming a numbers game. If one in every half dozen promising players makes it, who cares about the other five?

Of course there are always going to be individuals who, ultimately, are not quite good enough. You cannot retain everyone. The mothballing of A internationals, however, and the cancellation of a second successive under-20 World Cup should be prompting alarm bells. If Jones, as he keeps saying, does not rate the Premiership as preparation for Test rugby, it risks further premature selections, despite the evidence it often compromises longer-term Test progression.

Jones needs to give his latest ‘shadows’ a fair go before he tells them: ‘You’re fired!’"

The article to me contradicts itself slightly in that it names a load of players then questions why Jones moves through a host of players who Jones has had a closer look at. There is a wider point then that Jones should only go a player who is 'ready'. How you can judge that consistently is the trick of course, ie the never ending club vs country form. A few people would see Jones as the master of picking players out that suits his game play but clearly its never a 100% hit rate. The potential damage to a players confidence and career by picking them too soon may be fair to a point, would Matthew Tait have had a more successful career had he avoided Henson (as claimed sometimes despite his WC final appearance)? Is it unfair (and the more emotive words) that Unions and coaches are identifying dual qualified players to tie them in? Should players be treated as adults and able to make their own decisions on these call ups (Marler-esque)?

I used to have an ongoing 'discussion' with a former poster who supported Saracens on how best to integrate players and how long is needed to accurately judge them and some of that comes in as well. There are always exceptions to this but (albeit they look amazing or well below par, Itoje vs Tomkins) but I reckon it takes around 8 caps to know whether someone is good enough for internationals and it helps to view them in nearer full strength teams than the Saxons. A lot of the guys above never got that (or even a game) and comes back to that large slice of luck needed for a good career as well.

No 7&1/2

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