‘You’ve got to keep players’ feet on the ground’: Eddie Jones explains decision to omit Joe Cokanasiga for England vs Scotland

Eddie Jones’ omission of Joe Cokanasiga for England’s Twickenham clash with Scotland on Saturday raised a few eyebrows but the Australian claimed he has a master plan for the winger and has been down this road before.

Cokanasiga was man of the match and attracted rave reviews in England’s 57-14 win over Italy last weekend but has been replaced by Jack Nowell for the Calcutta Cup match.

Jones hinted on Thursday that the 21-year-old is in line for a place in England’s World Cup squad in Japan but he is taking a softly-softly approach with Cokanasiga, as he did with two Australian greats-to-be in his stint with the Wallabies.

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Jones adopted a similar tactic in 2016 when he ignored the public pleas to pitch Maro Itoje straight into his first Six Nations but he held fire and didn’t start the lock until the third match.

The head coach might have knocked a few observers, who thought Cokanasiga was nailed on to be retained at least in the 23, for six but he likened his pathway to a cricket rookie.


England vs Italy player ratings





1/30 England: Elliot Daly – 7

2/30 Joe Cokanasiga – 9

3/30 Manu Tuilagi – 8

4/30 Ben Te’o – 7

5/30 Jonny May – 7

6/30 Owen Farrell – 8

7/30 Ben Youngs – 7

8/30 Ellis Genge – 7

9/30 Jamie George – 8

10/30 Kyle Sinckler – 7

11/30 Joe Launchbury – 7

12/30 George Kruis – 8

13/30 Brad Shields – 8

14/30 Tom Curry – 7

15/30 Billy Vunipola – 7

16/30 Italy: Jayden Hayward – 4

17/30 Edoardo Padovani – 5

18/30 Luca Morisi – 6

19/30 Michele Campagnaro – 5

20/30 Angelo Esposito – 4

21/30 Tommaso Allan – 6

22/30 Tito Tebaldi – 5

23/30 Andrea Lovotti – 5

24/30 Luca Bigi – 5

25/30 Simone Ferrari – 5

26/30 Federico Ruzza – 6

27/30 Dean Budd – 5

28/30 Sebastian Negri – 6

29/30 Braam Steyn – 5

30/30 Sergio Parisse – 5

1/30 England: Elliot Daly – 7

2/30 Joe Cokanasiga – 9

3/30 Manu Tuilagi – 8

4/30 Ben Te’o – 7

5/30 Jonny May – 7

6/30 Owen Farrell – 8

7/30 Ben Youngs – 7

8/30 Ellis Genge – 7

9/30 Jamie George – 8

10/30 Kyle Sinckler – 7

11/30 Joe Launchbury – 7

12/30 George Kruis – 8

13/30 Brad Shields – 8

14/30 Tom Curry – 7

15/30 Billy Vunipola – 7

16/30 Italy: Jayden Hayward – 4

17/30 Edoardo Padovani – 5

18/30 Luca Morisi – 6

19/30 Michele Campagnaro – 5

20/30 Angelo Esposito – 4

21/30 Tommaso Allan – 6

22/30 Tito Tebaldi – 5

23/30 Andrea Lovotti – 5

24/30 Luca Bigi – 5

25/30 Simone Ferrari – 5

26/30 Federico Ruzza – 6

27/30 Dean Budd – 5

28/30 Sebastian Negri – 6

29/30 Braam Steyn – 5

30/30 Sergio Parisse – 5

“When you’re a young batsman and your first Test is against the West Indies in Perth and you bat No 3, you might not get too many runs,” said Jones. “So you pick a Test where they’re playing on a flat track, bat them at six, let them get runs, then you bring them in the next Test and you quietly build them up.

“I recall looking after guys like Matt Giteau and George Smith, in a similar way – expose them, bring them back, expose them, bring them back, and when they’re ready to go, you let ’em go.

“Just with young players, particularly in this environment, you’ve got to look after them. I want him to play 100 Tests for England – I don’t want him to just play 10 Tests. Sometimes you push young guys forward and sometimes you’ve got to pull them back.

“It’s about taking a measured approach at the start of their career, letting them develop their game and expose them to the right games, then you get a good player – and that’s what we’re doing with him.”

Jones obviously thinks that playing Italy is like batting on a pitch full of runs but Cokanasiga’s display had some pundits purring, with Clive Woodward comparing him to the All Black great Jonah Lomu.  

Nowell started the Six Nations but a shoulder injury kept him out of the Italy match and Jones may have used his return to keep a lid on the hype surrounding Cokanasiga.

“You’ve got to keep players’ feet on the ground,” Jones added. “When they’re blown up to be something they’re not, it’s difficult for them, so that’s part of it. And part of it is getting them the right amount of Tests, to get the required level of confidence to play well in the bigger games.

“We have got a competitive squad and part of the deal of being in our squad is knowing your role. And that’s going to change each week. Some guys start each week, some guys finish, some become supporters. And we need players to understand that. This is a non-negotiable for us.”

England can still win the Six Nations if Ireland do them a favour by turning over Wales in Cardiff in the game before the Twickenham match.

Wales put in a heroic defensive effort to beat Scotland last weekend and Jones could not resist a quick dig at Warren Gatland’s side, who he thinks might run out of gas against an Irish side who have improved since being beaten by England in round one.

“I’m just saying what I see,” Jones said. “I see a team that’s looking tired, I see an Ireland team that’s peaking but they’re a good team Wales. They’re well coached and I’m sure they’ll handle it and if they do then it doesn’t matter for us as we have to play.

“Ireland just had a few players off the pace, which happens. I think Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray have been off the pace a little bit. But they look like they’ve got their mojo back. They’re working well together. It was quite evident in the last game that their relationship was stronger than it has been for a while.”

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