Will England's 'apprentice sushi chef' make the grade?
SPOTLIGHT: Eddie Jones likened England newcomer Jacob Umaga to a trainee sushi chef ahead of the Wasps flyhalf’s possible Test debut against Italy in Rome this weekend.
England could be crowned Six Nations champions if they win in the coronavirus-delayed final round on Saturday and the result of a match between title rivals France and Ireland falls in their favour.
But they will face perennial strugglers Italy without flyhalf George Ford and fullback Elliot Daly because of respective Achilles and shin injuries.
And that may mean England captain Owen Farrell starts at flyhalf for the first time since a World Cup quarterfinal victory over Australia in Japan last year following six successive Tests at inside centre.
As a result the uncapped Umaga, the only other flyhalf included in a 36-man squad announced Monday, could make his Test debut off the bench a week after scoring a fine solo try for Wasps in their English Premiership Final defeat by Exeter at a rainswept Twickenham.
England-born Umaga is the nephew of former New Zealand captain Tana Umaga but it is the 22-year-old’s innate qualities, rather than his family history, that have caught Jones’ eye.
“I like the way he attacks the line,” Jones, whose England side were beaten by South Africa in the World Cup Final, told reporters.
“You saw that when he scored that try [in the Premiership Final].
“They [Wasps] got a couple of quick rucks and he just hits the line flat, through the hole, runs the holes, beats the fullback, scores.
“They’re the things you can’t coach and they’re the things you’re always looking for in players.”
Australian veteran coach Jones, previously in charge of his native Wallabies and Japan, added the modern game, with its emphasis on scoring off one pass from heavily contested rucks against tight defence, meant “you need really instinctive players that can take the opportunity…That’s why I like Umaga”.
Asked if Umaga was ready for international rugby, Jones gave a typically colourful reply.
“No.10s [flyhalves] are like sushi chefs,” he said.
“It generally takes you about 10 years before you can start making sushi. No.10s are the same.”
Jones added: “He [Umaga] is at the start of the apprenticeship and he might graduate very quickly and be able to make sushi at the corner stall and then he might be able to make sushi at a five-star restaurant.”
Developing his theme, Jones pointed to the career of World Cup-winning New Zealand flyhalf Dan Carter.
“Look at the example of Daniel Carter. He was at his best at 35, the complete package: calm, takes field goals when they need them, kicks to the corner, then when there’s a line break he is in on it.”
Jones, a schoolboy and Randwick club contemporary of Mark Ella, a brilliantly talented flyhalf with ball in hand and a star of Australia’s 1984 Grand Slam tour of Britain and Ireland, added: “You look at a ten when Mark Ella played, he had probably 15 metres between him and the defence line.
“Now when the ten has the ball, they literally have three metres before someone is going to bang them.
“The ability to make decisions quickly is extraordinarily difficult. With those young guys I think you have got to be patient, you have got to allow them to come through.”
Jones’ preparations for the Italy match were disrupted by the cancellation of Sunday’s warm-up game against the Barbarians after several of the invitational club’s players, including former England captain Chris Robshaw, breached coronavirus regulations.
“I’ve been around a while so I just accepted it and quickly went up to my room and worked out a Plan B,” explained Jones.
“We had the same situation with the typhoon in Japan [that saw England’s World Cup pool match against France called off] so we moved on.
“This time, it was just a bit of a different typhoon.”