Comparisons have always been, and will always be, odious. And in this instance they are now skewing analysis to the extent that England have been mightily overpraised for their performance against Scotland last weekend.
Of course, they should be praised for the victory, because any away success in Test rugby is to be applauded, and, of course, Jones’ methods will take some time to bed in, but, come on, this was a group of players who were very familiar with each other, playing to a very limited game plan and yet they made a bucketful of errors.
It was a poor performance, even if the set-piece was solid (although the scrummage was under a little more pressure in the first half than some recall), and even if I can totally understand why Jones chose to play so conservatively in his opening match.
But please let’s not get carried away. Take the replacement policy too. Three players, two of them uncapped, were left unused, so that is being immediately interpreted as Jones showing profound expertise against Lancaster’s supposedly shallow and formulaic changes.
No matter that it was such a slow-paced game that it was little wonder that a tight-head prop like Dan Cole could be expected to complete a full game. And anyone talking about bench policies should look at New Zealand first before remarking. They empty their bench more often than not, sometimes taking off players who have just done exceptional things (like Conrad Smith in the RWC final) and, if they do have quality to bring on, it is probably because those players have had regular opportunities at Test level.
In fairness Jones has been careful not to make comment on Lancaster’s time, and good on him. Others should take note. It is time to move on. It is almost as if some are seeking to punish Lancaster even more, as if losing his job was not punishment enough.
This is about Jones now. He has picked a starting side for this afternoon’s match in Rome, boasting 530 caps. He is beginning from a position of some strength and experience.
In time where we want to see a progression is in the number of leaders in the side so that eventually England can win the type of big games they have lost in recent years, like Wales and Australia in the RWC, Ireland in Dublin last year and Wales in Cardiff in 2013.
So we will not be seeing too much on that front this afternoon. Ireland, Wales and France will provide better evidence on that later in the tournament, but maybe Jones was trying to ratchet up some internal pressure when talking of giving Italy a “hiding”. You can be rest assured that has been mentioned in the Italy team room in the past week. It was certainly a ballsy call, and in complete contrast to the hot air of his “Scotland are favourites” before the first match.
Indeed it has been interesting listening to Jones talking up his senior players in public- the likes of Dylan Hartley, Billy Vunipola, Owen Farrell, Chris Robshaw, Cole and James Haskell- whilst remaining almost over-cautious on young thrusters like Maro Itoje, but you do wonder what he is saying to them behind closed doors.
He knows that most successful sporting teams rely heavily on their senior players, thus the public encomia, but he will also know that those players can lift their standards considerably, thus the probable private proddings.
Jones will also know that the way to beat Italy convincingly is to play a bit more rugby, as France showed last weekend when often finding the wide channels with ease against them.
But first there will be a softening up process, which is presumably why two more powerful ball carriers in Mako Vunipola and Courtney Lawes have been included to aid Billy Vunipola, and also why Ben Youngs starts at scrum half to provide some early structure before Danny Care tears around in the final quarter.
As Nero discovered, it is best not to fiddle too much in Rome, and Jones has not done that, even if a six/two bench split leaves inside centre horribly exposed should Farrell fall lame.
England have never lost to Italy, of course. Expect that to continue. And the average points difference in eight games in Rome has been 24. Expect something similar to that as well.