England legend Jason Leonard has dismissed the ‘overhype’ surrounding England’s disappointing Six Nations campaign, but insists key players need a rest in order to peak in time for the 2019 World Cup.
Red Rose head coach Eddie Jones has come under fire after England finished their Six Nations campaign with three consecutive defeats to slump to fifth place.
However Leonard, England’s most capped player with 119 appearances in white, is adamant alarm bells shouldn’t be ringing yet.
“It’s been hugely overhyped. You’ve got Eddie Jones who has guided England to 24 wins out of 28 games. People have started to doubt him, but all sides go through cycles like this,” stated the 2003 World Cup winner, hoping that it’s a harsh wake-up call for the national side.
“This has certainly been a bump in the road, but they haven’t hit a brick wall, not in a million years. It’s a blip.
“But they have to up their game now. As long as you learn from these mistakes, becoming a better player, a better team, that’s got to be viewed as a good thing. It’s a process and hopefully the England team will learn."
Next on the international agenda is a three-Test tour against the Springboks in June, but Leonard is adamant certain players need to recover instead of further action in South Africa.
Sir Clive Woodward said that Saracens lock Maro Itoje had looked “out on his feet” this Six Nations and others have called for the likes of Owen Farrell, Mako Vunipola and Dan Coles to be able to recharge after the domestic season concludes.
“There could be a hangover from the Lions summer last year, but there have been a few injuries,” stated Leonard.
“It’s not only the physical tiredness, it can also be the mental fatigue as well. Some of these guys have been involved with the Lions, then no real pre-season and straight into another tough season. I’m pretty sure some of the players will be physically and mentally tired, particularly the Lions need a rest.
“Some will want a summer off, to rest, to train, to get back with a solid pre-season to start gearing up for New Zealand in the Autumn internationals.”
The 1997 British and Irish Lions winning prop believes trying out fresh players in South Africa and resting star names will benefit England in the long run, especially with a World Cup on the horizon.
“It might not suit England plans for the South Africa trip, but it would help preserve key England players for next year,” added the 49-year-old.
“Ultimately, you want to see the best of them next season, and then peaking next year at the World Cup. Because if England have the first choice line-up, fit and playing well, then I think they will always be tough to beat.”
There is still plenty to play for domestically this season and Leonard maintains there is no time to dwell, that the international players must immediately reset and push their club side forward.
“The England players will have bitter disappointment from the Six Nations and the results, but they have to knuckle down and fit back in,” continued Leonard ahead of a quadruple of Aviva Premiership fixtures live on BT Sport this weekend.
“To a certain degree it will depend how their team-mates help them readjust to club life.
“If you’re looking at the leading clubs, the ones in action this weekend, they won’t go off the boil, they’ll want these international guys coming back and immediately hitting the ground running.”