England head coach Eddie Jones has roped in a forensic psychologist to help his team’s Six Nations title challenge in the belief that increased mindsets offer the greatest scope for the side’s improvement.
A Norwegian specialist in persuasion and influence, Dr Nashater Deu Solheim, has been working with Jones and his assistant coaches ahead of opening Six Nations Tests against Scotland at Murrayfield on February 5.
Thinking outside the box
Jones believes that with Test rugby becoming more competitive on the field, the fine-tuning of psychology and clever use of data will be beneficial for England.
“Nashater Deu Solheim is helping us improve our communication skills, not only as a coaching team but also in terms of communicating with the players,” he said.
“The frontier for rugby where you can get the most bang for your buck, I think, is in creating the right mindset for your team.
“It’s almost like two different ends of rugby preparation because it’s very hard to get any advantages in the game now.
“You are looking at where can data show you to be more specific to the areas you are seeking to prioritise in your game and also working on the mindset of the players.”
Jones has revealed that data partly underpins his controversial omission of George Ford from his squad for the Six Nations.
Ford has been the Premiership’s player of the season to date, pulling the strings as Leicester challenge for silverware on two fronts, but Marcus Smith, Owen Farrell and now Orlando Bailey are the chosen fly-halves.
Farrell’s participation in the Six Nations is in doubt because of an injury sustained in training with Saracens during the week.
For the time being, after being frozen out for the autumn, Ford’s international prospects are looking bleak and Jones is unmoved by the outcry over his non-selection.
“I don’t pay a lot of attention to the comments. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and rugby is a game of opinions,” he said.
“We try to use as much data as we can to select our team so when we select our team, we are not just using my opinion and the opinion of the other coaches, but we are also looking at the evidence of what they are doing in games.
“We’ve got a way we think the game should be played now, a way that suits the players we have. Therefore we pick the players that can play that game.
“Sometimes it’s hard to explain that because some of it is information we want to keep for ourselves.”
Smith established himself as the first-choice 10 during the autumn and Jones has been impressed by his ongoing development for Harlequins since.
“What’s impressed me about Marcus is his absolute desire to win,” added the coach.
“You can see that he’s lifted Quins out of a number of tricky situations and got them over the line with his focus, his drive. He’s got to make sure he keeps that going.
“Part of that is the way he plays the game and part of it is his preparation. There are still areas of his preparation that he can tidy up, and we’ll chat about those when we come into camp.
“His scope for improvement is massive and if he keeps doing what he’s doing he is going to be a very good player for us.”
Meanwhile, Tabai Matson is backing Alex Dombrandt to do well for England after watching the 24-year-old score the decisive try for Harlequins in their 36-33 Champions Cup victory over Castres on Friday.
The number eight crossed for his third try when he dove over out wide in that game’s dying moments.
Quins had already advanced to the last 16 but their triumph over a strong Top 14 outfit sealed their fourth win as many matches during their Pool B campaign.
Dombrandt is expected to add to his four England caps during the upcoming Six Nations.