England’s Jonathan Joseph happy to wing it on way to milestone

By on February 22, 2020

Eddie Jones’s habit of encouraging flexibility among players over recent months goes beyond Sunday’s match against Ireland being a third successive game without a specialist No 8, with Tom Curry continuing in the position. Further evidence of Jones’s quibbling at the notion of specialists is demonstrated in the selection of Jonathan Joseph, primarily a centre, for his first start on the wing for England, the Bath player winning his 50th cap in the process.

“It’ll be special,” says Joseph, who practises on the wing in training according to Jones. “I’ll have my family there, everyone that’s supported me from my younger years, so it’ll definitely be a special moment for me. I feel like I have experience now. At 28 I’ve been around the setup for a long time, I’ve played a fair amount in the Premiership, so I’m that experienced player.”

The position “is not something too dissimilar to what I’m used to”, says Joseph, who made his debut for England on the wing, coming on as a replacement for Mike Brown against South Africa in June 2012. “It’s only one position out from where I’m usually playing. I’ve been training there this week and I started off my career there in my London Irish days and I quite enjoyed it with the way we used to play.

“I’m looking forward to it. It gives you a bit more freedom in terms of your involvement in the game. So, I’m quite excited to hopefully get my hands on the ball a bit wider. It’s quite fitting that my first cap was on the wing and then my 50th will be, too.”

Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton are likely to provide a threat to England and Joseph with their kicking but he is self-assured. “My handling ability is good and I do a lot of high ball stuff on the training pitch, so if it’s coming my way, I’m going to own it.”

Jones, who has praised Joseph for the way he has developed as a team member, was equally confident for his suitability on the wing. “He is one of the best defending players I have coached,” says the head coach. “And he has great confidence under the high ball.”

Jonathan Joseph hopes to get his hands on the ball as full-back. Photograph: Robbie Stephenson/JMP/Shutterstock

Joseph will line up next to Manu Tuilagi, who returns from injury, and the combination is something England fans have seldom seen. “It’s exciting,” Joseph says. “He’s a great player and he gives you such great go-forward. Playing off the back of that damage he will cause is great for us wingers, 15s and the boys outside him.”

Joseph began his rugby journey at Derby RFC, where he was coached by his father and godfather, among others. He has scored 17 tries for England and is understandably proud at winning his 50th cap. “It’s special, it’s a great achievement. If you look at the players that have hit that milestone in their career, there are some great players, so I’m privileged to be included in that category.

“I’ve definitely got highlights of games I’ve thought have been amazing and thoroughly enjoyed. That Scotland game [when he scored a hat-trick to seal the Six Nations title in 2017], going down to Australia and beating them three games in a row … There’s many.

“Even that Wales game in 2015 at their place was a special game. It was my first game back in when I’d been out for a while and we played well and won.”

Joseph has had his fair share of injuries over the years and has never looked too far ahead. “You never know when your last game will be, that’s the nature of the game,” he says. “I was never: ‘I want to hit 50.’ It was more week in, week out just playing and caps just rack up. You get to your 45th, 46th and then you’re like: ‘Oh you’re not too far off your 50th.’”

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A special milestone indeed but will Joseph be doing anything to celebrate? “We have a post-match dinner, which will be crazy. Then we’ll go back to the hotel and probably have a few drinks and you have your family and loved ones there as well.”

Joseph is clearly a well-respected teammate, with Maro Itoje glowing in his praise. “He’s an unbelievably skilful player, his feet, his deception, he is one of these players who has this eloquence about him,” the lock says. “He almost has this effortlessness that not a lot of players have and to get to 50 caps is no small achievement. I’m sure he’ll get a few more and it’s just what he deserves.”

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