England's autumn internationals just 'sparring' but World Cup matters most for Eddie Jones

Eddie Jones is well aware of the pressure facing England in the autumn internationals, but he says the time to peak is at next year's World Cup. David Rogers/Getty Images for Quilter

Welcome to the sparring stage of pre-Rugby World Cup preparations.

In his own words, Eddie Jones says England do not absolutely have to win all four of their autumn internationals -- it's not knockout rugby after all -- but he is brutally aware of his own managerial mortality.

"We don't need to win any of them mate," Jones said Thursday having named his 36-man squad for the autumn internationals. For need, read need. But then, with England three from eight in 2018 Tests, there is reality, a tap on the shoulder from the ruthless results business. "If we don't win any, I'm probably not going to be here, so we need to win a few," Jones added. Of course England need to win.

Do not mistake this for defeatist talk, far from it. From the outset Jones has constantly pointed to the World Cup. 'Judge him on that', has been his motto, anything else up to then is mere shadow boxing before the big event. We're not even at the weigh-in stage yet before the Saturday-night mega-fight.

"What I've learned about the World Cup is that the only time you need to be at your best is the World Cup. All the leading up to it is sparring, it's practice rounds, getting combinations right," Jones said Thursday.

"So as long as we've got in our head that we know what the team is -- and we do, certainly myself and the assistant coaches do -- then we'll be alright. We need our best players to be fit for the crux game at the World Cup which is going to be in the later rounds of the pool."

But therein lies England's current dilemma, he has very little control over the cruel fortune of injuries.

In an ideal world Jones -- hands-on and thorough -- would be omnipotent. He would have been there to remind Nathan Hughes not to be a fool and tweet at a disciplinary hearing. He would have prevented Billy Vunipola from fracturing his arm, or Mako Vunipola twisting his ankle, or Chris Robshaw injuring his knee, or Anthony Watson ruining his Achilles for the second time in a year.

But that's out of his control. Which is why, despite the big three southern hemisphere sides waiting on the horizon looking to pick off a slightly vulnerable England at Twickenham, there was no doom-and-gloom from Jones, no excuses and absolutely no deflection of blame.

Instead, despite there being 18 potentially front-line players sidelined through injury and suspension, this will be when Jones fine-tunes his World Cup squad. Those absent may see their stock, conversely, grow in the next month or so if those further down the pecking order flounder. It's unlikely they will crash and burn, they are professionals after all and very capable at that, so instead expect to see Jones attempt to ease any pressure on them over the next three weeks and emphasise how the next four Test matches are opportunities, rather than do-or-die Test matches.

Lying at the centre of this squad's significance is Jones determining exactly who are good club players, and those who can take the next step up to Test rugby. Talking about the recalled Ben Morgan, he said: "He is a gifted player but gifted players don't play Test rugby because Test rugby is about being at your best, being consistent, working off the ball. That is how you win games of Test match rugby and he has shown he is willing to do that now."

For those absent -- Danny Cipriani and Don Armand top the list of surprising exiled players -- they should take note of that assessment of ability and the team scenario.

That's the essence of Jones' selection policy. The buck begins and stops with him. "I pick the team, but the assistant coaches put in to it," Jones said. "If they disagree they've got to have a good reason to disagree." Do the assistants ever win? "Sometimes they win, I can think of a few occasions. Just a few."

Next year's competition will be Jones' fourth World Cup. He bristled at the question of whether this squad picked could win the World Cup. "We don't have to win a World Cup. It's not a question to be answered. We're not playing a World Cup. We're playing South Africa. Can we beat South Africa ? 100%."

Still, it is being kept at arm's length.

In his previous three World Cups, he has one final to his name, a winners' medal and in 2015, he was the architect of the biggest upset in the competition's history when Japan beat the Springboks. He has World Cup expertise and acumen to rival any but equally, he knows the next 12 or so months may not well be smooth, drawing on his experience of the run up to the 2007 World Cup which the Springboks won with him as consultant.

"In 2006 Jake White's on the European tour, they're getting pumped every game," Jones said. "[He] Gets the phone call 'come home' so he goes home, he's told he's going to be sacked, he's out there like the schoolboy outside the principal's office. Anyway a certain bloke with a lot of money sends a fax to the SARU office saying 'you sack him you lose all your sponsorship' so Jake gets a reprieve.

"So 2007 Tri Nations, how many did they win? -- one of the first four. Go to the World Cup and what happens? 36-0 first game against England. They didn't look back."

As he rearranged mobile phones on the table in front of him to illustrate defensive formations and then Joe Marler's priorities, there was a divided timeframe. There are the 36 players now, challenged with beating South Africa, and then there are the players at the bottom of the press release under "unavailable for selection", who he hopes will be there and fight-ready when the sparring is over.

These are the cards he has and why any heightened sense of pressure is, on the face of it at least, shrugged off. "If they [RFU bosses] come and tap me on the shoulder tomorrow and told me you're not in the job then so be it," Jones said. "My job is to maximize what I have and that's all I can do.

"All I want to do is coach this team well, that's all I'm worried about."

The pads are still on, the gloves are not yet off.