"Nothing but Respect for Eddie" - Harry Randall: England Halfback Expects Tough Challenge from Jones' Japan - Ruck

“Nothing but Respect for Eddie” – Harry Randall: England Halfback Expects Tough Challenge from Jones’ Japan

England commence their first of three Summer fixtures this Saturday, as they take on the Japan out in Tokyo. The underlying battle within the war heading into this one, is the reunion of England with their former head coach Eddie Jones, who is set for his first match in charge of the Brave Blossoms.

The pre-match antics have certainly begun, with Jones and Borthwick participating in an indirect sparring match before their sides meet in the Yokohama National Stadium. Borthwick caught the Australian off-guard with his squad announcement two days earlier than expected, whilst Jones through some jabs on how the bulk of the current England squad were all introduced to the test match stage under his watch.

England A player Harry Randall (Bristol Bears) attacking during the International rugby match between England A and Portugal at Mattioli Woods Welford Road on February 25th- PHOTO: Steve Bond/PPAUK

One player who fits this bill is Harry Randall, with the scrum half ready for his first England cap of the Steve Borthwick era. The Bristol Bears man was introduced to the test match stage by Jones during England’s 2021 tour of North America, yet has not seen on-field action for his country since a Twickenham exhibition against the Barbarians in June of 2022. Speaking in a recent Pennyhill Park press conference before England jetted out to Japan, Randall expressed how he has ‘nothing but respect’ for his former head coach Eddie Jones.

“Massive respect there that he provided me with my first cap. Nothing but respect, but he’s moved on now, we are a new England and developing really nicely moving forward.”

“Japan are a great team. They play fast and they like offloading. They’ve developed massively over the last few years so we are very excited for that challenge. We know it is going to be a tough battle so it is just preparing to go out there and hopefully get a result.”

England A player Harry Randall (Bristol Bears) during the International rugby match between England A and Portugal at Mattioli Woods Welford Road on February 25th- PHOTO: Steve Bond/PPAUK

Randall has been named amongst the replacements for England’s opening match of the 2024 Summer tour, with Alex Mitchell poised to start at scrum-half after his Premiership title triumph with Northampton Saints. Randall has surpassed Bath halfback Ben Spencer to the substitutes bench, with no spot in the named match day 23 for the man in blue, black and white. Speaking on his work ethic to progress up the scrum half ranks, Randall said;

“Every time I come in I give it my all and attack it with everything I can, take my learnings, work on what I need to work on. Trying to put my best foot forward and touch wood it all goes to plan.”

“I’ve spent a lot of time with Mitch (Alex Mitchell), came through the age grades with Mitch so I know Mitch really well, we’ve played together for a long time. We get on really well. Obviously not trained and played too much with Ben Spencer, but again a really good guy.”

Alex Mitchell of England during the Six Nations Match between England and Wales at Twickenham, London on 10 February 2024 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

“It’s a great position to be in for English rugby, isn’t it? You’ve got plenty of nines stacking up, pushing to play for England. What more do you want? Some people see it as a bit unfortunate, but it’s not. We’ve got great nines, strength in depth, we’re all pushing each other and ultimately it’s only going to make you a better player, isn’t it? We’ve been working really well together and it’s about working together and making each other better for the team, isn’t it? I feel like we’ve been doing it well this week.”

With plenty of decorated nines bulking out the halfback ranks, quick ball looks to be the order of the day from England attack coach Richard Wigglesworth. The former Leicester Tiger and Saracen was recently inducted into the Premiership Rugby Hall of Fame, as the seven time Premiership champion has one of the most decorated resumes from all of Premiership history.

Randall certainly takes a great deal of inspiration from the former scrum half, who has been gearing up England’s attack with a focus on the breakdown distribution, ahead of their enticing encounter with the Japanese this Saturday.

Richard Wigglesworth of Leicester Tigers celebrates with the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Trophy during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Final Match between Leicester Tigers and Saracens at Twickenham Stadium on 18 June 2022. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

“It was mentioned in the team meeting last night. We all gave him a nice round of applause and it’s thoroughly deserved.” Randall said. “When you look at his resume, he’s won – I think it was seven Premiership titles with three different clubs. That’s pretty impressive, isn’t it? Fully deserved. It’s an absolute pleasure to be working with him now and learning from him around different areas of the game.

“I love playing attacking rugby, I’d like to think it’s an area of strength of mine to be aggressive in attack and challenge teams around those fringes and stuff like that. It was really exciting watching the team against Ireland (2024 Six Nations) just as a fan of England rugby, it was brilliant to watch wasn’t it. And then going out to France and challenging them the way they did, it was really exciting to be part of the team and what more is to come.”

“The most competitive part of rugby at the moment is the breakdown, isn’t it? It’s how quick you can get the ball in and out before allowing a contest at the breakdown. And even when there is a contest, how quickly can you get in and out to avoid them scragging you, trying to get to the ball. So working really well with Wiggy there.

Richard Wigglesworth, Attack Coach of England during the Six Nations Match between England and Wales at Twickenham, London on 10 February 2024 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

“He’s got all sorts of little bits, pads, getting pressure on us, getting it in and out of our hands as quick as we can just to try to avoid those sort of situations. Even when we’re in those situations, still how can we get the ball away to avoid those situations?”

Randall’s love for fast-flowing attacking rugby can be seen in his club performances, as his Bristol Bears really came into their own in the second half of the 2023/24 Premiership season. Pat Lam’s men have an organic DNA or catching sides on the back-foot, with a fearless freedom to their game that is always an entertaining watch. Bristol’s second half resurgence saw them narrowly miss out on the play-offs, and Randall believes the best is yet to come for the boys at Ashton Gate.

“We made a conscious effort at Bristol halfway through the season to really go back to our attacking rugby and get after teams and I thought we did that really well. It brought the best out of many of our players, the likes of (Benhard Janse) Van Rensburg, of all of us. We all gelled really well and had a fantastic finish to the season, and unfortunately just missed out on the playoffs.”

Harry Randall, Captain of Bristol Bears during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Match between Bath Rugby and Bristol Bears at the Recreation Ground on 17 November 2023. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

“We went through a few different styles of play towards the start of the season, trying to adapt our game, to what positions and whatnot. It was a great learning for not just myself but for the whole team at Bristol.

“We look back at that time and it’s almost a blessing for us because we realised that when we are truly at our best, we’re attacking teams and we’re really aggressive, and teams hopefully fear us in that sense. It was a great back end of the season for us.”

“I’ve had some good times in my career but this back end of the season with Bristol was a good one, certainly felt really good. I guess I’m not far off my best rugby in the last three to four months.”

Harry Randall, Captain of Bristol Bears during the Pre Season Match between Bristol Bears and Exeter Chiefs at Ashton Gate on 1 September 2023. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Steve Borthwick always asks his players to introduce their ‘super-strengths’ to the England training sessions, and for Randall, that is without question his relentless speed in attack. Whether it’s quick ball distribution or backing himself to go it alone, the Bristol man enjoys his rugby best when it is played at a high octane pace.

However, as with all professionals, Randall recognises his room for improvement and looks to none other than Antoine Dupont as a model halfback. The French maestro has recently been transcending rugby’s confines with title winning performances for Toulouse in the Champions Cup, as well as with the France Sevens side on the run up to the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

Randall expressed what he has learnt from watching the man who many consider to be the best player in the world, and how he aims to incorporate such skillsets into his own game.

I think it is just competitiveness, really. I don’t think he had it all his own way in attack at times (in the Champions Cup Final vs Leinster), he got intercepted on the inside, but his reaction to chase back and get the turnover, his defensive side and kicking game came into it.

Antoine Dupont lifts the trophy as Toulouse are crowned Champions Cup champions after the European Champions Cup Final match between La Rochelle and Toulouse at Twickenham Stadium, London on May 22 2021. – PHOTO: Micah Crook/PPAUK

“He took his game to a different level. His all-round game, you see Antoine Dupont as this masterful attacking player but he brought a whole different level to his game in the final. It was an inspiration to watch. Watching that, there were some things to get after.”

“I think his ability to scan on approach to the breakdown. Those 50:22s, his ability to approach a breakdown square, scan and see space is brilliant. That’s definitely something I’ve picked up and can hopefully take forward.”

“He might scan once and someone in a certain position, and then you scan again and they’ve moved. So it is that constant scanning, looking for opportunities, whether that is kick, run, pass, so you can gain an advantage.”

Harry Randall of Bristol Bears clears during the Gallagher Premiership match between Exeter Chiefs and Bristol Bears at Sandy Park, Exeter on 22nd April 2023. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

England have had a week to acclimatise to the sweltering heat of Tokyo, with temperatures set to reach 31 degrees on Saturday. Randall explained methods as to how the England players were getting their bodies ready before they flew out to the Far East, as the hottest weather Randall’s ever played in has been the ever unpredictable British summertime.

“Essentially we know that out in Japan it’s going to be a tad humid, so just preparing our bodies for a bit of that. Soon as we come off the training field, jumping straight into a little bit of heat whether that’s a hot tub or straight in the sauna, trying to dig in and stay hot essentially for a fair while to train your body in that heat. It’s tough. It’s one of those where it gets better with time, the more you acclimatise to it does help.”

“I think it would be a hot day in England, which is not that hot usually. I can’t think of the top of my head where I’ve played in a really humid place.”