Eddie Jones Needs to Rethink England’s Finishers

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Being thrashed by the Auld Enemy raises serious questions about England’s finishers. Eddie Jones’ side come away from BT Murrayfield without even a losing bonus point after a demoralising 25 – 13 beating. The Scots may have had sore heads the following day but none will be worse than that of the England Head Coach.

It is hard to be too negative on a side that has only lost two games in 26. A side who have travelled to Australia and won 3-0 in the middle of winning back-to-back 6 Nations crowns and still, theoretically, in with a shot at winning an unprecedented third title.

But previous records are almost meaningless. This side is built for a serious crack at the World Cup in 2019. All other wins, losses and performances before then are a side-story. Saturday’s loss raises some key questions about the trajectory of Jones’ squad towards their goal.

The 6 Nations gives us a good indicator of the level of this England side. A big loss away from home to Scotland serves as a wake-up call to Eddie Jones and his squad that it won’t all be plain sailing. So let’s consider how prepared this team are to take on the task of winning in Japan.

Solid Foundations

A first loss mid-way through the 2018 6 Nations is not a disaster. The key will be learning from this defeat. The foundations that Jones and his coaching team have put in place are still there.

The scrum is solid enough and has a high ceiling to grow into. Without being dominant they still won all of their own ball against the Scots. With everyone fit, the front row is a formidable unit and there are still plenty of young, talented players who will gain experience in the year ahead.

The line-out is functioning well, Hartley for all his perceived faults in the loose, is throwing well. England have jumpers in the second row and back row, depending on the make-up of the starting XV and have the ability to steal opponents ball.

England’s finishers also contain players who come in and make an impact in the set-piece. Bringing on the likes of Jamie George, George Kruis and Sam Underhill do not weaken the foundations.

In the backs, control seems to be the key word. Operating with two fly-halves has been Jones’ philosophy since he took over the head coach role. The extra kicking option at 12 means that England’s plan is always to play in the right areas and assess the space in front of them with heads-up rugby.

The Limitations

The woe of many an England team of the past has been the breakdown. Scotland emphatically won the contest on the ground on the weekend and once again highlighted England’s inability to set a platform for their backs.

Statistics tell part of the story, turnovers won etc. but more importantly were the momentum shifting possession changes in the match. Several times, England made the hard yards into the Scottish 22 only to turn the ball over losing any opportunity for points. Jonny Wilkinson’s side used to set a standard by always coming away from the opponents 22 with points – try, penalty or drop-goal. Perhaps Ford and Farrell should take a similar approach.

Despite the RFU’s ability production line of excellent players making their way into the match day squad, ball carriers and game-line breakers appear to be rare commodity. How England missed big Billy Vunipola in the pack and a rampaging Manu Tuilagi in the backs. These players can change a game in an instant and are sorely missed in matches like this.

Game Changers

England’s “finishers” was a buzzword created by Jones to describe his bench. These finishers would raise the intensity of the game in the final 20 minutes and close out the win against a tiring opposition. This worked well when England had a lead to hang on to. On Saturday, with the game fading away who could Eddie turn to? The likes of Richard Wigglesworth and George Kruis were hardly striking fear into Scottish hearts with 10 minutes to go.

The virtues of those two players are control and set-piece dominance. Neither player are expected to win a game trailing by 10 points and England desperate for a try.

This game-changing philosophy is reserved for a few special players. Those with stardust in their hands, who can unlock the tightest defences when you need it.

Late in the game, replacing George Ford with Danny Cipriani is one such game-changer. Marcus Smith could be another. Either way, the countdown to 2019 is ticking and Jones needs to see England’s finishers come from behind and win a match. Moving Farrell to 10 and putting Te’o at 12 is not going to cut it against the best of the southern hemisphere.

Jones simply cannot go into the World Cup with England’s finishers made-up in a similar fashion as Saturday. If the Red Rose are losing by 10 in a semi-final against Australia, Jones needs a special talent to turn to. Let’s hope such a player makes an appearance in white before then.

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