England v Wales: England improving but is Jones’ gameplan the right one?

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England v Wales never disappoints and Saturday at Twickenham was no different. It had everything: red cards, memorable tries, big hits, banter and some decent physicality. And yet both teams will walk away thinking of what might have been. Harsh perhaps on England as they will take the win very happily.

A poor second half will frustrate Eddie Jones. It has been a strange campaign for England as strong first halves (apart from the French debacle) have led to underwhelming second halves. If Eddie Jones really wants to make his team the ‘best ever’ there is a fair bit of work to be done.

Charlie Inglefield reviews whether England’s game-plan is the way forward as they take an enforced absence from the 2020 Six Nations.

Defenders or attackers

Looking at the stats that came out of England v Wales, it is hard to believe that England were the dominant side.

  • Possession was 64% to Wales
  • Wales made nearly a 100 metres more than England
  • England made over twice as many tackles as Wales
  • England missed twice as many tackles as Wales – 25-13

And yet, most people will agree that England never looked like losing. They had another terrific first half full of menace, power and intimidation. 20-9 at halftime – England fans were relishing the prospect of seeing their team finishing the job off over Wales.

But it never materialised and that credit to Wales. They showed just how lethal they can be when they keep the ball in hand. England’s style is to kick the possession back to the opposition, and stop them through their defence, force the error and take the points. With such a wealth of talent, especially out wide, is Eddie Jones’ gameplan the right one?

It feels like England are happier maintaining and defending rather than launching and cajoling. Eddie Jones’ selection is obvious in that respect. Courtney Lawes at blindside pushes Tom Curry to number eight, negating the need for a proper ball runner like Alex Dombrandt or Sam Simmonds.

A box kicker in Willi Heinz to back up Ben Youngs to ensure that England has the aerial assault resource. The Ford/Farrell axis to push the mercurial Henry Slade onto the bench. This again ensures that England has enough tactical kicking firepower. It seems harsh to criticise Eddie Jones and the gameplan if they are winning? However, one cannot help but feel that Jones and England are missing a beat here.

South African blueprint dulling the ambition

England had a split of six forwards and two backs on England’s bench as per the South African blueprint which took the Springboks to World Cup glory. On Saturday when Jonny May failed an HIA, England had Willi Heinz as the sole back replacement for the next 72 minutes. If another back went off injured what would England have done? If England had to chase the game, would they have had not only a plan B but the players to carry it out? They have the versatility across the backline but the game plan seems to entirely revolve around forcing the mistake rather than creating the opportunity.

There was no question how effective South Africa was in bringing on a fresh front-five. It wasn’t pretty but who cares? Certainly not the Springboks. Japan, Wales and England eventually all buckled under the awesome firepower that South Africa had.

However, this style has a degree of luck involved, namely injuries among the backs/forwards and total domination in the tight. South Africa had the players to fulfil the brief with the crucial x-factor of Willie le Roux and Cheslin Kolbe to call upon. Add in the naturally risk-averse nature of a World Cup competition, where kicking is dominant – South Africa carried this out perfectly. England is adopting similar tactics and it is a work in progress.

Without wanting to detract from South Africa’s talent pool, England have so much creative artillery to tap into. Do we really want to see the masterful abilities of Anthony Watson and Jonny May chasing kicks all day? Surely we want to see the ball in hand as their principal job description?

Scotland do England a huge favour

It will be fascinating to see what Eddie Jones does with his team and approach if the Italian game does get rescheduled. France losing against Scotland on Sunday has given England a wonderful opportunity to win this Six Nations tournament.

England will likely have to score at least 25 points to win though as Ireland play Italy in Dublin. So Eddie Jones will need to have a positive attacking mindset to get the job done. Will he look to bring in genuine game-changers like Sam Simmonds, Alex Dombrandt, Dan Robson and start Henry Slade? Recent experience shows that Jones will go the other way on popular opinion so don’t expect many changes.

Watson key to England’s attack

A huge positive for England on Saturday was the return of Anthony Watson. He picked up where he left off from the World Cup with aplomb. Considering the serious Achilles injuries’ Watson has had it was incredible to see him stepping with pace to score England’s first try. Elliot Daly worked well in tandem with him and England’s attacking threat goes up a notch when Watson is in the side.

Jones’ gameplan pays off in England v Wales

Perhaps we scribes need to stop criticising and respect how England have recovered well from the performance in Paris to win their last three matches. A Triple Crown could turn into a 2020 Six Nations Champions title when they do get to play the Italian fixture.

However, questions still remain on Jones’ selection policy, sorting out his future and gameplan. Life is certainly never dull around the England coach.

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