England Rugby at crossroads: same again or, try something new

England rugby at crossroads: same again or, try something new

Scotland were magnificent, no matter what side of the border you reside in. If there had been a 20 point difference on the scoreboard, England could have had no complaints. England Rugby and Eddie Jones face an uncomfortably pressurized lead up to the Italy game next weekend.

England Rugby at a crossroads

For England fans, there will be a feeling of is this is a blip or is this a genuine decline? It is hard to criticize Jones too much, England has won all before them in the last two years. He deserves time and space to get England back on track. England started off last years’ Six Nations with a chastening defeat against France. Sadly again, England has lost to Scotland at home in a performance which was frankly, awful.

England 6 – Penalties: Owen Farrell (2) | Scotland 11 – Try: Duhan van der Merwe; Pens:  Finn Russell (2)

Summation: Undercooked and rudderless

Stating the obvious, playing the Saracens players backfired badly for Jones and England. Expecting them to front up in a Test match after no rugby for months was a huge ask. Owen Farrell‘s position as captain and fly-half is on shaky ground. There is no doubting him as a player but as the team’s fulcrum at ten, he has not performed to his high standards since the Rugby World Cup. Farrell has plenty of credit in the bank but he needs a commanding performance against Italy.

Elliot Daly continues to frustrate with his inconsistency in the back three. Defensively he had a howler in the Scottish try and his dancing feet are no longer probing the opposition. Jamie George, Billy Vunipola and Maro Itoje were part of an England pack who were thoroughly outplayed.

Vunipola’s critics will again be circling after a lumbering performance where he alongside his back row colleagues were totally outclassed. Scotland’s back row in comparison was hungry, brutal and effective.

England’s attack non-existent

It was chastening to see the likes of Anthony Watson and Jonny May being completely anonymous against Scotland. They shouldn’t be blamed entirely as they had literally no ball to play with. May had probably his worst day in an England jersey as did quite a lot of his contemporaries.

What will be concerning for Eddie Jones is too many of his players are nowhere near their best. Henry Slade being one of them. Long touted as England’s next Jeremy Guscott, Slade frustratingly has not his straps yet. His coming of age performance against Ireland in 2019 seems like a long time ago. Again, the backs are spending most of their time chasing kicks and having little or no possession to do anything else.

Henry Slade during the Guinness 6 Nations Rugby match between England and Scotland at Twickenham stadium (Photo by Action Foto Sport/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

England looked woefully inadequate in the backs as they did in the Autumn Nations Cup. When you look at the caliber of players in that backline, it is difficult to understand why.

Basics letting them down, repeated penalties a ‘coach killer’

England’s discipline was so bad in the first half that Scotland really should have been miles ahead by halftime. England’s forwards were off the pace and conceded ‘coach-killer’ penalties. Lying on the wrong side of the ball, being warned by the referee to roll away but not doing so.

The set-piece; for so long England’s go-to weapon, was another area of concern. England was completely outplayed at Twickenham, something we have not seen for many years. The front row and the scrummage badly missed a Joe Marler as an anchor. Jones surely will be calling him this week to change Marler’s plans at home.

You have to ask was this just a bad day at the office? Or, are England’s back-up’s not good enough?

Question time: radical changes or, same again?

Part of the charm of Eddie Jones is what will he do next. With Italy approaching, Jones and England really need to strike back. The understandable option would be to say ‘same again’ and get this team firing. Or, is this the time to bring in some youth and enthusiasm?

That could mean Dan Robson starting at nine and Ben Earl coming in for Mark Wilson. It might also mean giving Max Malins a chance at full-back and Luke Cowan-Dickie coming in for Jamie George. Billy Vunipola has to have a stormer against Italy otherwise, the calls to bring in Sam Simmonds or Alex Dombrandt will only grow.

Once again, Jones may want to bring George Ford in and shift Farrell in place of Ollie Lawrence. It would be tough for Lawrence as he deserves a run in the side. One way or the other England needs an injection of enthusiasm and dynamism. Jones has the players at his disposal but they are just not functioning at the moment.

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Jones’ England v Italy selection conundrum

England is fortunate that Italy is continuing to push itself out of the Six Nations. A chastening 50-10 reverse to the French has done little to inspire Italy’s place in this tournament. Jones will never have a better opportunity to get England’s mojo back. Italy is shorn of their big guns like Jake Polledri and England has to take advantage of that.

Tactically will Eddie Jones ask his generals Farrell and Youngs to play more with the ball in hand? It will be fascinating to see whether the tactics will change.

If Jones goes radical on selection, there may be a temptation to bring some bulk in on the wing. We have not seen Joe Cokanasiga since the Rugby World Cup and he could provide England with more thrust and power. Even if the ball is slow to get to Cokanasiga, he can still break tackles from a standing start. The point here is that England does have lots of options. Fans have been waiting for England’s much-vaunted attack to be unleashed yet -clearly from Saturday’s effort – it hasn’t.

In conclusion, Eddie Jones has a tough week on his hands. And it starts with his selection for the Italian game.

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England v Italy – Saturday February 13, Twickenham

 

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