England Rugby Decline and Eddie Jones’ Failings

What is going wrong with England and Eddie Jones?
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For the past eighteen months, England Rugby has been on the decline. The 26th of October 2019. A historic date for all English rugby fans. The day Eddie Jones’s men demolished the All Blacks in the semi-final of the 2019 RWC. As every English player walked off the pitch in Yokohama that day, they were closing in on reaching the summit of the rugby mountain.

“World Champions!” Many people may not have said it but definitely thought it. However, roll on to the present day. A shock loss to Scotland and an even more humiliating heavy defeat to Wales has intensified the pressure on Eddie Jones in the 2021 Six Nations.

The question is firstly, how has the decline for England Rugby come so quickly? And secondly, is this only the beginning?

Intensity – Signs of Burnout

Jones was head coach of Australia from 2001-2005. Very similarly, he reached a World Cup final in 2003 against his very own England, famously losing out in extra time. The interesting comparison to draw here is that Australia, like England, decided to keep him on for the next World Cup cycle.

However, it all came crashing down for Eddie this included seven losses in a row in 2005 seeing him eventually sacked mid-cycle. England’s current poor run of form is coming at a similar time in their World Cup cycle.

While there is no denying the instant impact Jones brings in his approach to rugby on and off the pitch. The players do seem to suffer a level of burnout after a certain time under his reign.

It comes as no surprise as he is renowned for introducing the highest level of intensity in his training sessions, players have ever experienced. For example, a classic Jones drill is fitness training followed by a full-contact training game, so players can cope under fatigue.

Another aspect of his coaching style is the demand he asks of his players mentally, keeping every player guessing week in and week out with no one guaranteed a start. Currently, the players who are looking most fatigued are the core leaders of the team who have been with Eddie since he first came in.

The Jones effect notably destroyed Dylan Hartley at the end of his career, both physically and mentally. While it did get the best out of him from 2016-2018, it came at a cost!
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Fresh blood – Jones Stuck in his ways

Rugby like all sports is constantly evolving and changing making adaptability a key component for success. The most common is the players themselves. No matter the achievements previous players bring to a side, the team itself must evolve and personnel is sometimes the easiest way to do this.

Wales introduced Louis Rees-Zammit a 20-year-old wonder kid into this year’s Six Nations which changed their attack. It also took the attention off some of the more experienced heads. Cameron Redpath and Duhan van der Merwe have also shown glimpses of what fresh blood can do to a starting line-up.

Furthermore, it keeps the starting group of players on their toes. Healthy competition usually brings the best out of these players. England has an abundance of unused Premiership talent at their disposal.

The names include Alex Dombrandt, both Joe and Sam Simmonds, and of course, Marcus Smith. However, this is only the start of the list. Owen Farrell is a perfect example of someone who could benefit from some fresh blood.

If Marcus Smith was in the squad and showing his potential in training it might bring the best out of Farrell just to say, “It is not your time yet kid.”
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Youngs, Ford, and Farrell are the three who, although have the most experience. Have the least amount of competition brought in to challenge for their jerseys. Harry Randall was unused in the rounds when he was available but imagine: Randall, Smith and Sam Simmonds coming off the bench together with 20 minutes to go.

Recently when Eddie needed some impact at the Principality Stadium, he had George Martin on the bench, who is completely unproven. Shown as he did not even come on. He must be cleverer with how he uses his bench going forward.

Even those there now in Dan Robson and Max Malins are game-changers who get 10 minutes here and there. Simply, the talent is there so use it before you lose it!  Zach Mercer is the perfect example: off to Montpellier next season and not hanging around in Southwest England.

Game Plan – Reliance on Kick Tennis

The media are labelling this current English side as “boring” and rightly so. They are more focused on kick tennis than unleashing their exciting outside backs. When they have played expansively, they have been threatening especially against Wales.

Nevertheless, this has only been in periods within games. If Jones wants to stick with current tactics then England must simply kick better. England should look to find grass rather than Stuart Hogg and Liam Williams. But if the players still cannot adapt to the game plan in terms of execution then egos must be put to one side and the game plan or personnel altered.

This new England philosophy is frustrating the players as ill-discipline is a constant issue with an average of 13.6 penalties per game in the current Six Nations Championship.

The players are struggling to adapt to patience. A vital component of Eddie’s current philosophy and are forcing things far too often. Yes, a new game plan takes time to embed so you cannot be too harsh yet. At the same time the past number of months proves it does not fit with the current group of players.

Going forward – All is not lost

One thing Eddie has is time. There is still time before the World Cup to fix the cracks and stop the decline currently in this England rugby side. So it is not quite panic stations just yet. Maybe it could be a blessing in disguise.

But, going forward he must look to some flesh blood to revive a fatigued and ageing squad. Still retaining the experienced core leadership group will be the natural occurrence as a result. Furthermore, the way England play in terms of discipline and accuracy must become the team’s motto and philosophy.

On the flip side, if Jones continues with this group of players at this same intensity, and offering no evolution. He may find himself with one win this Six Nations and an irreparable decline within his England rugby side. More importantly, he may be in a similar position to 2005, with not long left.

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