Ireland strategically, emotionally and physically dominated England. Eddie Jones is now a man under pressure as are some of his lieutenants after a chastening afternoon in Dublin. The 32-18 scoreline flattered England and a distinctly mediocre 2021 Six Nations has mercifully come to an end. There were familiar failings, poor discipline, poor game management and poor leadership. Ireland in contrast was outstanding and can look forward to a bright future under Andy Farrell. So, where does England Rugby go from here?
Eddie Jones stays…for now
England lost to all three home nations in 2021. That would suggest that England are treading water whilst Scotland, Wales and Ireland progress. All three defeats were convincing and that is a major concern to all who are involved with the England rugby team. Together with the consistency of England’s awful penalty count and an inability to adapt a gameplan puts pressure on Eddie Jones. Such is Jones’s record it would seem inconceivable for him to be sacked. However, the 2023 World Cup is fast approaching and England are in trouble.
As Sir Clive Woodward said in his post-match analysis there needs to be a serious ‘look in the mirror’ analysis by coaches, administrators and players alike. Jones has to swallow his pride and some would say pig-headiness and let everyone into the discussion. England have no more excuses – we heard the familiar callings like inconsistency and poor discipline. But it was much more than that, once again the players looked robotic and static. These problems are not going away.
Playing players out of position is always a danger, regardless of whether it is a World Cup Final or a club game. Elliot Daly is not consistent enough at full-back, surely he is an outside centre who can compete with Henry Slade? Anthony Watson has been horribly underused for the last couple of years, at full-back he will have space and time. Then there is the Farrell/Ford combination, more of that in a minute.
England rugby in need of an overhaul
Such is England rugby ‘s decline only Maro Itoje, Tom Curry, Anthony Watson and Kyle Sinckler would be guaranteed a Lions call-up. Jamie George, Owen Farrell, Billy Vunipola and Jonny May would have been cast-iron certainties at the turn of the year but not anymore. If you take Farrell’s case, Jonny Sexton, Dan Biggar and Finn Russell have played far better. We know that Lions selection is dependent on many considerations but England’s traditional strong squad contribution is not going to happen.
Is Jones the man to lead England rugby? He is, but only if opens up to outside influence and advice – which is not the way he likes to operate.
England’s elder statesmen under threat
Something has to change in the squad selection. Too often the likes of George Ford, Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly have fallen below what is expected of them. For varying reasons, but one consistent theme is a lack of leadership. It is not just the aforementioned, Billy and Mako Vunipola together with Ben Youngs are struggling. These players have been the spine of the team for the last six seasons but the three losses in this Championship have shown up some glaring leadership deficiencies.
Owen Farrell has had a tough twelve months not helped by the chopping and changing of his partnership with George Ford. The combination does not work well enough to persist with. Dan Robson and Ben Youngs finishing the game in the half-backs summed it up. Admittedly Farrell was off for an HIA but Ford had a shocker against Ireland. If the Ford/Farrell partnership doesn’t work then England’s whole game structure goes off-kilter. It was palpably evident against Scotland and Ireland.
It is one of a number of big decisions Jones has to consider. Marcus Smith, Joe Simmonds and Jacob Umaga are next in line and deserve a chance to show what they can do.
Premiership talent has to be rewarded
Jones cannot hide behind his stubborn loyalty any longer. The Gallagher Premiership is churning out some very decent talent in all positions and for England to ‘reset’ as Jones said after the match it starts with some new faces.
Sam Simmonds, Alex Dombrandt, Marcus Smith, Paolo Odogwu, Max Malins and Harry Randall deserve a chance to show their ability. There are others like George Martin, who was muscular when he came on in the final quarter against Ireland. The ‘reset’ that Eddie Jones talks about could go on for much longer as new players need time to adapt to the international arena.
For this to happen then Jones will have to make some tough calls with his current squad. In this tournament, Jones has refused to pick x-factor players on the bench. In the 2021 Six Nations, England needed to chase a game on three occasions. Jones had no flair or risk in favour of workhorses – surely a strategy that sees games out rather than win them. Players like Mark Wilson will never let you down, they will make 15 tackles and the hard carry-ups but where was the point of difference? A Dombrandt or a Sam Simmonds may not be as physical but they have the ability to change a game with a piece of brilliance.
Saracens contingent should prioritize the Premiership
Saracens are by no means certain to get back into the Gallagher Premiership for the 2022 season. This spells big problems for England’s management as the likes of Farrell, Itoje and George will be playing against first division opposition. Their lack of game-time burnt England and perhaps it is time to give them the next eight months to play regularly and get Saracens back into the Premiership. This would allow England to assess their squad in the lead-up to the 2023 World Cup.
As it stands at the moment, only Maro Itoje on current form can command a starting spot. Something has to give with the struggles that Saracens’ England contingent face and being able to perform consistently at international level.
The next match can’t come soon enough
England need matches to get their mojo back and to entertain the idea of changing some personnel. The Covid pandemic will sadly put paid to that. There is no guarantee of matches over the summer or the Autumn internationals. If England are going to mount a credible challenge in 2023 then the ‘reset’ requires matches and lots of them.
In the meantime, Jones and his much-vaunted management squad need to have an honesty session. The current strategy is not working no matter how they dress it up in interviews. They deserve one last chance to rectify what was has been an underwhelming six months. It surely starts with a proper dip into the Premiership.
Embed from Getty Images