In the 35 years or so that this reporter has been watching England’s rugby team at Twickenham, many have not heard the kind of atmosphere that was on show last Saturday.
England was ‘chaotically magnificent’ in refusing to buckle to Ireland – having been reduced to 14 men. It forced England’s rugby team to dig deeper than they thought ever possible, and at 15-15 all going into the final quarter, the ‘chariots’ dared to dream of an incredible upset. No, it was not meant to be.
Ireland eventually got over the line; thanks in part to England’s exhaustion. Although, a number of Jones’ men came of age as world-class operators. Ellis Genge and Jamie George were two. And Maro Itoje was utterly magnificent.
Sure, England’s rugby team rightly deserves the plaudits for bravery. However, their attack remains alarmingly blunt and it is not going to get any easier in France’s backyard on Saturday, March 19.
Harlequins quartet could help England’s attacking ‘mojo’ in Paris
England’s rugby team needs to bottle that intensity they displayed against Ireland to stand a chance in Paris. France is verging on great again but their star fell somewhat in Cardiff. Not for the first time, Wales stayed in the fight last Friday night and if Jonathan Davies had caught a relatively simple pass then we probably would have been talking about a famous Welsh win.
— France Rugby (@FranceRugby) March 12, 2022
Credit to France for chiselling out an ugly win. They are going for a first Grand Slam and title since 2010 on Saturday against their greatest enemy. How will they handle the pressure and expectation? Herein lies the opportunity for England’s rugby team if they are to cause an upset.
Such was the ferocity of England’s pack when galvanised a man down, Ireland looked lost and confused. It is not often we see the likes of Tadhg Furlong, Peter O’Mahony and Cian Healy come off second best. If England’s forwards can generate the same ferocity and direction against France, then undoubtedly they can raise doubts amongst their French counterparts. But, their attack has to flow just as well this weekend if they are to stand a chance.
England’s attack worryingly inept
It has been a theme throughout an underwhelming Six Nations for Eddie Jones. Plenty of possession and territory but little to show for it. We hear constant positive overtures by England’s backs and attack coach Martin Gleeson. As you would expect, towing the party line (to what Jones might publicly utter).
The reality is very different. I cannot remember seeing a genuine try-scoring threat to Ireland’s efforts last Saturday.
Max Malins had a tough afternoon against James Lowe and is dropped. Otherwise, it is ‘as you were’ with the backline selection. For all of the positive work that Joe Marchant and Henry Slade did in defence, they were anonymous in the attack. Marcus Smith was busy but had his quietest day in an England jersey.
Harry Randall did some good things but could not dent Ireland’s first-line defence. They are all the fulcrum to what the back-three can work with as well as the engine room to England’s overall attacking strategy. So, what options are there for the visitors in Paris in the final act of the 2022 championship?
Lynagh and Northmore could offer something new
Eddie Jones knows all about Elliot Daly and Joe Marchant by now. The retention of Luke Northmore and Louis Lynagh is significant for the fact that their club partnership with Marcus Smith has worked so well. Harlequins have consistently been the best-attacking unit in the Gallagher Premiership.
Jones may look to replace the dropped Max Malins with Louis Lynagh to see whether he can make something happen in the back-three. Among Lynagh’s strengths are his attacking lines – which are similar to when Chris Ashton was in his pomp. Lynagh is willing to work ‘off the ball to get access to the ball’. And in space, it is a key trait that he will continue to develop.
As a result, he could be an excellent acquisition for England’s rugby team. Against the might of France, it would be a daunting baptism but, Lynagh has his father’s rugby royalty running through his veins.
Linking Joe Marchant and Luke Northmore together in the centres is an option for the England management. With Marcus Smith and Alex Dombrandt likely starting, there will be familiar faces around Lynagh to help out.
Northmore; like Quins and England legend Will Greenwood, has an uncanny try-scoring ability. He is not the fastest mind you but, Northmore has a great rugby brain and has linked Harlequins’ attack very well beside Marcus Smith. Those players could add the mojo which England’s rugby team has lacked in their 2022 campaign.
His inclusion would be harsh on Henry Slade yet the Exeter Chief is currently struggling to stamp his attacking prowess on this England team. Out of the two centres picked against Ireland, Marchant was far busier and also more effective at the breakdown. Add in the Harlequins connection and it may be that Marchant ‘keeps his place’ in the centres to apply some continuity to their attack.
Partner Simmonds and Dombrandt in the back row
With Tom Curry out injured, a spot has potentially opened up in England’s back row. Sam Simmonds was industrious against Ireland and deserves another chance to start in the back row. It is unlikely it will be at number eight though, as Alex Dombrandt should start against France [after his bout of Covid-19]. But an option is that Simmonds could operate in the blindside jumper, with Bath’s Sam Underhill coming in at openside. England has missed Underhill’s kamikaze defence and against France, they will need that firepower.
In another positional topic, Jones has to decide on whether Courtney Lawes goes back to partnering with Maro Itoje in the second row. It could be considered a risk to have both Dombrandt and Simmonds starting. That said, such is the state of England’s ineffective attacking strategy, at least these two could add some stress to France’s defences.
Shaun Edwards has completely transformed France’s work rate around the park and in defence. England has to find a way of ‘cracking the code’ otherwise, it will be a long afternoon for England’s rugby team at the Stade de France.
England a chance but, 2022 Les Bleus are heavy favourites
Some of England’s finest performances in the Six Nations have been evident on the field in Paris. Memorably in 2016, when Eddie Jones took England out of the doldrums of a disastrous 2015 World Cup.
England’s fans will hope that Jones does not ‘flog his troops’ in training this week. It is asking a huge amount of Itoje, Genge et al to deliver a similar defensive effort, as shown against Ireland. That was a huge shift from them and combined, it is a traveling week as well, so one hopes that rest and rehab have been at the top of the priority list.
There are a number of ‘ifs’ for England’s rugby team to have a chance of succeeding. One is if a ball carrier like Alex Dombrandt can get England over the advantage line? Or if whatever centre partnership is chosen can break the French defensive system? There are many, many ifs and buts.
One claim is ‘if in the cauldron that is Paris, home fans might witness a rapidly improving 2022 Les Bleus outfit who are just 80-minutes away from a first Grand Slam in 12 years? Questions might be asked of both teams this weekend.
So it is a huge task ahead of England’s rugby team.
If supporters are judging on what England’s rugby team has produced thus far in the Six Nations, then there is surely only one goal to play for. What England fans must see is the same kind of fight that was on display against Ireland last weekend. It would be of great relief to them to watch an England attack splutter back into life, and cross the French try line more than once this Saturday – to prove England has once again ‘found its mojo’.
If those two factors happen, Eddie Jones will be feeling safer about his job and there will be some positivity for England to take into the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
The game will take place at Stade de France in Paris at 8:00 p.m. GMT, Saturday, March 19.
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