England sealed the series after defeating Australia 21-17 last weekend. And yet, it seemed totally overshadowed by Ireland’s triumph over the All Blacks. This kind of epitomises England Rugby’s Summer tour: good, but not world-class. So what were the improvements, fall-backs, and new stars of the England rugby team? And how far are they from being World Cup contenders?
The Positives and Negatives for England Rugby in the Australia Tour
The positives for England Rugby
Despite missing some key individuals for much of the tour, England’s pack became fearsome once again. The likes of Ellis Genge and Courtney Lawes were exceptional, whilst Billy Vunipola rolled back the years with three solid performances. After a disappointing first test, the carries of England’s forwards caused Australia numerous problems. This showed necessary improvement from a sub-par Six Nations.
The other huge plus will be the seamless arrival of Jack van Poortvliet to international rugby. Eddie Jones has been reluctant to trust other scrum-halves other than Ben Youngs, but JVP was so composed in Australia. At just 21, he could be the alternative that ups England’s tempo.
Lacking a clinical edge
A big concern will be the inability to convert pressure into points. Whilst the forwards set a good foundation, the backline didn’t threaten as much as Australia’s, at least for the first two tests. However, there were modest signs of improvement from the Six Nations. Billy Vunipola scored early in the third test from a deceiving lineout move, and you imagine Eddie Jones is storing similar tricks for the knockout stages of the World Cup.England also seem to have restored balance in the back three. Whilst Jack Nowell and Freddie Steward offer plenty, England lacked a winger with a real finishing instinct; a winger like Louis Rees-Zammit who requires special attention. Tommy Freeman carved it up in the third test, with his agile runs posing a real threat. He provides a real option to sharpen England’s attack. And let’s not forget wonderkid Henry Arundell on the bench. The teenager may have areas of his game to develop, but his raw talent could provide the’ x-factor’ England require.
Not a bad first touch in international rugby from Henry Arundell. 🔥pic.twitter.com/A0fAfDh9hq
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) July 2, 2022
Questions over selection remain
Without Tuilagi, England lack a centre that can bust holes in the defence. Joe Marchant is a fine player, but without a unit like Esterhuizen (his centre partner at Harlequins), there were limited gaps for his talents to exploit. England tried Guy Porter as the more direct runner, but Porter sadly wasn’t as effective as he is with Leicester, missing five tackles in the third test. Perhaps it’s time for England to accept they don’t have a centre in the mould of Tuilagi, but re-create his carries through the forwards. Maybe someone like Sam Simmonds can be utilised in set-plays, for example.Doubt also continues over the Smith and Farrell partnership. Both had special moments in the series, and are classy players. But it remains to be seen whether the two playmakers will compliment, or hinder each other moving forward. Does Farrell’s direction hinder Smith’s flair, or will it allow him to work his magic in the wide channels? The combination certainly isn’t the finished article, but it will be interesting to see how it progresses moving forward.
England Rugby: Hopes for 2023?
England’s progression towards the World Cup is in a weird place. It was a job well done in Australia, but they are probably still only the fourth or fifth best side in the world. More improvement and consistency will be required to catch up with France, Ireland, and South Africa.But optimism shouldn’t be lost on England fans. England were in a similar position four years ago, leading up to the World Cup in Japan. In 2018, they finished fifth in the Six Nations, and yet the next year went on to conquer the All Blacks in Yokohama. Perhaps now could be another example of Eddie Jones peaking his side for the World Cup. England fans will certainly hope so.
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