Saturday, 9 November 2019

Whither England (post-RWC 2019)?

A week on from the disappointment of last Saturday, where do England go from here?

As previously mentioned, England can look back upon the 2019 World Cup with a certain degree of satisfaction, despite the gut-wrenching disappointment of failing to perform on the biggest stage of all against the Springboks in the Final.

The high point for the England squad was without doubt their semi-final performance against the All Blacks, when all the stars aligned as Eddie Jones’ men played very close to the perfect game. That they couldn’t replicate that performance in the Final will, however, be of immense frustration to the players and the management.

Nevertheless, from a playing personnel perspective England undoubtedly remain in a good place – with very few players being north of 30. Most of the squad (fitness and form permitting) will probably be available in 4 years time and so on the face of it there is little need for a post-RWC cull.

The question is, though, how soon does Eddie Jones move on from those players unlikely to be around in France in 2023? Post World Cup he has already said that this England team is “finished” and that he will “make a new team for the Six Nations” but what does he mean?

It is clear that scrum half is a position that needs addressing given that Ben Youngs is currently 30, and his RWC deputy, Willi Heinz is 32. It’s a position in which Jones failed to build depth over the last 4 year cycle – with only the discarded Danny Care getting any significant game time other than Youngs. Jones – assuming he stays – will not want to make the same mistake again.

Other players the wrong side of 30 are Dan Cole, Courtney Lawes and Mark Wilson. While I can’t see Cole featuring again, the latter two still have plenty to offer, at least in the short term, so I would be surprised if they were jettisoned early doors.

Eddie Jones being Eddie Jones, I am sure we will get a few curve balls when the squad for the 2020 Six Nations is announced. Following that performance against the All Blacks, however, England could come bottom of the Six Nations and, quite frankly, all would be forgiven.

Aside from whether players will be around in 4 years time, the issues facing Jones are pretty much the same as he has faced for the last few seasons, namely:

- Lack of depth at scrum half (see above)

- Over-reliance on Billy Vunipola at 8 – Billy didn’t have a bad World Cup, but did appear to coast at times and could do with some genuine competition

- Deciding on his optimum midfield – will the Ford/Farell axis continue and what is his best 12/13 combination?

- Fullback – as things stands it can’t possibly remain Elliot Daly, can it?

- Leadership and how certain players react under pressure.

There is also the question of what effect Premiership Rugby's 35 point sanction on Saracens might have. I can quite see for instance, should the sanction stand, Saracens players choosing to prioritise their club this season, which could decimate the England squad.

Finally there remains the question of how long Eddie Jones will stick around. He is contracted for another 2 years but, with the Aussies sniffing around, could he be tempted home? Even if he stays, should the RFU push for him to sign up for the full 4 year cycle? And if Eddie does go, what next?

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