Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Whither England 2019?

Ok, a few days has passed since the most ridiculous game of rugby I have ever witnessed, so time to reflect a little more calmly on England's performance during the 2019 Six Nations.

Not that I have calmed down that much, and the news today that spoon-bending publicity junkie, Uri Geller, is urging Eddie Jones to take him to the World Cup as the answer to England’s psychological problems tells us just how ludicrous Saturday's implosion was.

First of all let's be honest - England's second half performance against Scotland at Twickenham was the stuff of nightmares as a 31-0 lead somehow became an unbearable burden to the extent that it was squandered by a team that panicked at the first hint of a Scottish revival. We are talking about hardened professional rugby players who lost all semblance of shape, control or discipline. It was truly, truly shocking and no amount of positivity about how well England attacked at times during this competition can disguise that.

That there is an underlying mental frailty - also demonstrated in Cardiff - cannot be in doubt. But for Eddie Jones to lay this at the door of England's premature exit from the 2015 World Cup is simply disingenuous. Jones has had four Six Nations competitions (and indeed won his first two) to iron out any World Cup hangovers and this team is very different from the one that failed in 2015, so the only conclusion to draw is that Jones is just trying to pass the buck. Next thing you know he'll be blaming Sam Burgess.

On the plus side, the England squad as a whole looks stronger than it has done for a while.

England now have some great front row options with the emergence of Ben Moon to cover Mako Vunipola at loosehead and with Kyle Sinckler establishing himself a potentially world class number 3. There are plenty of quality locks - with Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes to return - and the backrow now has proper balance with Curry and Wilson, although I do have my concerns about Billy Vunipola's diminishing returns. What the pack does lack is someone to take control and get hold of the game. Dylan Hartley? Perhaps, but I'd be surprised if his form could merit a return. 

In the backs England look to be in fine fettle with the exception that Manu Tuilagi still looks decidedly uncomfortable at 12 and Elliot Daly remains unconvincing as a fullback. There are, however, classy wings in abundance (including the now superb Jonny May) and Henry Slade now looks to the manor born. The main issue appears to be at half-back. Ben Youngs, despite his 85 caps, seems incapable of properly shaping a game at scrum half while Owen Farrell - good player that he is - has worryingly lost the plot tactically on the two occasions that England have been put under real pressure.

Unfortunately it is almost certainly too late for Eddie Jones to change tack now. I'm sure he has most of his 31 man World Cup squad pencilled in (barring injuries). All he can say is that he will bring in someone to fix England's psychological issues - as if it's that easy.

Let's just hope that someone is not Uri Geller!


Mike on a bike said...

Thanks for the blog - always pop by to read it. Wondering what you think, but the SA tests in SA emphasised England's ability to carry out fantastic training ground moves, but when matched or asked to think, they have few answers. This has shown in games won as well as lost, Italy in the 2018 6Ns were allowed back into a game that ought to have been out of reach, both SA test, as I said, the Aussie AI game - a team off form, food poisoning and 2 players dropped for misdemeanours, and before running out of puff got right back it by half time.

If the RWC was a problem, its a surprise given England's best ever run and series win in Aus were directly after with mostly the same players. The longer Eddie has been in charge, the more erratic the form. I'd add two and two and make 4

TotalFlanker said...

Good comments Mike. I have a horrible feeling that Eddie might becoming part of the problem rather than the solution. He has his way of doing things and the players don't appear to be able to deviate from the masterplan. My only hope is that his track record of getting teams ready for World Cups and his inside knowledge of Japan will tip the scales in England's favour, but to be honest I'm not confident...

Mike on a bike said...

Lets hope so - posters elsewhere suggest the training is very orientated to problem solving and the like - to "empower" players. As someone who has coached both sports teams and work teams, too much information is often detrimental to performance - especially when you need to react to what is in front of you. The number of times in a recruitment exercise - asking for comments on a case study produced panic amongst (on paper) highly qualified people was quite astounding!

Jones has form for short to medium term gains, but also (least according to some SH posters) form for losing dressing rooms and coaching teams with "guff" and 24/7 input. With only a couple of warm up games pre RWC, I am less confident than I was, and I 'd struggle to predict what the England "first XV" might be now.