For England, defeat by Scotland continued a worrying development.
Eddie Jones’ aspect, at their greatest, are a well-oiled machine, dominating the set-piece and the contact space, squeezing their opponents with a disciplined kicking recreation, and ruthlessly taking their probabilities to attain.
However when these areas do not perform – or when the opposition do not let these areas perform – the wheels can fall off.
England completed 2020 with two trophies: a superb achievement. Nevertheless, the Six Nations title got here by way of factors distinction, and the Autumn Nations Cup after further time towards a depleted France.
The Calcutta Cup crushing suggests these trophy wins have papered over the cracks.
England haven’t received a Grand Slam since 2016, Jones’ first event as their head coach.
Throughout that interval, in response to former scrum-half Danny Care on the most recent Rugby Union Weekly podcast, lots of focus in coaching was on an unstructured recreation. However quick ahead 5 years, and England have by no means regarded so prescriptive.
“The primary thought is to kick,” says Care. “They’ve a kick-first mentality. That’s the factor I want to see change. I want to see them have a “heads-up” mentality.”
Co-host Ugo Monye provides: “There’s something conservative about England’s assault. In 2020, we acquired away with a kick-pressure recreation and forcing errors, executing and squeezing groups.
“However when groups bodily match you, what’s your assault saying?”
Jones argues his staff do not got down to play in a selected approach, and that their method depends on a variety of elements, such because the climate circumstances and the referee.
However the place is England’s skill to chase a recreation? Too usually, they give the impression of being bereft of concepts when behind on the scoreboard.
Is Farrell overwhelmed with present position?
Owen Farrell is the beating coronary heart of the England staff. However as playmaker, goal-kicker and captain, is he being overwhelmed? And is he getting sufficient help when the chips are down?
“Their leaders can step up extra,” says Care.
“At any time when England get put below strain, and issues aren’t fairly going to plan, I wrestle to see the place their leaders are actually taking a grip of the sport.”
Enjoying Farrell at 10 as a part of a sturdy midfield has usually been Jones’ desire, however the England captain presently seems extra comfy alongside the guile and expertise of George Ford.
Moreover, whether or not England ought to have a captain within the forwards, nearer to the breakdown and the set-piece, continues to be a stay debate. Farrell will present and demand excessive requirements no matter his position.
Tuilagi absence felt in midfield
England didn’t make a single clear line-break towards Scotland, the primary time this has occurred within the Six Nations in a whopping eight years, with Ollie Lawrence and Anthony Watson decreased to spectator standing at Twickenham.
Plenty of this was all the way down to Scotland, with their disciplined and intense defence continually throwing England off form.
However, as soon as extra, the dialog turns to the absence of Manu Tuilagi, with the Sale man’s harm depriving England of each a dynamic ball-carrying and a decoy possibility.
England need to discover a approach to play with out Tuilagi. It’s no coincidence that the perfect performances below Jones – for the reason that profitable tour of Australia in 2016 – have include Tuilagi within the midfield.
‘England will beat Italy whoever performs’
Saturday’s match with Italy is one thing of a lose-lose state of affairs for England, given the travails of the Azzurri.
However it nonetheless supplies Jones with a variety of alternatives; he can proceed to place religion in Lawrence within the hope he’ll really get some ball, he can blood gamers similar to younger scrum-half Harry Randall, whereas he may also get some extra rugby into a few of his rustier squad members earlier than the harder challenges to return.
“England are going to get judged not on the outcome towards Italy, however on the efficiency,” warns Monye.
“England will beat Italy whoever performs this weekend,” provides Care.
“However I might like to see Harry Randall get a shot at enjoying for England. It’s the good likelihood for him to play and convey an unbelievable quantity of tempo to this England squad.”
Max Malins – bang in type for Bristol and a vivid gentle off the bench for England within the autumn – can be pushing for a primary Check begin.
Jones’ aspect have rallied earlier than
England misplaced their Six Nations opener in 2020, and rallied to win the title 9 months later. A repeat of that – together with victory towards France at Twickenham – could be a powerful response to this setback.
However an additional defeat or two will elevate extra questions in regards to the development Jones and the gamers are making after the highs of the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
Shortly after that event, Jones proclaimed England needed to be “the best staff the world has ever seen”.
This crop of gamers is doubtless the strongest England has had in almost 20 years, whereas Jones is a coach with uncommon expertise and pedigree.
It’s due to this fact affordable for England supporters to carry them to the identical lofty requirements they’ve set themselves.