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The three fixable factors behind Eddie Jones' England stagnation

Eddie Jones' England weren't far away from making the grade.

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Dallaglio: 'You'd be lying if you said there wasn't a gap to bridge'

By Josh Raisey
England training in Pennyhill - PA

“We all trade in this unique currency called honest conversations and I think there will be an honest conversation in the England camp that they have a couple of levels to go yet before they can be in the same conversation as some of those other teams.”

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That is an ethos no one would have any hesitation in believing underpinned Lawrence Dallaglio’s entire career as he reached the apex of the sport, be it with Wasps, England or the British & Irish Lions.

As a leader and stalwart in every one of those teams, he knows what is required to be part of an all-conquering outfit and can see where Eddie Jones’ side are currently falling short. But while he clearly feels a gap has emerged between England and the top teams in the world, he has every confidence that Jones and his squad have it in their armoury to catch up.

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England opened their Autumn Nations Series with an insipid 30-29 loss to Argentina at Twickenham at the beginning of the month, which came after a series win over Australia in July where they lost the first Test, and opening day defeats in three consecutive Six Nations campaigns. Speaking to RugbyPass this week, the former No.8 said that that is a trend that needs arresting quickly, but said there was a marked improvement in the 52-13 win over Japan on Saturday ahead of Tests against the All Blacks and South Africa, who, alongside France and Ireland, he feels are the sides England need to catch up to with less than a year until the World Cup.

“England have had a slow start yet again to a campaign,” the World Cup winner said. “It’s becoming a bit of a trend, and one that they need to sort out to be honest, because it’s cost them any chance of putting a decent set of results together. But I think we would all agree that it was a much improved performance against Japan.

“For some reason Japan didn’t necessarily put their best foot forward in terms of the quality that they can produce. They’d only played five test matches this year, which is maybe one of the reasons why they weren’t able to replicate the sort of performance that we’d expect. But take nothing away from England, it was a much better performance. The pack was starting to really take shape and obviously the standout performances from [Jack] van Poortvliet and [Freddie] Steward at fullback give England a lot of optimism. But I think we all know that really, in terms of the next 12 months, they’ll take a lot more confidence if they can repeat that sort of performance against New Zealand and South Africa, who are still right up there as the best sides in the world.

“What France and Ireland are doing has been a step above anything that England, Wales or Scotland have produced in recent months. You’d be lying if you said that there wasn’t a gap to bridge at the moment but I’m sure England and Eddie Jones and everyone involved have got a plan and a bit of time to bridge that gap. If the World Cup was today, England would be a long way off being favourites for it. But it’s not today, and that’s a good thing for them because they’ve still got a little way to go on in terms of finding their best XV, finding their best rugby and their best form. The stuff we’ve seen from Ireland and France in more recent weeks it’s been a cut above really and I think you’d have to be looking at life through rose-tinted spectacles if you thought any differently, you can’t hide from the truth.”

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Jones has not shied away from the fact that his eyes are firmly fixed on the World Cup next year, but as a player who tasted the whole gamut of World Cup cycles – underachieving hopefuls in 1999, victorious favourites in 2003 and overachieving underdogs in 2007 – Dallaglio is acutely aware of how important the next two weeks are for England in making a statement that they are able to compete with the very best.

“We all trade in this unique currency called honest conversations and I think it will be an honest conversation in the England camp that they have a couple of levels to go yet before they can be in the same conversation as some of those other teams,” he said.

“But they are in the same conversation as New Zealand and South Africa over the next couple of weeks and what that does is present England with an opportunity to find out where they are. We’d like to judge them over four matches but ultimately, in the context of next year’s tournament, it’s really the last two that everyone is concerned about.

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“England need some confidence and belief that they can turn up against the best sides in the world. Many people were quick to discuss the demise of the All Blacks, but they look a pretty good side to me. Yeah, they’ve had some setbacks, losing to Argentina at home, but they still ended up with the Rugby Championship trophy in their cabinet. They’ve come over here and they’ve not looked unbeatable but they’ve not looked too bad either. So England have got to prove to themselves that they are good enough to replicate what’s going to be required to win a World Cup, which is to win what used to be seven games, although South Africa made it six. You need that consistency at the very highest level.

“So far, in the last couple of years, whilst England are still capable of the big one off performances, they haven’t managed to put that consistency together. That’s not a criticism, it’s just a fact. So I think what England need is maybe a few of those combinations to start to materialise, and I appreciate and accept that picking the same team every week is not easy these days for any international coach because of the workload and the injuries etc. but the selection itself will be fascinating because England are still searching for that magic that has alluded them since maybe even as far back as the last World Cup.

“But I would say if they want to really build themselves towards the Six Nations next year, and the World Cup at the end of the year, then they really need to show themselves, if not the nation and everyone else, that they’re capable of performing on the biggest stage of all at a different level to what we’ve seen so far in this campaign. Hopefully the quality of the opposition in front of them will bring out the best in them because if you don’t turn up with the right tools against the guys in black and green, you’re going to be in a bit of trouble.

“As I said, I always liked to trade in honest conversations and deal in honest conversations, and if I was a England player, there would be a couple times amongst the group that I’d say there is a level that we’re all capable of performing, and if we want to win against New Zealand and if we want to win against South Africa, then we’re going to have to perform. And it’s well within the team, that’s the exciting thing for England fans, they’ve got players who have been there and beaten those opponents on more than one occasion. I think when you’ve got that in your locker, then you’ve got a great chance of producing it.

“That’s the challenge that they’ve got. How do they elevate their own performances to a level that takes them to the best teams in the world? Because if they’re having the honest conversations, which I’m sure they are, there’s a way to go yet.”

Eddie Jones and Owen Farrell (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

The former England captain is not alone in hoping some of Jones’ combinations and positional changes bear fruit. The eternal discussion amongst the England fandom concerns the Australian’s choice to play Owen Farrell at inside centre alongside Marcus Smith, and one of Maro Itoje or Courtney Lawes at blindside flanker.

Though Dallaglio has no doubt Jones knows how he wants his team to look, he has a clear philosophy when it comes to selection.

“The best teams that Eddie Jones has ever selected and the best results he’s ever produced have been with Farrell at No.10, [Manu] Tuilagi at No.12 and [Henry] Slade at No.13, and with Itoje in the second-row,” the 85-cap Englishman said. “So there are some interesting selections ahead, knowing when to stick or when to twist with certain players and certain combinations, which is why coaches are paid the big bucks.

“It’s a conundrum, really. I’m sure Eddie’s got a plan and an idea of where he’s heading with the selection but I always find that most players, and I don’t think the game has changed enormously, would like to play in the positions that they play in most weeks. I know Itoje can play No.6, of course he can, he’s a very, very capable player, but if I think about his best ever performances, they’ve always been at second-row and if I think of Farrell’s best performances, they’ve always been at No.10. But it’s not my job to pick the team, is it?

“I think trust and consistency are two of the core ingredients required for success, for sustained success, and those will be the ingredients I’ll be looking for over the next twelve months- trusting certain players to deliver and getting that consistent message. It’s up to the players to put a bit of pressure on themselves as well and to deliver against the best opposition.”

While Jones’ selection has been under scrutiny in recent seasons, so to has his proclivity to chop and change his coaching setup. Brett Hodgson’s arrival to replace Anthony Seibold as England’s defence coach after this campaign will mark Jones’ third defence coach in this World Cup cycle alone. From his own experience with Wasps and England, Dallaglio explained the difficulties that come from this lack of continuity.

“I can’t really comment on the criteria for coaching, what Eddie’s looking for, or whatever, but what I would say is that he’s been in charge for seven years now and in that time there’s been a lot of change in the coaching structure,” he said.

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“Consistency of message is really important, and it’s very hard to be consistent when you have a revolving door with your staff and with your team. But that’s where we are at the moment, and if Eddie feels there’s a change required, then there’s a change required. So whatever’s been happening previously, it’s not necessarily given us the results that we want. As long as we get the results we want, then I guess that change will be the right change.

“But we’ve got only a number of games now to go, so whatever messages are being put across, the players need to be part of that, they need to take on that leadership role as well and need to make sure that they’re getting the best out of themselves.”

Seibold England RFU statement
Anthony Seibold (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

Looking ahead to the World Cup in ten months, Dallaglio feels this is a golden opportunity for a northern hemisphere side to bag the Webb Ellis Cup for only the second time.

“I don’t think the two hemispheres have ever been as close in rugby terms as they are right now,” said Dallaglio, whose England side topped the world rankings in 2003.

“There’s a long way to go, but two out of the four of the highest rank teams in the world are currently from the northern hemisphere in Ireland and France, with England fifth now. So it’s pretty even at a minute. Now, if you’re if you’re betting man, you probably say that six of the nine World Cups have been won by South Africa or New Zealand and therefore those two are going to have a pretty big say what happens in France next year.

“But with a lot of confidence, I don’t think there’s ever been a better opportunity for one of the northern hemisphere teams to get their name on that trophy. There’s a fair bit of play before then though.”

Lawrence has joined Caduceus – a metaverse technology partner dedicated to sports & entertainment development – as their Brand Ambassador

https://caduceus.foundation/
https://twitter.com/Caduceus_CMP  

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