Eddie Jones has shown a lot of loyalty to certain players in this England team and a few of them need to pay him back with big performances against Wales.
Billy Vunipola has openly said this week that he’s been “playing rubbish” and now is the time for him, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly, Ben Youngs and perhaps a few others to show that form is temporary but class is permanent.
Let’s be honest, their form has not been good but 12 of this weekend’s starting XV also started the World Cup final nearly 16 months ago. Jones has stuck with them because they have credit in the bank but they have to start repaying him now.
The definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Jones isn’t mad but a defeat and a similarly disappointing performance to others recently and it’ll definitely start to look worrying.
The likes of Vunipola have put a bit of pressure on themselves with some of the comments this week and perhaps that will bring the best out of them as they have their backs against the wall and come out fighting.
Everyone has a right to comment both positively and negatively on the performances of this England team and the individual players but they’ll be their own biggest critics behind the scenes and I think it’s refreshing to hear such honesty in public from Billy.
The Saracens number eight used a quote from Vince Lombardi and added that he has “been a bit of a coward in the last two weeks because I’ve been hiding from being fatigued” but the excuse of being rusty has gone now as well.
England will have a couple more weeks of intense training and preparation under their belts since the underwhelming victory over Italy and there’s no excuses now.
Clearly, we aren’t going to see a massive departure from the style of play England have deployed since the 2019 World Cup and they aren’t going to start throwing the ball around in Cardiff but they’ll want to see their hard-nosed edge and physicality back.
I think one of the major areas that England will have targeted and see a massive opportunity to exert pressure is at the set piece. Wales’ lineout has been nothing short of shambolic at times in this Six Nations and Jonny Hill and Maro Itoje will be licking their lips.
When you’re trying to put pressure on an opposition lineout you inevitably kick the ball a lot as well so we’re likely to see the usual number of kicks from hand from England, if not more.
They will, however, have been working on improving their kicking efficiency because that hasn’t been on point in the opening couple of rounds. Wales have got a very exciting back three and England will want to pin them back and put them under as much pressure as possible.
In fact, the backline that Wayne Pivac has picked is probably the best on paper that we’ve seen from Wales for years. Their first instinct is to attack, though, and I don’t know how much they’ll want to play aerial ping pong so England could reap massive rewards from the kicking game if they get it right.
It’ll be close and the Welsh backs have the potential to rip the opposition to pieces but I just think England’s power and pressure game, combined with the defensive structures they have in place, will see them come out on top by six.
Eddie Jones will be hoping so because it feels make or break in terms of some of the players he’s stuck with over the course of the past year or so and the question marks will inevitably grow bigger if they don’t perform again. They owe him a big performance and he’ll be hoping they deliver.
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