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The long term problem for England that was never solved

After England’s miserable Rugby World Cup final loss to South Africa in Yokohama on Saturday, a phrase that has haunted the team for a number of years now has reared its head again, ‘plan B’. 

It is no secret that England’s plan B, or lack thereof, has been a perennial problem for the side throughout Eddie Jones’ tenure, and after the euphoric victory over the All Blacks in the semi-final, many would have thought that this would not have been a concern ahead of the final. 

When England are able to execute their gameplan, they are arguably the best team in the world. The semi-final showed this, as their dynamic and powerful forwards ensured they were on the front foot for the entirety of the match, and never needed to change their approach. However, when they faced the Springboks’ belligerent rush defence, no player on the team seemed to know how to respond, as they played too much of the match in the wrong places on the field and inevitably conceded penalties.

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This is forgivable, as Rassie Erasmus’ side played like men possessed, but many England fans are rueing the fact that their side have never been able to iron out this flaw. It was perhaps made most apparent during the Six Nations, as England produced a display against Ireland in the opening game in Dublin that was akin to their performance against the All Blacks recently. Ireland went into the game fresh from a victory over Steve Hansen’s side a few months before, but were overwhelmed by the men in white. 

England rugby team return home

Only a few weeks after the performance against Ireland, England came undone against Wales and the Principality Stadium, as Warren Gatland’s side completely nullified the aerial threat England posed and were immovable in defence, and Owen Farrell and his team had no answers. The Six Nations closed in a bizarre match which saw Scotland fight back from a 31-0 deficit at Twickenham to earn a 38-38 draw, another game where England failed to respond to the Scottish onslaught. 

The difference between the RWC final and the matches against Wales and Scotland in the Six Nations is that England were never on top against the Springboks in truth. But they still struggled to react to how they were playing, although, to be fair, it was always going to be tough to overcome such an inspired side. This has been a longstanding problem with England, and while the players will learn from this final more than any match before, the biggest disappointment to many fans is that it was made apparent in the biggest game of all. 

This is what was said: 

It is hard to determine whether this apparent lack of a plan B is down to the players or Jones, but the All Blacks’ display against the Springboks in their opening game of the RWC was a masterclass in responding to what was in front of them. After the Springboks dominated the first 20 minutes of the contest, Hansen’s side was able to react and exploit some of their weaknesses, particularly how narrow their defence was with a number of cross-field kicks. 

England failed to react in the same way, and while it is not guaranteed that they would have won if they did, it may have made the game a little closer. 

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The long term problem for England that was never solved