It shouldn’t have taken defeat to Scotland to bring about change but Eddie Jones needs to take the shackles off this England team and make some alterations this weekend. The players are in a straitjacket the way they are playing at the moment. Jones has said this week that there are “five million scenarios in the game” and he says they don’t coach them all but even saying that suggests the players are overcoached.
There really aren’t that many scenarios and you have to think on your feet as a player. As a fly-half who has played the game, it looks to me right now like the players have got the fear of going away from the game plan and what they have been instructed to do.
Obviously, a clip has gone viral after the Calcutta Cup defeat of Owen Farrell kicking the ball through when he had a seven-on-three and Sean Maitland wasn’t even looking at the threat inside him either. To make matters even worse, Jamie George is the only forward among the six players outside him. The others are Henry Slade, Ollie Lawrence, Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson and Jonny May.
I always joke that I just used to sit back in the pocket and kick to the corners but I’d have been expected to give the pass there. The situation was clearly crying out for the ball to go wide.
You’re not telling me that a man with Farrell’s experience at the top level in different environments for Saracens, England and the Lions doesn’t know that and that was an example of pre-meditated coaching that dictates not to play any rugby in your own half.
“We put 61 points on them at Twickenham a few years ago, we played ball in hand, heads up attack – where has all that gone in England’s performances?"
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 10, 2021
That is just one example and some people have used it to criticise Farrell’s decision-making in attack but I reckon George Ford kicks in that situation as well because that is what is drilled into them. A lot of these players play with freedom at club level and are allowed to play heads-up rugby.
There is clearly a step up to international level but it seems that isn’t the case when they put an England shirt on and the responsibility for that has to sit with the head coach. England had won eight straight Tests before Saturday so some people out there will say that any criticism is an overreaction, but there have rightly been question marks over the Jones attack since the World Cup final defeat to South Africa.
It hasn’t always been this way for England under Jones. They scored 61 tries in 15 Tests in 2019, so it’s completely fair to ask the question – where has all that attacking prowess gone? Jones said back in 2016, perhaps inaccurately and almost certainly to create a headline, that Ireland “kick 70 per cent of their ball away. If they want to do that, good luck to them”. He might just have topped the Irish with this England team at the moment.
Wales were also criticised for years under Warren Gatland for playing ‘Warrenball’ and you could certainly level similar criticisms at England nowadays. Players need to shoulder some of the responsibility as well and have the cojones to put their hands up and question what is happening, but they need to be empowered to do so and not suffocated.
Hopefully, the shock of this defeat will bring about some change and, let’s be honest, if you aren’t going to make changes against Italy, you never are. There obviously isn’t any point in just making wholesale changes and then reverting back to the old starting XV for round three versus Wales, but fresh faces have to be given an opportunity because there are a lot of players who are comfortable at the moment.
Jones often talks about picking the best team for a particular game and I can’t think of a better England team to beat Italy and put smiles back on people’s faces than this one.
ANDY GOODE’S ENGLAND STARTING XV (vs Italy, Saturday)
15. Max Malins
14. Paolo Odogwu
13. Henry Slade
12. Ollie Lawrence
11. Jonny May
10. Owen Farrell (capt)
9. Harry Randall
1. Ellis Genge
2. Luke Cowan-Dickie
3. Kyle Sinckler
4. Maro Itoje
5. Courtney Lawes
6. Tom Curry
7. Jack Willis
8. Ben Earl
Jones, who will announce his team on Thursday, has been open about the fact he isn’t going to drop his captain and the incumbent centre pairing deserve the chance to actually get their hands on the ball and show what they can do. Aside from them, though, the likes of Randall, Odogwu and Malins in the backs should give England greater impetus and hopefully show that form Premiership players can make the step up to international level.
In the forwards, it would be great to see Cowan-Dickie rewarded with a start and a back row of Curry, Willis and Earl is enough to frighten the life out of any team. Whoever plays against this callow Italian side, which had fewer caps last weekend than any team in the tournament since 1992, should have a field day but changes are needed and picking an England team like that would send a positive message as well.
England can still win the Six Nations just as they did last year after losing their first game, so it’s now over to Jones – will he roll the dice for a game that England can’t lose or is he scared to give a chance to players who may just change the team’s emphasis to a more attack-minded one and give a selection headache going forward?
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 10, 2021
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