Eddie Jones has persisted with a Ford & Farrell partnership for most of his reign as England’s coach. It has been a maligned arrangement that is now well and truly under the microscope following another loss and series defeat in South Africa.
The winning streak papered over attacking inefficiencies of the England team and fans and pundits were willing to gloss over shortcomings. On the back of a sixth consecutive loss and conceding an unassailable 2-0 lead to South Africa, Jones must change directions or risk losing his job.
The team is regressing quickly, heading on a crash course towards an early World Cup exit. This pack is ill-disciplined, fatigued and sloppy. They have conceded penalties at the wrong times in this South Africa series for all three of those reasons. Compounding matters are the decision makers, just when they have South Africa on the ropes they shelve the cue and revert back to ineffective tactics.
George Ford was masterful in the opening stages of both games, laying on beautiful passes and attacking the line. He was largely involved in all of England’s opening tries, which helped build quick leads.
Ford’s problem is he vanishes from the game just as quickly, failing to maintain control with tactically poor decisions.
With momentum swings flowing against England, they just need to hold the ball when they get possession back. Instead, they throw possession away with poor kicking, asking for more Springbok punishment.
Great sides find a weakness and then go after that weakness relentlessly. England could not be stopped with width and clinical passing early in both games. They looked far better with ball in hand, stretching to the edges. Despite finding South Africa’s weakness, they continued to revert back to conservative rugby. George Ford and Elliot Daly were instrumental in throwing these games away by failing to make good decisions around when to kick and when not to, and failing to execute effectively when they did make the right decision.
Ford proved he is a skillful playmaker with excellent passing and timing that England can build the attack around. The problem has been managing the flow of the game and maintaining control. It is either Eddie Jones’s game plan or Ford’s inability to read the situation.
With the series lost and the third test an opportunity to experiment, there are two potential changes England can make. They have the best ball-playing 10 in the Premiership in Danny Cipriani available and the current Premiership winning 10 in Owen Farrell.
England could continue with the double-barrelled playmaker approach with Cipriani elevated to the starting lineup while Farrell sticks to 12. The Gloucester-bound flyhalf is a possession-based player, who is a natural passer with a Midas touch. At Wasps, he played his best rugby in a ball-retention system with limited kicking duties.
Cipriani’s first touch of his 12-minute cameo in the second test was a line break assist in the midfield, effortlessly putting Daly into the clear, where Daly blew a certain try by not passing. He followed that up with more attacking intent, probing the line and facilitating runners. He even floated out wider to allow Farrell to play his natural game at first receiver.
This combination looked promising for a few fleeting minutes and is worth exploring more over 80 minutes. With Cipriani adept at manipulating overlaps on the edge, Farrell can get closer to the action and play a lot more first receiver than he does with Ford.
Farrell is more than capable with the kicking duties, allowing Cipriani to play similar to his role at Wasps.
The second option is to give Farrell the reigns at 10 and bring in a crash-and-bash type of 12 but with a lack of them in this squad, it will be difficult. Henry Slade and Alex Lozowski are not that type of midfielder. The best option with this squad appears to be starting Cipriani at 10 with Farrell at 12, but playing a flexible game with Cipriani as a quasi-fullback in attack.
Eddie Jones described the second test as a horror movie on re-run. If he wants to miss the third instalment he needs to change up the script and the cast.
Sign up to our mailing list here and we’ll keep you up to the minute with weekly updates from the world of rugby.