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What happens now for England?

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What happens now for England Rugby?

“I tell you what happens to teams – they evolve. Some guys will lose desire, some guys will lose fitness, some guys will get injuries and there’ll be young guys come through. So, this team is finished now. There will be a new team made, we’ll make a team for the Six Nations, and that new team for the Six Nations will be the basis of going to the next World Cup. – Eddie Jones

Firstly, before we start, I’d like to give my full congratulations to South Africa on a splendid performance, and you take the William Web Ellis back home as worthy winners. The game plan put in place by the Boks was simple, but it provided a stark lesson to England. You only need to do a few things very well to win a test match, and South Africa’s focus on their set-piece, defence, and kicking was a masterclass in tactical nous. Well done to the Boks and well done to Rassie Erasmus.

Now to England.

On a personal note, I want to say before we start, that I’m incredibly proud of my team. They have worked their asses off over this campaign and we know it. Whilst they didn’t make the final hurdle this year, they’ve gone from pool stage humiliation to one of the top teams in the world, and who we know can beat anyone on their day. They have a constant desire to get better, have been brilliant ambassadors for our country, and I’m sure will continue to represent us well in the years going forward. They also are aware, even before the final, that they need to improve.

Today, we’re going to look into these areas that Eddie Jones will look to improve over the next cycle, and how going into the RWC 2023, they won’t suffer the same problems again.

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Areas of Improvement

 Leadership

 England for me did not show half the emotional energy, tactical clarity, or technical ability that they did in the prior week, and they needed it. When Warren Gatland said we may have already played our final, he had a point. This want, was for me down to three reasons.

  1. They were not allowed to play by South Africa.
  2. Losing Kyle Sinckler was a huge blow.
  3. There were errors and mistakes in an England performance that had not been seen this year.

The problem is that England never took the game. Even when the momentum swung their way, England did not put their foot on the throat and keep it there. When on the South African line after 25 phases, all England needed to do was pick and go, work the blind, bait the offside and wait for the try. They were getting closer, and a try then would have changed the entire outlook of the game. Not to mention it would have further pressured the referee to give a card for continued South African infringements. Yet England moved it wide when it wasn’t on and in doing so released the pressure cooker.

The third point here, in particular, led to England being on the back foot, which mirrors a performance of 16 years ago. The key difference then, was England took the game, and won.

I’m talking about England vs Wales; the 2003 Rugby World Cup quarter-final.

In this game, Wales played exceptionally well, whereas England played awfully. They were so erratic, and so under pressure that they were making errors they hadn’t made in years.

I cannot begin to tell you how similar this game was to the final. However, England went on to win this game 28-17. The reason behind it, was Martin Johnson.

At half-time, in clear violation of team protocol, he let fly. He metaphorically tore the team a new “expletive” to put it mildly. His team responded to it in the second half. Mike Catt was brought on to assist Wilkinson as an additional kicking option, and England’s players started to show their razzle-dazzle.

England Rugby

Martin Johnson

With the momentum now in their court, they were smart, consolidated, and kept it. They then proceeded to strangle Wales into submission with penalties, a smart kicking game, and forward dominance.

The step up of the players, got England through to the semi-final and won a game they had near no right to win. England needed this same leadership in the final, but alas, didn’t get it. This leads us to the next point.

The “Follow Me” Leader

“Lead from the front, say “Follow Me!” and then lead the way.” – Major Dick Winters

Whilst many management professors will disagree, I believe there are two types of leaders. There are managers who a team will work for, and then there are leaders, who a team follow. Whilst it isn’t black and white as this; Managers often tend to the logical and process-driven side of things, leaders inspire confidence and passion in their men, the examples the men look to for inspiration in their dark moments. New Zealanders call this Mana, that feeling where you would follow someone into a charge anywhere and believe you could win. Some naturally have this presence in abundance, and some don’t.

If you want to see someone who has got it, even in a fictional capacity, look at Maximus from Gladiator or even more so Nathaniel Lee’s Captain Mifune from the Matrix Trilogy. Some people you can’t place a logical reason on, but you know you would follow them to the end with every fibre of your being. Mifune is one of those men. In his performance, you feel half the actors playing his soldiers weren’t acting. His performance was genuinely inspirational, and he went out like a damn hero.

The ultimate leader is one who can bring this inspiration and marry it with smart choices. All the truly great teams have had leaders like this. But for me what is quite telling, is that most successful captains have been in the pack. There has probably never been a game more than the final that has proved that old adage;

“Forwards win games, the backs decide by how much.”

When we look at the truly great RWC winning teams. Look at who the captains have been;

  1. Francois Pienaar
  2. John Eales
  3. Martin Johnson
  4. John Smit
  5. Richie McCaw

All of these captains were in the shell scrapes with their men when the game was on the line and I say this as a back. Owen Farrell is a good captain and a great rugby brain, but the pack is where the battle is won, and you want your captain there. When your forwards are getting monstered, they don’t want a back on the outside screaming who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. They want guidance and leadership from someone who’s alongside them, who knows what needs to be done, inspires them to reach greater heights and does it with them.

England player ratings South Africa

Owen Farrell can hold his head high after a solid showing in Yokohama (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Not only this, but the forwards are far closer to the referee, and the captain being here has much more communication, and therefore more of a sway in the referee’s decision making at set-piece than a back does.

A great example that symbolises the difference between England 2003 and England 2019 squad is actually the most impressive achievement I’ve seen from an England team. Not the 2003 win, but the Wellington game against New Zealand in 2003. This was another similar game to the recent Rugby World Cup final.

England’s line was under threat at a key point in the game. New Zealand had a scrum five metres from the England line, with a full complement of forwards, against six England forwards, having had Neil Back and Lawrence Dallaglio sent to the sin bin. Martin Johnson rallied his men, got down in the scrum and told them to “shut up and push”.

They did, they held the New Zealand scrum back, such was the fire that Johnson could evoke in his forwards.

Years later Phil Vickery re-collected what was going through his mind when those scrums were being reset:

“When I was in those six-man scrums, I was playing for everyone who ever helped me, everything I’d ever worked for. I’m thinking about my mum who drove me thousands of miles in an old fiesta to every trial and session and match. All the good people at school, and Bude, and Gloucester and Wasps. All the fans and all the physios. We held up in those scrums… it should never have happened, but it did.”

Rodney So’oialo took a quick tap to be held up over the line, such was the resistance the English presented. This led to an England penalty, with which England ran the ball from their own 10-metre line to the New Zealand 5-metre line, with 13 men.

That was the effect those scrum resets had on the team. It galvanised them and spurred them onto their best attacking period of the game. 

The Future

Whilst England have a few leaders in the pack, they needed their Captain in there more. The Captain embodies the spirit of the team and having him in there can lift the men when they need it most.

Great leaders always fight alongside their men, and against South Africa, England’s pack needed their emotional energy to spike.

Dylan Hartley was a magnificent leader, and the pack raised their game for him. Going forward, it would not surprise me if in this cycle, Jones promotes a forward with the captaincy. I imagine Maro Itoje will soon see the nod, due to the fact that he is always colossal for England. However, the player I would put forward ahead of him is Sam Underhill.

Dylan Hartley observes

Unwanted England hooker Dylan Hartley, who just retired (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Underhill reminds me of the young McCaw; polite and softly spoken in interviews yet on the field, a goliath. He has immense work-rate, speed and importantly, can make tackles of such dominance that you’d think he has trademarked them as his own brand.

Tackles are nearly always momentum changers, and emotionally speaking, that is what a team wants to see from their Captain.

He is one of the first names on the team sheet and brings a cool head along with immense physicality which allows him to make the right decisions. I think the burden of leadership would sit well on his shoulders. He has that “follow me” aura where he leads with tackles rather than words, and most importantly, he has time to make the captaincy his own.

Sam Underhill

Courtney Lawes and Sam Underhill celebrate following England’s victory in Yokohama (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Coaching

 Steve Borthwick has been heavily linked to Leicester Tigers, Neal Hatley is moving to Bath and Scott Wisemantel has been rumoured to be heading back to Australia as their attack coach.

Those are some large vacancies to fill! Jones has got a list of coaches on his radar and has done since before the World Cup.

England Rugby

Steve Borthwick makes use of a ladder

This is largely guesswork, but you can imagine he wants guys to come in who can not only maintain the culture and ethos that is now part and parcel of the England team, but who can add to it.

This means people he knows, as such; these are the men I would bet he will target;

Attack Coach: Jim McKay

Currently the attack coach for the Queensland Red’s, he won the Super Rugby title with the Reds in 2011, which led to his graduation to the Wallabies for 2013-2014 under Ewen McKenzie.

Hugely respected in rugby circles, his attack patterns presented substantial problems to many defences he came up against, and by the end of his time with the Wallabies (only a year), he was coaching a quite simply sublime attacking game for the cattle that he had.

With the talent and skillsets incorporated into England’s forwards, and variety of England’s backline, he would be excited at what he could do with them and could be convinced to join if England are successful in hiring the next coach.

Forwards Coach: Ewen McKenzie

 The Queensland head coach and Super Rugby winner in 2011; the Wallabies coach from 2013-2014, an old teammate of Eddie Jones at Randwick, and assistant coach to Jones until 2003, he resigned from the Wallabies head coaching position after only a year in the job. This was down to issues with players that went against the “team first” culture he was trying to cultivate.

John Mitchell England Rugby

England defence coach John Mitchell talks to Joe Cokanasiga (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Not only does he know Jones very well, but it’s also clear he won’t have any such culture problems in the England camp. He has head coach pedigree, something the All Blacks pioneered with the trio of Hansen, Henry and Smith and if they managed to get him, they could be looking at Jones, McKenzie, and John Mitchell, a hugely experienced coaching team.

He is of a very similar mindset to Jones in many ways. He values tailoring a game plan to combat a specific opponent as well as improving the skillsets of the forward packs he has worked with. Being a Rugby World Cup winner in 1991, he is also well positioned to assist the players in handling the pressures of knock-out rugby.

I believe he would also be the natural successor to Jones in the head coach role, having very similar views on attack and how the game can be played. 

Scrum Coach: Marc Dal Maso

Currently the forwards coach at Brive, Jones has been a fan of the former French hooker for years, having been the brains behind the strong Japanese scrum during 2013-2015 and assisting England in spells during the 2017 season on a consultancy basis.

England Rugby

Marc dal Maso

Jones will be incredibly keen to develop his pack into the kind of force that South Africa presented in the final on a consistent basis. He will not tolerate such scrum shenanigans again. Over the next few years, I would not be surprised to see Jones insist upon longer scrummaging platforms, to counter teams who will bring this tactic to the fore.

Combine some of England’s cattle with the knowledge of the French maestro, and we could be looking at some scrum.

Mentoring and New Players

Jones has stated it will be a new team taking the field in the Six Nations. We have to imagine then, that some of the players Jones has taken a shine too will start to come through.

Jones is not sentimental. He won’t hesitate to discard players who don’t enhance the potency of the team, and therefore we can expect for some new players to come through, much like Robshaw and Haskell were replaced by the Kamikaze kids to great effect.

To name a few, Jones will be looking to bring through; Alex Dombrandt, Ben Curry, Sam Simmonds, Sam Willis, Harry Randall, Marcus Smith, Ollie Thorley, and Joe Cokanasinga in a more prevalent role, not to mention many of the reserves throughout the World Cup. The Japan tour of 2020 will be devoid of many of England’s World Cup squad, and as such these players will be expected to step up to the fore, with those impressing being incorporated into the 1st choice 31-man England squad.

Mentoring of this new blood will be key, as Jones has had his current players mentoring the newer generation in the form of George Ford for Marcus Smith, Willi Heinz for Ben Spencer, and so on and so forth.

This will continue, so the new guys are introduced to the standards and style of play that Jones expects from his players on a more personal level.

We can also expect to see some positional changes as well.

I will go on record in saying that I feel at some point, Daly will get a run at 10. He was positioned at fullback for his distribution and playmaking ability much like Stephen Larkham, and for the past two years has been drilled in all the skills a top fly-half needs. His role in the England team means he readily operates at second receiver and is positioned at first receiver on split-field set-piece, rather than the 10 or 12 you would expect to fill the role. Combined with his speed and kicking game, I feel he has been groomed for this role, and could add a new dimension to the England attack.

On top of this, we will also see the emergence of Cokanasinga. England will need bulk in their backline with Tuilagi unsure if he will make France 2023. He has been handled very well thus far, and now the pressure cooker of the World Cup has past, I expect he will see more and more time on the wing.

This is what I expect we will see over the next few years with England. The philosophies of the England attack have been player conceived and developed, as such they are protected and will be further honed which we will discuss in our next article. The set-piece focus, on the other hand, will be huge and the major learning of this RWC, which is why going forward, the coaching of the Forwards will be of vital importance.

England’s players will have been rocked by this loss, and you know going forward, they will never want to feel this way again.

Jones looks like he is likely to be offered the post of head coach until 2023. This continuity and the hurt will aid the team in the long term. Much like New Zealand in 2007, that loss led to a dynasty. It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine the pain of this loss combined with the quality in the England setup, will drive these players for a long time to come.

Jones is the popular option to stay until 2023:

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What happens now for England Rugby?