So – What Happened to England?

Written by Anna Muir |

After a triumphant display from England in the opening fixture of the Six Nations against reigning champions Ireland, England Rugby fans finally had something to smile about. After an abysmal 2018, supporters were left feeling antsy, but this victory reignited hope of a Grand Slam and had England fans up and ready to celebrate.

Twickenham – England vs Italy 2019

So what happened to the dominant team we saw in round one?

This article will focus on the reasons behind England’s decline, in both the second half of the game against Wales and the shudder-inducing second half of the Calcutta Cup, where England blew a comprehensive 31-0 lead against Scotland.

The simple answer to this question is; laziness and complacency, of both the players’ and the coaching staff. They rested on the laurels of a one-time defeat of the World Rugby Team of the Year.  

This campaign brought to light that lessons had not been learnt from the failures of 2018. The matches seemed to mirror the 2-1 series defeat to South Africa where England scored with feverish enthusiasm in the opening minutes of games but somehow, managed to forfeit substantial leads. It seems Eddie Jones learnt nothing, he headed nothing and thus, produced a team that severely underperforms in all aspects of the game for the entirety of an 80 minute match. 

“It seems Eddie Jones learnt nothing, he headed nothing…”

It is no longer enough for teams to empty their tank in the first half and hope that they can get through the second. Warren Gatland’s Wales team has highlighted that there are a plight of international sides who harbour tremendous athletes who are able, and more importantly, prepared to last the full 80 minutes.

In the glory days of England’s 2016 and 2017 campaigns, Jones was adamant that England were the team with the best fitness, with much time being devoted during training to match-intensity drills and fixtures. Training in the camp hasn’t changed. So, what has? It seems to me that players lack the passion and grit exhibited by their predecessors and the captains of other teams, such as Welsh captain Alun Wyn Jones and long time Italian captain Sergio Parisse.

Flickr by Maxwell Hamilton at https://www.flickr.com/photos/37413900@N04/3798233893

During the Scotland game you can frequently hear Owen Farrell screaming ‘up’ when positioned in the defensive line. However, everyone else remains silent. Why are most of the players getting away with being so quiet? And where do the loud, enthusiastic voices of England’s leaders disappear to when things aren’t going to plan? Eddie Jones said himself that the issue is “100% mental” and that “it’s not something you can fix easily”.

For too long, Jones’ tactic was to shoulder the blame himself and leave the players wholly unscathed, but it seems he’s had enough. The players must take a long hard look at themselves and Jones needs them to do it quickly.

“For too long, Jones’ tactic was to shoulder the blame himself and leave the players wholly unscathed, but it seems he’s had enough”

There was also the issue of awful displays of discipline during the campaign. Jones himself said that they “lack the discipline to do the simple things over and over.” The penalty count grows immensely when England are frustrated, and it doesn’t stop increasing, because there is no Plan B. This too needs immediate rectification if Jones hopes to see himself and this England side win the Rugby World Cup in less than 9 months’ time.

As a result of this campaign, there have been calls for Farrell to be removed as captain, with it being argued that too much responsibility has been placed upon his shoulders. I disagree. Unless Hartley returns to form, Farrell is the best man for the job, and one of the only suitable players for the job. Owen Farrell is made of captain material and if Paul O’Connell was able to spot his capabilities on the 2013 Lions Tour to Australia, then I think I might just listen to the great man himself. 

Maxwell Hamilton, Panoramio

All of that being said, England still finished second overall and there were some excellent elements to the side’s campaign. There was the emergence and continual growth of players like Joe Cokanasiga, Kyle Sinckler, Ellis Genge, Mark Wilson and Tom Curry. There were outstanding individual performances from Jonny May and Mark Wilson. Tom Curry and Jonny May were both nominated for player of the tournament.

As a team, the breakdown work at times was scarily dominant, particularly against Ireland and Italy. Tactical decisions in the game against Ireland were impressive and the kicking game was also a highlight, at times. The work done off the ball (running decoy lines and support lines) was incredible, especially in the games against Ireland and Italy. There are definitely things that England should be proud of.

The Welsh and Scottish fans could be heard joking about a shattered and broken chariot left in the Twickenham car park, but I’ll argue that it’s just missing a wheel. Whilst still an integral part of the chariot, when replaced, the sweet chariot will swing slow, swing high once again and hopefully, will lead them to the World Cup final in the autumn.

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