RW looks at how the personalities of the two coaches – Stuart Lancaster and Eddie Jones – have been imprinted on their England teams

The personality of a coach is always expressed in the way his side plays. When a coach leaves his job under a cloud, as Stuart Lancaster did with England after a disastrous World Cup, the picture of his time in charge – and the nature of the personality that produced it – is typically distorted or revised by how it all ended.

What do stats tell us about Stuart Lancaster’s England, and the difference between them and the new Eddie Jones version? The 2014 Six Nations was the last time England played the same panel of matches as in 2016. The three games against Scotland, Italy and Ireland produced the following results:

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This table reveals a lot about both the comparative level of performance and team personality:

  • There is no difference in level of performance. The average number of tries scored/conceded (both +8 tries), and the average scoreline are remarkably similar to one another.
  • Lancaster’s England more expansive on attack. The number of clean breaks and offloads shows that Lancaster’s team were more ambitious in attack, offloading on average ten more times per game than Eddie Jones’s England and creating on average three more line breaks per match.
  • The turnover/discipline balance. Lancaster’s England gave up as many turnovers as they generated but only conceded an average of nine penalties per game. Eddie Jones’s side have an average plus-five giveaway/takeaway ratio, but have conceded an average of four more penalties per game (plus two yellow cards against Ireland).
 James Haskell

Crossing the line: James Haskell was yellow-carded against Ireland. Photo: Getty Images

What does this say about the personalities of the two coaches? Lancaster built a disciplined side with strong attacking aspirations, but one which lacked the ability to control the ball consistently and did not push the boundaries hard enough in the effort to get it back once it had been lost. Eddie Jones’s England are far more controlled and less expansive with ball in hand. They will tread the borders of legality to create turnovers but a lack of discipline hangs over the team like a dark spectre.

On the one hand Stuart Lancaster – honest and correct as the day is long and with a strong vision of what England could become, but unwilling to bend the law in critical areas and at critical times. On the other Eddie Jones – clever and confrontational and wanting control at all times, but sometimes losing his sense of boundaries, as much in his press conferences as in the team built in his image.

With the decisive match of the Six Nations, England versus Wales at Twickenham, hovering into view, Wales coach Warren Gatland has his own issues with the personality of his team. The dominant personality in Gatland’s coaching group has always appeared to be the outstanding defence coach Shaun Edwards. Under his watch Wales conceded only three tries in five World Cup matches. Wales are very like Edwards – tough to the point of cussedness, resourceful, blunt and brutal.

Wales tackle

Red wall: Uini Atonio is tackled by Gethin Jenkins during Wales’ win over France. Photo: Getty Images

However, for all their riotous success in the Six Nations since 2008, Gatland knows that Wales need to expand their game to challenge the southern hemisphere superpowers and improve their record of two wins in 30 matches against New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. This means changing the personality of his team, adding some finesse and, to some degree, getting beyond Shaun Edwards. The England game will bring this transition into focus pretty sharply.

Will Wales’ attacking transplant come good in time for the Twickenham showdown? Will England’s aggression and intelligence be fatally undermined by their lawlessness and ill-discipline? Is Eddie Jones truly capable of exceeding the performance benchmark set by Stuart Lancaster? These are all questions for the future, whether near or far!

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  • Chris Miller

    I think it is too early to make a comparison. The reason there is very little objective difference in the numbers was because both coaches would have been expected to get the results achieved in the respective three games you have highlighted. Lancaster could not get England to perform under intense pressure and they were unable to get over that hump. It will be interesting to see what EJ does in the next two games. I think the difference will be visible. Under pressure, players need to understand what they are doing in a fundamental and basic sense. They also need to have absolute confidence and blind loyalty to it. I see that developing now. Subjectively, I see a coach with a more astute tactical mind and a better set of coaches around him. I see a coach who make great substitutions and adjustments at half time, which become increasingly important as the pressure rises. These advantages provided by Jones will start to be seen (I hope!).

  • Nick Bishop

    “Anyway, thanks for taking the time to reply, and I look forward to more analyses like the one you did for the Scotland game!”

    No guarantees I ‘m afraid – strictly take it or leave it basis 😀

  • Nick Bishop

    It will certainly be interesting to see who Eddie Jones picks at 10 once Manu Tuilagi becomes regularly available – will he have to choose between Ford and Farrell and leave one of them out permanently? This choice may become a reality as early as the France 6N game…

  • Richard Hamerton-Stove

    A decent assessment which rightly points out that Eddie’s team hasn’t really done anything more in the six nations than the one he inherited. Of course the team hasn’t really been stretched just yet as Italy fell away and Ireland were missing so many players.

    However, I do think that there is plenty of cause for optimism and its mainly in the playing style and the exemplars of that style in the team. Picking and sticking with George Ford is a great idea. He’s clearly not on top form but as Sexton showed last week its critical to have your best ‘vision’ player getting the ball most. Lancaster’s failure to back Ford in the world cup showed his lack of conviction and in due course Jones will be rewarded with Ford turning games in way that Lancaster never really wanted to happen.

    Jones is also lucky in having Vunipola, not so much for his amazing form but because he allows the back row to be somewhat imbalanced and still function. Lancaster never got his backrow selection right because of his loyalty to Robshaw and his, understandable, wish to play Tom Wood in the team. Jones has avoided having to address this problem by getting his entire team to ruck like buggery every time they can. Lancaster never really coached around his problems and consequently was always stymied back his backrow issues. All great teams have great back rows and Lancaster was seemingly satisfied in making do.

    Ultimately the way Jones is winning is by thinking differently and where he hasn’t quite got the right blend of players changing the way the team plays to achieve the results rather than asking individuals to change their way of playing or play out of position.
    Finally, his use of the bench seems quite a bit more intelligent than Lancaster who seemed to think the guys coming on would take up where the others left off rather than up the ante.

  • marksi10

    I can remember my first impressions of Lancaster´s reign, and I was distinctly unimpressed. So it´s an improvement on that in my opinion. Looking at their respective CVs, isn´t this exactly what you would expect? Quick fact: Lancaster would have to win the next two World Cups he is involved in without losing a game to match Jones´ record in World Cups. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to reply, and I look forward to more analyses like the one you did for the Scotland game!

  • Nick Bishop

    “Anyway, you don´t have to be an analyst to see that the whole way Jones is going about things makes much more sense than Lancaster´s way, at least if the aim is winning test matches rather than ´creating values.´”

    We’ll see, won’t we? Maybe Eddie Jones will turn out to be the coaching godsend everyone is hoping for. My own opinion is that it is far too early to tell, and that a lot of people are being carried along by the usual euphoria that attends the arrival of a new coach (the honeymoon period) and this is currently distorting their view.

    Being an analyst or a serious student/researcher of the game just helps you stand aside from those waves of feeling, which tend to come and go unacknowledged.

    Thanks for your response though!

  • marksi10

    I thought you might say that. Lancaster did not have to field an entirely new team, in fact he inherited a more successful team than Jones did (Six Nations champs and World-Cup quarter-finalists). Yes, Lancaster had to find replacements for a few players who were too old by then, such as Moody and Easter, but Jones has also replaced first-team players, namely Youngs, Parling, Barritt and Wood. Anyway, you don´t have to be an analyst to see that the whole way Jones is going about things makes much more sense than Lancaster´s way, at least if the aim is winning test matches rather than ´creating values.´

  • Nick Bishop

    The vast majority of media commentators have been comparing Eddie Jones’ team with the one Stuart Lancaster left behind, not the one he started with.

    Jones has been able to build easily on Lancaster’s foundations, which is why he is selecting a starting XV composed entirely of Lancaster regulars, and changed from last year’s 6N in only two positions. Lancaster had to start from scratch in 2012 with an entirely new team after the 2011 World Cup. Apples and oranges.

    The development of Jones’ attack will be interesting given that England now face the best and most physical defensive side in the championship next week and a trip to Paris the week after. This (rather than a soft and Les Kiss-bereft Ireland defence) will give us a much truer idea of how expansive Eddie Jones is prepared to be under pressure!

  • marksi10

    Hi Nick, I´ve real enjoyed your articles on here and greenandgoldrugby, but this one is not of the same standard in my opinion. You compare three games from Lancaster´s third year in charge with Jones´s first three – wouldn´t a better comparison be of both coaches first three games, or their first three against the same opponents? If you compare apples with apples, you find that Jones´ England outscored Lancaster´s by nine tries to four, and that, whilst all of Lancaster´s came from the scrum or charge downs, only about half of Jones´s came from the scrum and the kick chase, and five came from long passes into the wide channels, which puts the lie to your previous comments about Jones´ teams not doing this.