Ali Stokes analyses the contributions of two members of the back three that beat Ireland – and explains how that improves England’s World Cup bid
How Jack Nowell and Elliot Daly have transformed England’s attacking shape
England’s Six Nations victory in Dublin last Saturday has reaffirmed their place as genuine World Cup contenders. The result backed up impressive autumn performances, presenting this much-changed England as an almost unrecognisable team to the one that finished fifth in last year’s Six Nations campaign 11 months ago.
Alongside the introduction of gain-line dynamism through the likes of Kyle Sinckler, Manu Tuilagi and the Vunipola brothers, and breakdown specialists Mark Wilson and Tom Curry, the national side’s lagging attacking game has also taken a giant leap in terms of its structure this year.
Much talk has surrounded the telling influence of a fit-again Tuilagi in midfield, and rightly so, but the roles of Jack Nowell and Elliot Daly were proven to be equally as influential in Dublin last weekend.
The Owen Farrell-Tuilagi-Henry Slade axis in midfield supplies an exceptional structure for England’s outside backs to work off, seeing Eddie Jones’s decision to install Daly to the white No 15 jersey vindicated after widespread criticism. The British & Irish Lion’s nimble footwork, fast hands and a left boot that consists of equal parts scalpel and cannon bring a fresh new dimension to England’s offensive offerings.
Some may have considered Daly fortunate to nab a try last weekend after Ireland wing Jacob Stockdale fumbled the ball over the line, but the keener-eyed onlooker will have witnessed the work done by Daly & Co to pull last year’s top try-scorer up in the defensive line and expose the space for the grubber Stockdale would eventually fumble whilst under the pressure of a chasing Nowell.
You make your own luck and while England’s midfield proved adept at creating such moments, Daly proved his doubters wrong with his ability to capitalise in a fashion his predecessors couldn’t or wouldn’t have.
Daly’s skills were also on show 28 minutes prior to his score on the half-hour mark. First came Tuilagi’s distracting presence, second came Farrell’s laserlike pass and third came Daly’s measured ‘draw and pass’ to send Jonny May free down the left-hand touchline to shock the home side with a try within two minutes.
It sounds simple, but Daly’s role as a final distributor/decision-maker in the wider channels, one place inside his wingers, will mean the difference between disappointment and jubilation within an opponent’s 22 – a serious area of frustration for English fans over the years.
Daly almost recreated this scenario later on in the match, with a final, lightning-fast shift of the ball freeing up Nowell to take a run at the right-hand corner. On this occasion, Nowell would be shepherded into touch by Ireland’s covering defence, but on another day, Daly provides the final influence on three tries and not two.
Turning our attention to the versatile Nowell, we witnessed exactly what Jones was alluding to early last week when he declared the Exeter Chiefs winger could pack down at openside for England.
In Dublin, Nowell offered his presence as an additional, dynamic carrying option in midfield. Popping up on Ben Youngs’s shoulder and lending his weight to the forwards’ short-range assault prior to Mako Vunipola’s eventually disallowed score, the 25-year-old affords England an extra edge when the going gets tough and an extra sprinkle of grunt is required.
His influence is not limited to his physical and tenacious efforts on the gain-line. He may have featured at outside-centre and wing for England, but Nowell first graced Premiership fields as a budding young full-back and rumour has it, Jones has requested Exeter to hand him time in the No 15 jersey at club level.
With Daly’s improved attacking threat from the backfield, Jones would be foolish to fail to prepare for a monumental change to his side’s attacking dynamic should Daly succumb to injury. This is where Nowell comes into play. With this supposed request for game time at full-back whilst on club duty, a path seems to have been established between Nowell and the white No 15 jersey.
Furthermore, Nowell’s ability to understand the role of a full-back also offers Daly vital support in the backfield, with the soon-to-be Saracens man still adapting to life at 15 at the highest level.
While Jones’s side cannot boast to hold one of the most deadly attacking games on the international stage, England’s offensive offerings have taken a huge leap forward and, when paired with Saturday’s monstrous showing upfront, make them World Cup contenders in Japan.
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