A look at the big talking points following another disappointing campaign
What’s next for England?
Before we look at what’s next for England, it’s worth looking at what has happened.
In 2016, England were celebrating a Grand Slam (incredibly still only their second of the Six Nations era). Eddie Jones had made an immediate impact on the team embarrassed at a home World Cup in 2015 and the championship title was followed by a series triumph in Australia and a record 18-Test winning run.
In 2019, England produced one of their greatest-ever performances to defeat New Zealand in the World Cup semi-finals, albeit that they fell at the final hurdle a week later against South Africa.
In 2022, England finished the Six Nations with only two wins from five matches for the second year running. There have been perplexing selection decisions and unconvincing performances, with pressure now mounting on Jones 18 months out from the next World Cup.
Here we take a look at the big talking points from another disappointing campaign and assess what’s next for England.
This is a phrase that has been bandied about by Eddie Jones a lot in recent months. He’s spoken of revolutionising England’s attack, of playing with more pace and freedom. Yet did we see any evidence of this during the Six Nations?
Only Italy scored fewer tries than England’s eight across the 2022 championship. England broke the fewest tackles (71) of any team, too (for contrast, Scotland broke 128).
Marcus Smith – the top point-scorer in this year’s tournament – is an incredible player but he needs more support around him to allow him to make effective use of his skills, whether that’s stepping around defenders or creating space for others.
There is plenty of talent at Jones’s disposal but is there enough of a point of difference between the players he is picking. In the Six Nations there seemed to be an array of ball-playing kickers but what about someone to get them over the gain-line, the power to provide opportunities for panache.
Yes, Manu Tuilagi has been injured but England cannot build a game plan purely on the hope that he will be fit to slot into it at some point.
Not only did we see little of this so-called new England but there was little of ‘old England’, the dominant forward performances that the country has been known for over the years, on display either.
Another of Eddie’s buzzwords, but how do you create cohesion if you’re changing the team every week?
It’s no coincidence that the top two teams in the Six Nations table were France and Ireland, who made minimal changes during the tournament and most of those were due to injuries. The French XV that started their final match of the tournament had only one difference to that which started it, with Francois Cros replacing Dylan Cretin.
England changed a third of their team between the fourth and fifth matches. Okay, some were injury- or ban-enforced, but there were changes every week and many in crucial positions like eight and nine.
Building a successful team takes time – France have been doing so for three years (incidentally, England have had the same amount of time since RWC 2019) – and consistency in selection is even more important when it comes to developing a new game plan. Is it any wonder that it’s not coming to fruition if players are chopped and changed so often?
In recent weeks we have seen more confusion than cohesion from England.
The World Cup
It’ll be alright on the night. That seems to be Jones’s thinking as he continues to insist that England are on an upward curve as they build towards next year’s Rugby World Cup while questions swirl around this team and his own future.
There are a couple of points to make here. First, this sort of attitude, that the World Cup is all-important at the expense of anything else, devalues the Six Nations and, indeed, any match England play between now and RWC 2023.
If everything is geared towards that tournament and Jones isn’t too concerned about results right now, why should anybody care about these matches? Why should fans put down three-figure sums to go to Twickenham to watch a team that is merely ‘warming up’ for the big one? Why should sponsors be paying to emblazon their logos on shirts or TV companies be shelling out for the rights to broadcast games?
Secondly, France have made no secret of the fact that they, too, are building towards next year’s global showpiece on home soil. Yet they recognise the value of success on that road.
Fabien Galthie, Raphael Ibanez and all the players are clear in their goals, have been since the last World Cup finished, and if they are to achieve the ultimate target of lifting the Webb Ellis Cup in 18 months’ time, they know they need to be winning now. Their progress has been on an upward trajectory since Galthie took charge.
France won the Grand Slam after two disappointing second-place finishes in the championship and will no doubt be looking to make it back-to-back titles next year before that home World Cup. The win over England also moves them up to second in the World Rugby Rankings for the first time since RWC 2007.
Think about the England side that were world champions in 2003 – they won Six Nations titles and beat the major southern hemisphere sides before dominating on the biggest stage.
In contrast, Eddie’s England have looked off the pace in the championship for two straight years, France and Ireland making strides forward while those in white have regressed since the 2019 World Cup. Momentum is clearly with those in blue and green.
People speak of learning more from defeats than victories but at the moment England are losing yet don’t seem to be learning. They have won big one-off matches but haven’t been able to show the consistency in results that was such a hallmark of Jones’s early days in charge. And to win a World Cup you need to deliver performances in seven straight matches.
What’s next for England?
The RFU are unlikely to replace Jones a year and a half out from the World Cup. It worked for South Africa with Rassie Erasmus brought in back in 2018, but the statements coming out of Twickenham suggest he will be staying as head coach through to RWC 2023. The union will undertake its usual post-tournament review but is actually “encouraged” by “progress” shown during the championship.
An RFU spokesperson said: “Eddie Jones is building a new England team and against a clear strategy we are encouraged by the solid progress the team has made during this Six Nations campaign.
“The RFU continues to fully support Eddie, the coaching team and players, and we are excited about the summer tour and the progress to rebuild a winning England team.”
So what’s next for England on the pitch? Jones is taking his side to Australia in the summer for a three-Test series against the Wallabies.
Perhaps we’ll see more of this revolutionary attacking style he has been promising, but more vital is clarity and consistency in their performances and selection. Results would help, too, of course.
He seems to like ‘regenerating’ all the time, with coaches as well as players, but at some point you have to maintain consistency in who you are picking.
He said after the match in Paris: “I obviously haven’t done a good enough job, I accept that, but we’re moving in the right direction.
“The results aren’t good enough. When you rebuild a team it takes time.”
Jones now has more access to his players than ever before but England are running out of time to nail down their USP ahead of the France 2023. While they have arguably the easiest pool draw at that tournament, if they go into the tournament short of confidence and understanding in what they are trying to do it’s unlikely they will be back at the Stade de France for the final.
What do you think of England’s Six Nations campaign? Should Eddie Jones stay in charge? Who would be in your England starting XV?
Let us know your thoughts on what’s next for England by emailing email@example.com or getting in touch via social media.
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