England stuck in identity crisis and retreating under Eddie Jones | rugby federation
Bbouncing back from a disappointing first defeat in Australia can sometimes be done. England last achieved this in 2010 when, like today, they lost in Perth to leave head coach Martin Johnson in need of an urgent salvation. He responded by relegating his former World Cup-winning teammate, Jonny Wilkinson, to the bench. England slipped 21-20 in Sydney a week later, assisted by a single missed penalty from Matt Giteau late in the game.
It gave Johnson temporary respite but, in retrospect, masked cracks that reappeared during the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. Which raises an uncomfortable question: would England ultimately benefit more in the longer term from losing the second Test on Saturday – and with it the series – than from a face-saving win that masks more fundamental issues? wide?
A 3-0 series whitewash is probably the only result that could shake the Rugby Football Union out of its continued complacency. Steady progress? One of the fittest teams in the world? If so, how come England are finding it increasingly difficult to close games? In February they lost to Scotland at Murrayfield and have now done the same to two sides – the Barbarians and the Wallabies – who have played more than half the game with 14 men.
Why are England still conceding unnecessary penalties and cards as the pressure mounts? How come the opponents manage to pick up the tactical pace, while England struggle to find a second wind or really tackle their opponents until it’s usually too late? As heart-warming as it was to see the talented Henry Arundell and Jack van Poortvliet pick up their successful first tries, the fact is that, with one minute of regulation time remaining, England were trailing 30-14 against a far-reaching Australian side. be vintage.
Is it pure coincidence, moreover, that their most emotional victory of the season – by a single point against South Africa at Twickenham in November – was achieved without Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell operating in tandem? While it doesn’t help much if England fail to make enough inroads up front or in midfield to produce plenty of fastball, the jury is still out on the ‘Smarrell’ combination at 10 and 12.
Like fish and kidney pie, or eggs and baked Alaska, their arranged marriage can’t hide fundamental differences in their approach to the game. A look at Samu Kerevi, the clear man of the match , delivering a jaw-dropping triple threat of speed, power and energy, further underscored how deep England’s forwards were and how little turbo-thrust they generated.
To say England is caught between two stools is to understate it: there are now so many different stools that no one seems quite sure where they stand. Do England want to be a big, intimidating and aggressive team that wins or a team known for their pace, sharpness and subtlety? Or both? Or neither? With just over a year to go from the 2023 World Cup, they are running out of time to make up their minds.
It’s starting to look like 2015 when England management, desperate for an extra dimension, threw Sam Burgess into the mix. It ended in disarray due to indecision over England’s best midfield combinations and not much changed. Jones, however, has yet to completely abandon the Smith-Farrell axis.
“I thought there were opportunities they created that we weren’t clinical enough to take,” Jones said afterwards, suggesting they would stick around for the second Test. He could have added that the list of Kerevi Standard English alternatives isn’t long, and waiting endlessly for an in-form Manu Tuilagi isn’t a long-term answer either. “There’s no point in worrying about that. You have to do with what you have.”
What is absolutely necessary is more clarity. Is it smart for Maro Itoje to yell so loudly during an early lineout that the exasperated referee threatens to penalize him? Why does Jonny Hill pull people’s hair? Aggression is fine, but you have to control it. Jones presides over a team at odds with itself as much as with the opposition.
What next? Perth is one of the most geographically distant major cities on the planet, but Jones will feel even more isolated should England suffer a series of whitewashes. Just as prime ministers rarely seem to resign these days, Jones is unlikely to leave if this grim scenario unfolds.
Go down to an unworthy 3-0 heap, however, and his side will have managed just two wins in their last nine games, the Barbarians’ loss last month included. Surely the RFU can sense that the national team is backing down and that Jones’ magic touch is thinner than an old pair of budgie smugglers.
Maybe England, along with the other home nations, aren’t good enough and the expectations are too high. But look at the squad sheet and it’s hard to conclude that personnel are England’s main concern. Like a backcountry boomerang, it’s more about past omissions catching up with them. Even if they win in Brisbane, that won’t mask deeper issues.