The great England debate! Where’s the flair? Sir Clive Woodward, Toby Flood, Lewis Moody and Danny Care discuss if defeat by Scotland was a blip or a sign of the times for Eddie Jones’ team
- England were defeated in the opening game of their Six Nations campaign
- They were defeated 11-6 by a brilliant Scotland at Twickenham last weekend
- Now they face Italy and here four Red Rose legends discuss current issues
England lost the first game of their Six Nations campaign for a second year running last weekend.
Eddie Jones’ men put in a sub-par performance and were blown away by a stunning all-round display by Scotland at Twickenham.
The chance now comes to respond against Italy on Saturday, but here four Red Rose legends discuss the current issues plaguing England.
Sir Clive Woodward (left) and Toby Flood (right) discuss England’s issues after loss to Scotland
Lewis Moody (left) and Danny Care (right) also weigh in on the problems for Eddie Jones’ side
Eddie Jones will hope Anthony Watson and England can respond against Italy on Saturday
It’s certainly not an isolated blip. Other than a clever defensive performance against Ireland in the Autumn Cup, England were disappointing throughout 2020 as they struggled to come to terms with their World Cup final defeat.
They haven’t played the southern hemisphere teams, and Wales and Ireland are notably in transition and France and Scotland have caught up with them.
To my eyes, there has been a slow decline masked by the team still squeezing out wins. The quality of their play has deteriorated.
Toby Flood (60 ENGLAND CAPS: 2006-13)
I’d say it’s somewhere in the middle. It was a Scottish team with massive self-belief, against an English team with a Saracens spine who hadn’t played for months.
They were out-enthused and out-thought. There’s been a lack of desire to attack and keep the ball.
Winning the kicking battle is a big part of winning the game.
England were disappointing throughout 2020 as they struggled after a World Cup final defeat
Lewis Moody (71 ENGLAND CAPS: 2001-11)
England have won their last couple of competitions, but we’ve all wanted to see progress since the World Cup and I don’t think we have.
But there’s no doubt they are a quality side and the result against Scotland will p*** them off.
I’m sure they will turn it around quickly. I don’t think there’s any reason to panic.
Danny Care (84 ENGLAND CAPS: 2008-18)
We all hope it’s a blip. Everyone was asking questions after the France defeat last year and they went on to win the Six Nations. It’s great that it’s Italy on Saturday — a chance to throw the ball around.
When you play for England, everyone expects you to win every game, especially at home to Scotland.
As players you know it comes with the territory — they’ll be hurting and will want to score some tries, put in a great performance and park the Scotland loss.
When England play, everyone expects you to win every game, especially at home to Scotland
Do England lack a Plan B when forward power and the kicking game don’t come off?
TF: There’s probably less adaptability in this England team because they have been so successful playing a certain style.
Their Plan A has got them to a World Cup final, so their mindset when things aren’t working is probably ‘Let’s do Plan A better’.
When games have gone away from England, there has always been a bit of a ‘What do we do now?’ moment. If you see some of the miraculous things the players do at their clubs, it does leave you wondering.
CW: I’m not a fan of Plan Bs!
Get Plan A right and don’t make it too narrow in its scope. Make sure it’s the right plan for your team, practise it assiduously and execute it ruthlessly on the day.
For 20 years or more England have possessed players who can deliver an all-court game but we seem to have regressed to this forward dominated, safety-first approach.
I’m astonished because Eddie was so innovative and attacking with both the Brumbies and Japan. Physicality alone doesn’t cut it at this level.
For 20 years or more England have possessed players who can deliver an all-court game
DC: England suffered from their own success last year. Everyone played a similar game-plan — reliant on kick-chase, defence, turnovers from pressure in defence — and England were the best at it. so didn’t need to be attacking.
Only France and New Zealand don’t play like that, or didn’t last year. Now teams think, ‘If we can match England physically, what are they going to show us?’
Teams start to work you out. I’m hoping you’ll see England play unstructured, fast rugby. At structured rugby, England and South Africa are the best in the world, at unstructured it’s the French and Kiwis.
Eddie’s prided his England side on having an all-court game, but they haven’t done the other bit since beating the All Blacks in the World Cup semi-final.
LM: The last game showed that you can’t keep playing in the same manner.
You need to have the ability to adapt to situations that aren’t working and that’s what has been so problematic for England.
They need to adapt when games aren’t going their way, rather than just kick and chase, bludgeon it up with the forwards, put it in the corners and get the opposition to play out. The inability to adapt worries me.
They need to adapt when games aren’t going their way, rather than just kick and chase
Eddie Jones and his players say it is safer not to have the ball. Is that fair or flawed?
LM: The game is always defensive, so I find that argument strange. Look at the number of tries and the scorelines being created in the Premiership.
England are finding it hard to exploit the opposition like they did a few years ago when Billy Vunipola was breaking every gainline tackle and giving England front-foot ball, then Manu Tuilagi gave them that go-forward.
They are struggling to replicate that — or find a style which replaces it.
CW: Absolute nonsense! It’s a totally flawed concept.
How can it ever be better not to have the ball? Teams are fearful of conceding penalties with the ball but the best teams welcome possession.
England didn’t smash New Zealand in Japan by playing without the ball, they were superb with or without it. When you are in possession you are in control, the other team, by definition, can’t play and can’t score.
You have to be courageous in possession. Players must also be disciplined and not concede penalties when they go into contact with the ball.
England are finding it hard to exploit the opposition right now like they did when Billy Vunipola (middle) was breaking every gainline tackle
TF: We all started playing rugby because we wanted to catch and pass. The ruck has become a bit of an issue.
You don’t want to be running from your own posts because it’s contested so fiercely and referees are on the defensive side.
George Ford said it’s like a ticking time bomb because the more risks you take, the higher the likelihood of being turned over. Test rugby is cut-throat. Teams have almost redefined the attacking zone to anywhere over the opposition’s 10m line.
DC: What I’d like to see is the players having a go when it’s on. They’re going to have to score tries against France to win.
When England are at their best they’ve got a physical edge, but can explode into ‘flat and fast’ rugby as Eddie calls it.
Maybe they’ve fallen into a ‘kick-first’ mindset.
The ruck has become a bit of an issue for England, they’ve fallen into a ‘kick-first’ mindset
Do England lack the confidence — or the players — to cut loose?
TF: I played against Jonny May when Newcastle faced Gloucester a few weeks ago. He ran it from his own half a number of times.
He would run laterally, look for space and try to unsettle the defence.
England don’t lack the personnel, they potentially just lack the confidence to launch attacks from outside the opposition 40.
CW: Agreed. They lack freedom and their confidence has dipped as well. Eddie is one of the very best at coaching an all-court game but recently England have been taking such a conservative approach.
This England squad has the players and talent — you see it all the time when they play in big club games. And there are others outside the squad who fit the bill, not least the Simmonds brothers, Marcus Smith and Alex Dombrandt.
The skills unquestionably exist in English rugby. It’s just that the licence to thrill at the very highest level seems to be missing.
England currently lack freedom and their confidence has dipped as well with recent displays
DC: I don’t think they’re being told to play negatively.
It’s maybe more a collective mindset over the past year or so that this is how the game is played and it won them most of their games in 2020.
I’m hoping the game is transitioning out of that.
LM: I don’t think there’s been a more exciting time to be an England fan because there’s so much talent, across all positions.
There’s no lack of quality, but fans want to see the team on fire and playing exciting rugby, which is not necessarily what Eddie and the players want.
They want to win in whatever way, but Scotland did a really good job of stifling England, so they didn’t have the freedom to play how they wanted.
They want to win in whatever way, but Scotland did a really good job of stifling England
How frustrating is it for players and fans for backs to just chase kicks and tackle?
CW: Incredibly, on both counts. Anthony Watson, Jonny May, Elliot Daly were not put on this earth to chase endless high balls.
They are infinitely better than that but currently scarcely get to land a blow in anger. As for watching such tactics, England do not pass the ‘cup of tea’ test.
For the last year or more you can safely leave your settee, brew a pot of tea, feed the dogs and be safe in the knowledge that you won’t have missed any worthwhile action.
DC: I felt sorry for Ollie Lawrence — he hasn’t had the opportunity to show what he’s all about. I really hope it’s not the last we see of him in an England shirt.
Everyone has this fantasy about how rugby is played and fans will look at France and go ‘why can’t we do that?’ A mindset shift is not going to happen overnight.
What we want to see from England isn’t something they can’t do.
England’s players want the ball in their hands. For the backs, that is their bread and butter
TF: As a punter, from the luxury of my armchair, it is frustrating. As a player, I can see the rationale behind it.
Do I agree with it? Not all the time. Of course you want to see them go out there and play in a way that unsettles the opposition because they have the talent to do it.
The truth is, international sport is about winning.
LM: Players want the ball in their hands. For the backs, that is their bread and butter. They want to be off-loading, making line-breaks and scoring tries.
Players will say they like chasing kicks and making tackles because it’s part of the game and you have to love it all, but they also want to play attractive rugby which people start singing and dancing about.
But most of all, they want to win.
Ollie Lawrence (right) hasn’t had the opportunity to show what he’s all about for England
What do you make of the team to face Italy and what do you hope THEY do differently?
LM: I’m not surprised that Jones has stuck with his captain. Having said that, if there is an opportunity to blood another captain and give other combinations a run, it is this game.
I agree with Danny, it is harsh on Ollie Lawrence that he has been left out.
I’m pleased to see Luke Cowan-Dickie given a start because I’ve liked him for a long time, but I don’t think playing Courtney Lawes at six has any long-term benefit for England.
I’d rather see Jack Willis get another run-out, to play with Tom Curry.
TF: I’m also disappointed for Ollie Lawrence — and also for Mark Wilson. It’s harsh, but international rugby is harsh.
They’ve gone back to type with George and Owen, who know each other really well. That gives them the chance to break up the game a little bit more.
It’s a team who now need to go out and put an impressive 40 or 50 points on Italy.
Luke Cowan-Dickie (right) has been given a start by Eddie Jones for the game against Italy
DC: Mako Vunipola and Kyle Sinckler will change things — adding ball-playing forwards — and George with Owen is England’s USP in my mind, they’ve got such a good connection.
George can free up Owen, so hopefully we see more of Owen’s passing game on Saturday.
CW: It’s not the team I would have picked but I expect all the established players to return to form. I feel it is time to freshen things up and no player, no matter how big his reputation, should ever be immune to being dropped.
However, it remains an extremely strong side who should be capable of playing rugby two or three levels above recent performances.
If they up their game and throw off the shackles, Italy could be in serious trouble.
Mako Vunipola and Kyle Sinckler (above) will change things — adding ball-playing forwards
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