Volunteer writer, Sam Peters, details the reasons for England’s downfalls in the Six Nations.
Accuracy. That is what has been lacking from England’s game in the two losses they’ve had in this Six Nations tournament. They currently lead the tournament statistics in 2 categories; Handling Errors, which is very uncharacteristic for an Eddie Jones side, and Penalties, of which they’ve conceded 41 over these 3 games, only 5 less than the total they conceded in the entirety of last year’s competition. Jamie George highlighted earlier this week how England have been playing confrontational rugby, meaning they play aggressively and look to push the boundaries, but they’ve been found on the wrong side of the referees whistle too many times this campaign.
England’s ill-discipline was highlighted in their most recent fixture against Wales, yet overall they played well. Yes, the score line doesn’t reflect it, but Wales were awarded 2 dubious tries (both of which were converted) by referee Pascal Gauzere, who has since admitted he was wrong on both accounts. Despite these two early penalties being awarded to Wales, England fought back to level the scores at 24-24 but again needless penalties gave Wales the upper hand and the advantage for the rest of the game. Before this tournament, Maro Itoje’s name was being thrown around as a potential Lions skipper, yet after this campaign he may be removed from contention. Referees are clueing on to Itoje’s game, which revolves around being in and amongst the action, being a world-class jackaler of the ball. But he needs to learn restraint and pick his battles, falling on the wrong side of the law at the breakdown far too often. But is it entirely Itoje’s fault?
It may have felt to the English players as though the ref was picking up on their every transgression, and if you’ve played, I’m sure you’ve felt this. Maybe you’ve played an away match and a local coach or referee is officiating, and their decision making seems to be inconsistent between sides. That’s when discipline matters most, you make sure you’re never in a position to be penalised, and only attempt turnovers where the odds are in your favour. Your captain answers with “Yes sir, sorry sir”, and yet as a player, that has never been Owen Farrell’s M.O.
Former England scrumhalf and World Cup winner Matt Dawson highlights a lack of leadership on the field as a key factor as to why England continue to give away penalties in compromising areas. Yes, Farrell has been one of England’s most important players in recent campaigns, but his discipline and etiquette is too often called into question as captain. The England camp needs that authority figure, willing to hold players accountable for their actions and as a result their game will continue to suffer until that player emerges.
Even Eddie Jones in a recent interview with the BBC admitted that Farrell is still learning the art of captaincy.
“I’ve worked with a number of good captains and they have all had their own way of doing it.” Jones stated. “John Smit at the Springboks was a real people’s person, [former Australia captain]George Gregan on the other hand was very much more like Owen, and he suffered the same criticism when we had a bad performance that he didn’t speak well enough to the referee.”
Yet one thing remains constant for England and that’s the way they dominate tackles. Despite having two losses to their name, they’ve been solid defensively, missing few tackles and frustrating their opposition’s forward progress. That is until they give away a penalty that sets them back 30m. They led the tournament last year in dominant tackles and that was a key part of their game plan in winning the title, something I’d expect they will look to continue in the remaining fixtures against France and Ireland, both of which will test this England side.
Looking forward to the rest of the tournament Eddie Jones has some decisions to make. Does he stick to his core squad that has served him so well in the World Cup and Six Nations in the past few years? Or should he use these next two games to experiment with the squad and gives some young players performing well in the Gallagher Premiership the chance to perform at an international level? Unfortunately, with covid restrictions in place, Eddie Jones’ decision may be made for him as there are limits as to the players he can call up, meaning the likes of Marcus Smith and Sam Simmonds may have to wait until England’s next tour before they receive their well-deserved call ups.
France’s game against Scotland 2 weeks ago was called off due to a covid outbreak in the camp, and so many of their players will not have played a full match in over a month. Every team reacts differently to having time off so its unsure which French side will show up at Twickenham. But England will be focusing on their own game, aiming to eliminate the unnecessary penalties and mistakes that have plagued their performances so far. Will we see another error strewn performance, or will it be an exhibition of the flowing rugby we have seen at times from this squad?
Featured header image designed by Christos Alamaniotis.