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Rugby Union

Where did it all go wrong for England?

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Thursday 22nd March 2018

Where did it all go wrong for England?

Where did it all go wrong for England?

England entered this years’ Six Nations surrounded by an air of invincibility. Eddie Jones’s record stood at an outstanding 22 victories from 23 test matches played, with the sole loss coming away to Ireland at the end of last year’s tournament. This, however, came crashing down in Edinburgh: The harshest of critics could have argued that despite most matches resulting in victory, England’s recent performances had been uninspiring. This series of drab performances culminated in a disappointing defeat to an inspired Scotland side, which was followed by an even more deflating defeat to France in Paris. The lack of desire and intensity shown by England in Paris, in a game that held such importance on several levels, was extremely concerning and epitomised England’s Six Nations campaign.

In their final game of the tournament, England hosted already crowned champions Ireland looking to salvage some pride and protect their unbeaten home run, which stretched back to October 2015. In the reverse fixture last year, England travelled to Dublin looking to secure the Grand Slam, only to be thwarted by a valiant Irish performance. This year the shoe was on the other foot. Ireland, looking to secure the Grand Slam, travelled to Twickenham and played with confidence. England, on the other hand, failed to replicate Ireland’s heroics of the previous year and produced another underwhelming performance devoid of any composure. Ireland ran out deserved 24-15 winners to condemn England to a fifth placed finish, their lowest since 1983.

What makes Eddie Jones’s post mortem task so difficult is that all three defeats were inflicted due to different inadequacies. In Edinburgh, Scotland’s superior intensity, desire and speed at the breakdown was England’s undoing. In Paris, England were sloppy, conceding eight penalties in the first forty minutes, and were toothlessly predictable in attack. Against Ireland, England simply lacked composure. The way Ireland retained possession and dominated at the right moments showed a difference in class between the two sides.

Since his employment, Eddie Jones has famously employed a controversial training method under the name of ‘tactical periodisation’. Said training method is designed to ensure that players react to crucial moments in test matches with more intelligence, alertness and sharpness by simulating real match situations at a higher intensity than what would be experienced in a competitive test match. Considering test rugby stands at the peak of elite sport, you can only imagine the physical exertion required to complete a training session at such intensity.

It’s been argued that after two years of training at such a high intensity, England’s players are suffering from physical and mental fatigue. There’s been a clear lack of creativity and inventiveness in England’s play which, admittedly, is symptomatic of mental drainage. England should hope that fatigue is what’s caused their disastrous Six Nations campaign because that will be the easiest to rectify.

You can sympathise with Eddie Jones in the sense that this Six Nations campaign comes off the back of a British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand, one in which England had 18 representatives, ten of which started against Ireland. Joe Schmidt’s side did too have a sizeable portion of Lions representatives, however the Irish coach has the luxury of greater control over his side’s playing time with their clubs, exemplified by Jonny Sexton playing 434 minutes for Leinster this season in comparison to Owen Farrell’s 1084 for Saracens.

England’s World Cup winning coach Clive Woodward regularly reiterates how much he despised the Lions tour, going as far as saying it’s the main reason he lost his job, largely because statistics show you that national team form always dips post-tour. Whether or not a fortnight in the Bahamas is the answer to England’s problems remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that overtraining can have an adverse athletic effect. Jones has already confirmed that the majority of last summers’ Lions representatives will be left out of this summers’ forthcoming tour of South Africa, so he’s clearly acknowledging fatigue as an issue.

Eddie Jones was booed by a clearly dissatisfied Twickenham crowd as he gave his post-match interview on the pitch on Saturday. With 18 months to go until the World Cup begins Jones has plenty of time to find the answers to England’s problems, but he first needs to suss out exactly what’s causing such startling underperformance. Owen Farrell’s cross-field kick for Jonny May’s try and the play leading up to Elliot Daly’s late try show that the ability is there, however unfortunately the confidence is not. In Jones’s defence, England are missing several key front row players. However, he doesn’t need us to tell him that 5th place is unacceptable for a nation of England’s resources. Jones has already brutally stated that some England players have played their last game for the side under his leadership. With their next outing coming in the shape of a three match test series in South Africa in two months’ time, how they respond will be of great intrigue.

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