There’s no doubting that England coach Stuart Lancaster currently has a huge pool of talented players to select from, the issue is that things still haven’t quite clicked yet.
For me, the primary reason for this has to be the England coaches inability to settle on a particular playing style. This has been a growing issue during his tenure and looks to be worsening of late.
Over the last four years England have gone from a solid, conservative approach to a more open expansive style and back again on more than one occasion. It seems that during each international window the side’s game plan changes and has led to inconsistency in both selection and style.
During last year for example, England toured New Zealand and looked to adopt an open expansive style of play that quickly backfired during the three test tour. They then reverted back to a more conservative approach during the Autumn Internationals and are now playing a more expansive game once more during the Six Nations.
The problem not only lies in inconsistencies in approach, but also in the players selected to perform under these different systems. This has led to England adopting a half-way approach which has proven counter-intuitive on a number of occasions.
Take this weekend for example, despite having recently been playing a more expansive style of rugby, it is looking increasingly likely that Brad Barritt will return to the midfield to face Scotland. Whilst there’s no doubting Barritt’s value to England, he simply does not fit in this style of play.
Now is the time for Lancaster to decide which style of play he wants to implement at the World Cup, and then select the team accordingly. He can no longer afford to try to cover all bases, instead he has to commit fully to one option of the other.
Ireland are currently the stand-out side in Europe, and this is off the back of a consistent style of play that has seen the same side regularly starting alongside one another. Under Schmidt they focus on a high-pressure kick chase game backed up by a solid defence, and rarely deviate from the plan.
Whilst Wales may not have been quite as successful as Ireland of late, they also have a set game plan, focussing on power runners in the backs that has yielded positive results during Warren Gatland’s tenure.
Even Scotland have a specific game plan under Vern Cotter that they adhere to, no matter which side they are facing. Whilst this isn’t yet producing results, you can at least see some improvements in the side, and an overall end goal for the side.
The reality is that England currently have the personnel available to select two very different sides, they now just need to opt for one or the other and commit to them ahead of the World Cup later this year. Here’s how the two sides could play out;
Conservative; Alex Goode, Jack Nowell,Manu Tuilagi, Brad Barritt, Owen Farrell, Richard Wigglesworth; Alex Corbisiero, Dylan Hartley, Dan Cole, Geoff Parling, Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood, Chris Robshaw, Ben Morgan
Expansive; Mike Brown, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Manu Tuilagi, Christian Wade, George Ford, Danny Care; Mako Vunipola, Tom Youngs, Dan Cole, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, James Haskell, Chris Robshaw, Ben Morgan
The point here is that there are no right answers; both of these sides could be very effective (although one may not excite fans as much as the other). The important take away is that England need to adopt a strategy and stick to it.