After their RBS 6 Nations victory over Ireland, we take a look at the six things Head Coach Eddie Jones has learnt about his England side…
1.The discipline must be better, much better
In each of their last three games, England have conceded more penalties than their oppositions (Scotland, Italy and Ireland). Even though they have claimed victory in each of the three games, this must be a serious concern as it is likely to see them come unstuck against tougher teams like Wales. The worrying aspect is that this hasn’t changed since the Lancaster era.
The problem was that against Ireland, England continually gave away penalties in prime attacking positions which neutered their attack and resulted in a loss of territory. Equally, giving away penalties in their own half is seeing them conceding points at an alarming rate. This is a trend that must be reversed, and quickly at that.
2.Danny Care needs to start at scrum half against Wales
Whilst Ben Youngs is no doubt a fine player, he has remained inconsistant on the international stage. Unfortunately he has rediscovered the habit of crabbing after picking up the ball at rucks resulting in opposition defences running out of the line and closing down George Ford who therefore has less time on the ball to create something.
In contrast, the tempo has notably increased in the last two games as soon as Danny Care has been brought into the action. If England are keen to continue looking to employ an up tempo game plan then it is vital that Care starts against Wales in the next game to ensure good quick ball for the backs at every opportunity.
3.Farrell actually looks good at 12
It’s likely that judgement day will come sooner rather than later with Eddie Jones having to choose between Ford and Farrell at 10, but for the time being at least, the current combination seems to be working well. Farrell looked solid in defence against Ireland and helped provide an extra outlet with both his boot and through the hands ensuring George Ford had options.
This was in stark contrast to the World Cup where Ford was hampered by the limited distribution outside of him in the midfield. With Tuilagi and Slade both looking likely to be fit for the tour of Australia this summer it’s likely we will see a change at 12, but for the time being at least, England can feel comfortable deploying Farrell in the 12 shirt.
4.There need to be more ball carriers in the pack
Whilst Billy Vunipola has been absolutely magnificent for England so far in the Six Nations, the carrying stats for the rest of the pack have been pretty embarrassing. Against both Scotland and Ireland, Vunipola carried for more than twice as many metres than the rest of the forwards combined.
Maro Itoje made a telling contribution as a ball carrier whilst Chris Robshaw also stepped it up against Ireland, however it is vital that more players step up and do their share of the work, otherwise teams will find ways to nullify Vunipola. Whether this requires a change in personnel, or just mixing the game plan up, it is clear England need to find more ball carriers.
5.The youngsters are more than ready to step up
The spotlight was always going to be on Itoje against Ireland given the media hype that has surrounded him but he largely lived up to expectations on his first international start. Elsewhere Jack Clifford and Elliot Daly both made telling contributions after coming on from the bench in the final minutes of the game.
Whilst these players shouldn’t necessarily be rushed straight into the starting XV, it’s clear that they need to see more game time over the coming weeks as they can clearly be trusted to do the job. There’s no doubting that they have earned their places in the squad, and now just need to be given the time to develop properly.
6.Fitness levels look to have visibly improved
Whilst much was made of England’s fitness work in the build up to the World Cup, there wasn’t much evidence of it having gone above and beyond what any other team had done. In the Six Nations however, the whole side have looked visibly fitter than their opposite numbers which has led to some impressive play in the final 20 minutes of games.
You only have to look at a player like Billy Vunipola who is still playing at his very best in the 79th minute to see there has been a definite improvement. This is particularly pleasing ahead of the summer tour to Australia where England are likely to face one of the very fittest sides on the planted under Michael Cheika.