England sure to improve after sloppy start

Date published: February 5 2017

Eddie Jones wasted little time hitting the nail on the head having watched England scrap their way to victory. “It’s always good to win when you don’t play well. I didn’t prepare the team enough and have a lot of homework to do over the weekend.”

This was comfortably the ugliest performance from England under his tenure. Now his focus will fall on what needs to be fixed, and there is plenty of meat there to tuck into.

Rust can be used as an excuse up to a point with England finding their footwork again in the rhythm Jones has instilled since he took over.

“I just think we were so far away from playing how we play. Whether players fell back into club habits I’m not sure. Particularly the forwards.”

Jones in the build-up to the tournament stressed that he is still waiting for both England’s scrum and lineout to be strong in the same game and that wait goes on – Dylan Hartley’s early throw-in ricocheting off Dan Cole’s head rather than landing in English hands.

Those flat passes from Ben Youngs, George Ford and Owen Farrell to runners right up on the gain-line resulted in knock-ons.

Louis Picamoles was absolutely magnificent and yet there was nothing subtle about his approach.

On countless occasions England failed to wrap up his arms to prevent those offloads; although credit where it is due, more often than not they were just desperate to hang onto him as he bulldozed his way to making 122 metres.

Overall England’s defence felt soft out wide where as much as Virimi Vakatawa and Noa Nakaitaci were difficult to contain it was actually Scott Spedding, the full-back playing like a man possessed in his best game for France, who did the most damage.

Were France more capable of finishing off their chances then this almost certainly would have been a first defeat for England under Jones. All the brilliance of Picamoles, Spedding and Baptiste Serin, a phenomenal talent at scrum-half, went unrewarded.

Guy Novès stressed pre-tournament how not taking opportunities has become a serious French problem and so it was again at Twickenham, producing double the line breaks, ten to England’s five, and yet only managing one try through Rabah Slimani, the replacement prop.

Factor in that France beat close to double the same number of defenders as England, 24 to 13, and made comfortably more offloads with 17, and the fact they lost is criminal.

Picamoles told L’Equipe: “We are getting sick of saying that we are on the right track, that our defeats are encouraging. Now, we need victories to keep going with more confidence.

“Once again, there were many positive things but there was too much indiscipline, naivety and a lack of technical accuracy.”

Picamoles should be angry. His superhuman effort deserved more than a losing bonus point.

As for England, any chance of Jones being over-friendly this week with his squad in the build-up to facing Wales is already out the window.

“Maybe I have been too nice to them? Smiling too much? Maybe I need to be a bit harder. We were off the pace and it was quite strange. At half-time we weren’t even panting, it wasn’t like we had played a game of rugby,” Jones added.

“We were so far away from playing how we play – particularly the forwards.”

England’s new back row in that regard will be under the spotlight. Maro Itoje and Tom Wood were tied as England’s top tackler but the Saracen was not overly effective on his first start at six as both he and Wood rarely got their hands on the ball.

Subsequently the impact of James Haskell, met with a roar from the crowd every time he touched the ball, and shifting Itoje back to lock seemed to settle England down. It is also worth noting that Wood left Twickenham with his arm in a sling.

A Ben Te’o start would be a surprise given the success of Ford and Farrell together as a combination, but the Worcester centre is pushing hard to be considered. As well as scoring the go-ahead try, Te’o offered a directness with ball in hand that was missing until he came on.

On a day when a sluggish start cost Ireland at Murrayfield, England dug deep for the win and were bailed out by their bench. Now Jones has his sights set on amending England’s record over the Severn.

“The test record [in Wales] shows 60 percent have been won by Wales only 40 percent by England, so mentally there are things that go on.

“I have been to the Principality Stadium and it is just another ground, and so we will just have to work out why England don’t play well in Wales. Maybe it is something to do with crossing the Severn River.”

by Ben Coles