A new record was established in Cardiff last Saturday: England won their sixteenth game in a row for the first time in the 146 year history of the side. To say that was unexpected after 60 minutes of play would be understatement. Wales had looked far the better side.
England under Eddie Jones have uncanny ability to close out games even when they are nowhere near their best. Against France , England were totally off the boil both structurally and in terms of their physicality. The back-row of Nathan Hughes, Tom Wood and Maro Itoje while not lacking in effort were totally lacking in regards to effectiveness. One could say afterwards that for the first time in his playing career Itoje looked average. England could not deal with the power and tackle breaking ability of Louis Picamoles who ran riot amongst the men in white. The backs too never looked as threatening as their French equivalents who played with so much more confidence, verve and ballast. Yet England somehow hung on and with fewer than 8 minutes remaining they won the match, a trick which they were to repeat against Wales. In that match too, England lacked physicality and while Hughes was able to make a few metres here and there he was nowhere near as impressive as his opposite number Ross Moriaty whose physicality in defence was nothing short of immense. Somehow they won again after a wonderful pass from Owen Farrell in the dying moments of the game saw Eliot Daley scamper in to score.
Jones has undoubtedly instilled a match winning mentality into his men, but as he acknowledged England surely cannot keep coming from behind so close to the final whistle. Against Ireland on the final weekend, a team who have been in spectacular form recently minus their loss to an inspired Scotland side in Edinburgh,they cannot expect to get away with the same standard of performance again.
They must be more physical in their approach. Ben Te’o should be introduced to the centres and Farrell should be moved to his more natural position of fly-half. In the back-row James Haskell must be reintroduced, quite why he did not start against Wales is a mystery. Mako Vunipola is coming back to fitness and despite Joe Marler’s excellent showings, should also return to the side.
With the above changed likely, in the coming matches against Italy and Scotland at Twickenham, fans will hope that England can get back in control in games and start bossing from the outset to the end. Supporters do not just want to see England win, they want to see England dominate.
They are more than capable.
By Charles Dew