The Six Nations is over. Wales won, Italy lost, as per usual, and England somehow came 5th. It was one hell of a tournament with some of the best and tense games in recent years, notably Wales, Scotland and England’s games against France.
The elephant in the room needs to be addressed.
England’s performance. From reaching the final of the rugby world cup in 2019 via a spectacular win over New Zealand to winning the 2020 Six Nations to losing at Twickenham to Scotland in their opening match.
England is notorious for bottling matches or underestimating their competition but this tournament was different. It wasn’t one problematic half, it was three whole games. All rugby fans can agree you can lose honourably, still give a good game, and a respectable performance but England couldn’t even come up with this for their Scotland, Wales or Ireland games.
The performance has to start with the squad choice by coach Eddie Jones. The first biggest red flag to note has to be the choice to play six senior players from the Saracens team who had been relegated from the premiership last year for breaking the cap salary by over £2 million. This meant that players like Farrell, Itoje and Vunipola all hadn’t trained and competed recently like the rest of the squad and the teams they were up against. They were out of practice and out of form.
Itoje has to be mentioned with some of the best highs and lows of the whole team. His performance against Scotland could be considered to be the only outstanding one in the whole squad, as well performing well against Wales and scoring an important try in the France game.
He did also manage to coincide 12 penalties all by himself. The most out of any one player in the Six Nations. In the Wales game it was five including three for the exact same thing.
However it wasn’t just Itoje. The main problem England kept getting flagged for again and again was proper form and right play. A good number of the points on the board for Scotland were from penalties England conceded and the reason Wales ran away with the match at the end was for the same reason. These are basic requirements of a national team and I found myself groaning every time England set up for a scrum, knowing what was about to happen.
Obviously there were some controversies when it came to the Wales game and a certain Pascal Guazere awarding two questionable tries to Wales but quite frankly you couldn’t blame a 40-24 defeat on him.
Back to the choices in the squad, Jones didn’t bring as many new or younger players to the team as some of the other nations did. Scotland were helped by performances by Cameron Redpath and David Cherry and the rugby world hasn’t stopped talking about Louis Rees-Zammit’s Welsh debut. England did bring in Paolo Odogwu and Harry Randall for their first caps but they were not utilised in the same way at all, barely creating an impact on their performance at all.
The bottom line is England didn’t play as a team. They were disjointed, uncoordinated and the technique was shocking in places. There were moments of great play, some decent tries, tackles and tactics but overall that is not the England team we are used to. I came to Scotland boasting about how amazing our rugby team was and how we were going to perform magnificently and run them into the ground. It’s safe to say I’ve been cringing these past few weeks with my tail between my legs. I’m hopeful for the future of English rugby but right now some changes need to be made.
Featured image credit – TalkingRugbyUnion