If the Italians want a party then England should join in
Jones made a good start by playing safe but scoring tries takes more
Published 14/02/2016 | 02:30
With two away games to break him into life as England coach, Eddie Jones was careful not to promise too much. Well, Jones the Wary obviously wanted England to be the best but was coy about how to make them so. Aprofessional suffocation of Scotland at Murrayfield was a very pleasing start.
The new coach may have thought he could take a risk or two for today's game in Rome. That was before Italy took France apart up front in Paris and passed without fear - if not always with absolute precision - out of contact.
The lugubrious Jacques Brunel, stuck in the coaching job until his expected replacement, Conor O'Shea, is officially anointed, was supposed to have lost contact with the Italian changing room. The performance of his neglected team just goes to show that perhaps the coach does not have his finger permanently feeling for the pulse of the collective wrist.
In the light of Italy's display, Jones the Good Start has made only a few adjustments: Ben Youngs for Danny Care as starting scrumhalf; Mako Vunipola instead of Joe Marler first up at loosehead prop; Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury similarly swapping in the second row. Maro Itoje sits on the bench, his gentle introduction to international rugby continuing until he is unleashed and told to be anything but delicate. England have six forwards parked on the bench, an indication of where they expect to need freshening up.
Billy Vunipola was the star of the Scotland game, as much for his defensive effort as for converting awkward ball in attack into forward motion. He did not, however, try to make passes out of contact and until this becomes built into the England repertoire, they may struggle to turn forward motion into tries. They are like a drill set to penetrate deep into wood, but slipped passes are the percussion setting that can get through concrete. It is not easy. Contact defenders aim at pinning arms and preventing release.
Non-contact defenders invade the space that support runners would love to occupy. Defences had the upper hand in round one. But a week of rehearsals will have honed sharpness and heightened awareness of ball carriers as to the whereabouts of their support-runners.
It took the All Blacks time to find their rhythm at the World Cup - Argentina was a tricky opener - and it will take the lesser mortals of the Six Nations a little longer to be at home in the speedy environment that Jones is trying to create. England didn't need a No 7 in Scotland but the more they look to Jonathan Joseph and Mike Brown to pass rather than go to ground, the more they will need James Haskell to play the bounding hound, ever there on the shoulder to serve. Youngs will bring accuracy of a different kind of pass to the proceedings. His kicking, too, tends to be more pinpoint than Care's. In short, he should initiate fluency in the eight-nine-10 operation, the development of something more positive after Billy V's salvage operation. And that means a greater understanding between George Ford and Owen Farrell.
There were quite a few who remembered them playing together for England at junior level, and expressed doubts about their capacity to work together.
Jones the Independent of Thought decided that the fault for not making any sparks fly in midfield lay in the processes before the two Fs came into play. But they will need to turn his theory into reality quickly, because nothing really happened to stretch Scotland's primary defence - let alone the scrambling that must deal with what follows a clean break.
Is Rome the place to turn away-game professionalism into something a little livelier, a filler until Manu Tuilagi returns? For an hour England may be pleased to be in any sort of control, be it professional or plain old hanging on grimly. Italy are very together, their cohesion weakened not at all, even without the likes of Leonardo Ghiraldini and Martin Castrogiovanni (to begin with), their bonding agents down the years.
The All Blacks, out there in the forefront of shaping the game's future, seem to view the third quarter as the most telling. It should be said that in the World Cup final, that particular period belonged to Australia, and the All Blacks had to wait until the fourth to make their strikes. The last quarter is bountiful for teams that take to it with ambition and skills intact. It is a horrible place for the aerobically challenged, whose patterns are adversely affected by the introduction of replacements and the declining thought processes of those who go the distance.
Jones the Doubter did not think England were fit enough yet to maintain a tempo that can allow them to cut loose in the closing minutes of the game.
But this is the time to strike against Italy. Sergio Parisse and his pack can go a full 80 if not asked to stretch themselves wide and far. England have to take them there. It is time to unleash Jack Nowell and Anthony Watson and time to ask Mike Brown to be as keen as Billy V to give the ball before going to ground.
England have never lost to Italy. It hangs there, the only fixture in the Six Nations where such an uninterrupted sequence applies. England have already won in the first round and Italy have lost. Why try to change a winning formula or risk disturbing history? Take the heat, cool it and crush it. It's the England way.
Perhaps it is. But Italy should have won in Paris. And they played with an adventure never seen before. It is time to accept the Roman invitation and join the party. To give Italy the hiding Jones the Jackhammer would like, it is time to change the setting.
Italy v England, 2.0
Sunday Indo Sport