Wednesday 23 May 2018

Jones needs to be brutally honest in assessing persistent flaws

 

Dylan Hartley and Owen Farrell leave the field at the Stade de France after England’s defeat in Paris. Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Dylan Hartley and Owen Farrell leave the field at the Stade de France after England’s defeat in Paris. Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Brian Moore

The one thing that most people say about England coach Eddie Jones is that he is honest. I do not mean he always sees the other side and is willing to be balanced and fair at all times; he can and does defend his players from a partisan point of view when he thinks it necessary. No, I mean honest deep down - when it comes to telling players about their faults; when it comes to tough decisions.

Well, it is now time for Jones to be brutally honest, and though this might appear an exaggerated reaction to only England's third loss since he arrived, the reasons for it are well-founded.

His response to a second successive defeat of this Six Nations was to take the learning-lessons line. I am not sure whether he added that England were on a journey, but that must have been nearby, just in case.

This is bordering on the disingenuous - this squad have some fledgling players but they cannot, with any credibility, be called a young side.

Callowness cannot be made an excuse for players who have more than 40 caps.

The unpalatable fact is that the flaws exploited by an average but physically powerful France team were not ones that were a surprise.

They were ones that were supposed to have been addressed and cannot be explained away by pretending they were encountered for the first time. You cannot claim that the issues of the penalty count and the breakdown are alien concepts.

Penalties, 16; turnovers conceded, 11; runovers won, three; and that, by and large, is the explanation for the loss.

But let us dig deeper, because these two points are interlinked, and not until you identify this do you see why it is even more important that the players also understand. Nearly half of England's penalties were given away while in possession - an incredible statistic, but explicable. In the previous game, England were given a demonstration of effectiveness at the breakdown and it is said that the squad worked extensively on this area.

Thank goodness for that - just imagine how bad they would have been without it. As it was, they still suffered badly at the hands of Mathieu Bastareaud and Yacouba Camara, in particular.

In the modern game you can plan several phases, and all sides do this. You have already identified which players will take the ball in and which will support the carrier. It is what happens after the planned phases that is causing England inordinate problems.

England ball-carriers were penalised many times for holding on to the ball as they had run away from support, or the nearest players did not recognise that they should be clearing at the breakdown - or, if they did, they were not quick or effective enough in doing so.

The best way to stop huge players such as Camara causing trouble is to hit them just before they get into position over the ball, but England do not do this well. Once such a player is there, you cannot expect a George Ford to take him out on his own; England need to have pairs of men hitting the same player to have any real chance of freeing up the ball.

If you go through the replay footage of the game you can see how many times England get this wrong, how many times players are too late to identify the role they should be playing in or around the breakdown; how many times individual players are left to try to do almost impossible clearing jobs in isolation.

As a result, penalties are regularly given away for what is effectively just poor technique.

England need, as a team, to develop their breakdown game to the point where the nearest two players in the loose instinctively go in to support the ball-carrier and effectively clear out the first opposition player to contest the ball.

Ireland do this as well, if not better, than any side in the world.

The absence of captain Dylan Hartley was not felt, and after scrutinising the performance of another stalwart, Dan Cole, it is time for Jones to look honestly at what those players are contributing.

Can anyone identify the last club game in which either played so effectively that, without knowing who they were, you thought 'that guy should be playing for England'?

When was the last time England's front row put away decent opposition? The answers take some finding, but can that be right, given England's target of being the best in the world? (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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