Alistair Stokes analyses and breaks down England's loss in round four of the 2018 Six Nations in Paris and what it will take for Eddie Jones to fix the issues plaguing his side.
It seems the green and prosperous lands in which the English rugby team resided have wasted away to a barren, uninhabitable terrain in almost apocalyptic fashion over the last two months, with England facing the possibility of finishing in fifth place in the Six Nations despite going into the tournament as favourites. At least, this is the reaction across fans and the media alike.
In case you missed it (where the hell were you?), England ran aground in their Six Nations game with France at the Stade de France last Saturday 22-16. The bigger they are the harder they fall, and boy did Eddie Jones fall. The England head coach has gone from world coach of the year to the supposed bane of England.
We analyse the defeat, what went wrong, what went right and how can it be fixed.
Needless penalties and uncharacteristic mistakes
In 2016 Eddie Jones enjoyed a stunning first year in charge, storming to a Grand Slam, an undefeated tour to Australia and Autumn International period. It seemed 'Eddie's England' had become world beaters almost overnight and could do no wrong in the eyes of many. Smart decisions, accurate and powerful displays set them apart from all but the All Blacks, showing a stunning turnaround in such a short time period.
Unfortunately, two years later the story is quite the opposite, with needless penalties and uncharacteristic errors plaguing the side. British and Irish Lions starter Mako Vunipola was handed the vice captain's role ahead of 'Le Crunch', having enjoyed a stand out 24 months for England, the Lions and Saracens. However, on Saturday he was as guilty as any other for committing the types of mistakes that keep coaches reaching for the Gaviscon.
Below we see Vunipola penalised by referee Jaco Peyper for a double movement, making further ground after being tackled by French openside Yacouba Camara.
Mako Vunipola penalised for not releasing and continuing after being tackled.
The next error that saw English momentum morph into French attack was the moment Lions' test starters Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly got their wires crossed at set piece.
Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly get their wires crossed and hand the ball back to France with open space to run at.
An atypical mistake from an otherwise well oiled strike move. This can perhaps be put down to Daly's first return from injury after nearly three months, but nevertheless, cost England promising field position and a scoring opportunity.
Another of England's Lions starters is culpable next, with Jamie George also guilty of a double movement after being tackled.
Jamie George commits a double movement after being tackled by Basteraud and is fortunate Jaco Peyper was already playing the advantage for France pulling down the maul. Farrell slots a penalty for a 9-3 lead.
The 27-year-old is fortunate that Peyper was playing advantage for France pulling down the maul. England's clinical edge from 2016 is beginning to truly fade from the pitch performances.
Another example of an error in execution is Danny Care's clearance kick. Care's trajectory is not shallow enough and allows France's number eight Marco Tauleigne plenty of room to charge at England's right wing, Jonny May. It is fortuitous May is an excellent tackler.
After Launchbury takes in the kick-off, Care's box kick is too far and allows Tauleigne a run up at Jonny May, who does well to put the Frenchman down.
Care's kick should have had more of an upwards trajectory and longer hang time, allowing May to either compete or hit Tauleigne as he catches the ball. This is something Care has proven he can do, especially after his outstanding performance from the boot against Wales, but his inconsistency is the issue here.
The next and final error we will be highlighting is again from George. Usually renowned for his skills both from the hand and with the boot, the Saracens hooker drops a simple pass and allows Yacouba Camara to pounce on the ball and make plenty of ground.
An uncharacteristic knock-on from Jamie George that allows Camara to make ground yet again.
These are just a few examples of the issues littered throughout England's performance, the final of which coming from bench hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie, knocking the ball on at the French try line when there was an overlap on the right side that could have seen a late England victory and the hopes of a second place victory in the tournament.
Break down at the breakdown
After being embarrassed at the breakdown by Scotland at Murrayfield in the previous fixture, you would have expected England to arrive in Paris with an altered game plan when approaching the ruck. Alas, no such luck.
Once again, Jones' charges were thoroughly outplayed by their opponents. They conceded turnovers, failed to prevent the slowdown of their own ball or impede France's possession.
But why is this happening? Why are England quite so far behind the likes of Scotland and France?
England rely heavily on their one-out-carriers and while these are currently not executed at an appropriate pace, it is not the biggest issue here. English carriers are not being supported well enough, or at least, not after the opening few minutes.
Below we see Joe Launchbury carry into the French defensive line and is turned over by Tauleigne.
Launchbury makes the hard yards but is not supported by his teammates, allowing Marco Tauleigne to win the turnover.
Launchbury's carry was not feeble by any means, in fact, sending the opposition's prop backwards is the sign of a strong carrier. However, the issue is not with the carrying, but the support.
When Launchbury sets off, the closest supporting forward is five metres away and has to be yelled at by Farrell to assist Launchbury. With no one able to secure the ruck shortly following the carry, it is an easy job for the French number eight to latch onto the ball and look for the penalty.
This should not be laid at the feet of Cole alone. In this situation it is the responsibility of Care to decide whether passing to the runner is the right option and with no support around Launchbury, it clearly wasn't. Launchbury himself must take part of the blame here, it is also his responsibility to ensure he is not running away from his support and should be checking he has men with him before setting off.
This is a chronic issue in England's game and is a simple one to fix, yet time and time again these same issues arise. Here is another example of the frailties at the ruck.
Vunipola carries into the imposing frame of the French centre within his opposition's 22, but is again met with a lack of support and concedes the turnover.
Vunipola is hammered by the French defenders, George Ford is left to shift Basteraud off the ball. Turnover France.
Not only is the support not quick enough, but the first man there is the smallest man on the pitch. George Ford attempts to clear out a man 36kg his senior. This was only ever going to end one way.
All in all, there is an issue with not only the players' decision making but the system itself. It's crucial England rectify these frailties if they are to retain any shred of hope to win the World Cup in 2019.
The squad are not incapable of performing at the breakdown and have the staff to cause the opposition issues. While he may not be a turnover king, James Haskell demonstrated levels of nous and skullduggery at the breakdown when he made his appearance from the bench.
France were not only competing and stealing England's ball all day but were also making a nuisance of themselves by impeding the English clearers.
Here we see Wenceslas Lauret on the wrong side of the ruck, preventing Chris Robshaw from finding stable footing. The England openside is unable to either get to the ruck before Guirado and Poirot or to effectively clear the front row duo once clamped on. Not an isolated incident and something that Peyper did not deem an infringement, but did plenty of damage to England's possession throughout the 80.
Haskell returned in kind once on the pitch, doing his part to deny France further front-foot ball.
Haskell emulates the French breakdown, lying on the wrong side of the ruck and slowing down French ball.
Here we see Haskell drop onto the wrong side of the tackle, denying Maxime Machenaud quick ball and allowing the English defence to set.
Prior to Haskell's arrival, England failed to adapt to the referee and how the breakdown was interpreted on the day. The French did not make the same mistake and while they were penalised for their more obvious infringements, were able to inflict volumes of damage to English ball. Here we see Sebastien Vahaamahina go off his feet and play the ball on the ground.
Vahaamahina competes whilst not supporting body weight and plays the ball on the ground. Jaco Peyper happy to let play continue.
While you could criticise Peyper for not penalising this, the biggest issue is not the officiating, but the reaction of the team. Jones' side should have returned in kind with skullduggery and dark arts befitting their title of a top three side in the world.
The return of Haskell to the starting lineup and the return of Billy Vunipola or even the inclusion of Don Armand at eight will go some way to rectifying the issues. But bigger than this, the whole squad will have to change the way they approach the breakdown and learn to adapt to the official's interpretation.
A deal with the devil
Selecting three second rows did limit the pack's mobility, but did allow for dominance at the lineout. England stole five lineouts in total, two for Lawes, two for Itoje and one for Robshaw.
While the ability to terrorise your opponents set piece has the potential to swing the odds in your favour, it clearly is not enough to warrant the issues it creates at the breakdown.
It is time now for Jones to form a starting backrow against Ireland consisting of out-and- out backrowers, all of whom have a proven track record at the breakdown. Robshaw, Haskell and Armand perhaps?
The Robshaw effect
Once again, the former England captain Chris Robshaw has come in for plenty of criticism from the mainstream media. The Rugby Paper gave the Harlequins backrow 4.5/10 for his efforts in Paris. Despite being played out of position, Robshaw was one of England's stand out performers last weekend. We've clipped up some of his more influential moments.
Stats: (starting pack)
Carries: Courtney Lawes: 11, Chris Robshaw: 11, Launchbury: 9
Metres made: Courtney Lawes: 34, Chris Robshaw: 15, Mako Vunipola: 11
Lineout steals: Courtney Lawes: 2, Maro Itoje: 2, Chris Robshaw: 1
As the stats show, Courtney Lawes also had a significant impact for England, less mobile than Robshaw, but hugely influential nevertheless.
Farrell's boot kicks England within touching distance yet again
in addition to kicking 11 of England's 16 points for the day, Farrell once again stepped forward and dragged his side to the final whistle. As he did for Jonny May's first score against Wales, he spots space in his opponents' back field and sends the ball back for a net gain of nearly 70 metres once May has charged down Bonneval's kick and Lawes has trucked the ball up the field.
The England captain also dispelled any suggestions of the captaincy affecting his game. Farrell's success kicking for sticks was 100% and his touch finders were outstanding, with Paul O'Connell himself expressing his admiration on three separate occasions that saw England camped within 10 metres of the French try line.
In addition to his responsibilities as England's second playmaker, the 26-year-old once again demonstrated his new found threat as a ball carrier, standing head and shoulders above the 2015 version of Farrell jnr. The time spent in the twelve jersey has allowed Farrell to work on his running lines and has spent significant time working on his speed and acceleration. Farrell has made five clean breaks so far this tournament, second only to Jonny May at eight.
The carry below may end up with Farrell being well stopped by the French tighthead Rabah Slimani, but it's the pace and last minute change in direction to hit Guilhem Guirado's arms and not his shoulders that makes the difference, making three valuable metres when up against two front rowers with a combined weight of 224kg.
As well as his new found threat as an individual, we saw Farrell continue to show his pedigree whilst playing at fly-half. Once shifted back to his original position of fly-half, Farrell executes the bullet pass wide that sees May cross for England's only try for the day and come within striking distance of a victory by the final whistle.
Credit for this score must be attributed to both Daly and Farrell. While Farrell did well to execute the cut-out-pass, Daly made it abundantly clear to his backline that the space was there for the taking.
Below we see the Wasps wing in acres of space, calling for his backline to filter around and take the opportunity.
This is the benefit of having an intelligent rugby brain and strong communicator out on the wing.
The only reason this try was possible was the impact of the substitutes arriving and Farrell marshalling his side up the pitch after taking the reigns alone at ten instead of sharing them with Ford. The introduction of James Haskell at openside and the impact of tighthead prop Kyle Sinckler as a carrier changed the face of England's game.
Haskell and Sinckler finally added the intensity England had been lacking, running onto the ball at pace instead of taking it stationary and slowly retreating to their own half.
Kyle Sinckler and James Haskell add the aggression and pace needed by England's carriers.
This momentum went a long way to getting England field position and front foot ball, making the task for the French defensive line and potential breakdown threats significantly more difficult. A stark contrast to England's poorly executed attack in the first-half.
Te'o was also able to make his mark on the game once shifted to his natural position of inside centre with Farrell at ten to put him through the defensive line. A well executed set piece move sees the former Rugby League star cut through the French defence and come close to sending Daly on the path for a score, with the length of the pass just falling short.
The impact made by the changes also had a knock on effect on the rest of the side, with Daly able to combine with Farrell and break through the French defensive line.
Whether this is a result of Farrell calling the shots or simply the front foot ball provided from the bench, both changes had a positive affect on England's game.
These changes should be made permanent, with Haskell or another specialist flanker in the backrow and more dynamic carriers like Sinckler taking to the field from the first whistle. Te'o must also be taken into consideration at inside centre, having made good ground both before and after making the move back infield. The New Zealand-born centre goes some way to provide the mixture of physicality and pace England need, and not just the former they rely on.
Te'o makes good ground following the turnover, with France eventually conceding the penalty for being off feet.
Te'o makes another strong run, getting the better of his opposite man.
Te'o makes plenty of ground again once he gets ball in hand.
Te'o must remain in England's starting lineup if England are to rectify the slow nature of their attack. The speed in which Te'o carries denies defences time to adjust and make decisions. So far, England have been far too slow and simplistic, looking to run at defenders' centre mass and not at arms and/or space.
All is not lost
While there are more than enough issues to go around within England's game, there is still plenty of quality built by Jones that was absent under Stuart Lancaster. We take the attack from set piece for example. As well as Te'o's break highlighted earlier, we see England's set piece make plenty of ground and create a potential scoring opportunity.
England strike move off lineout creates potential scoring opportunity.
England have a strong attack off set piece and clearly have the individuals with the skillsets to execute and build. Daly in particular is the most well rounded player in England's back division, with the handling skills to set up his teammates and the athletic ability to break through the opposition himself.
Watson also looks like a genuine threat from fullback and goes some way towards creating sparks for England.
Watson makes good ground despite running head into a prepared defensive line.
While there are more than a few issues with the selection, the back three on Saturday seemed to be the most well rounded unit available to Jones.
The changes that must be made
When we take all of this into consideration, the changes Jones must make are both in selection and game plan.
The backrow is an issue and the extended run of playing a second row at blindside is no longer viable. Robshaw proved against France that he can do his share of work at the breakdown, but can't be at every ruck. Haskell must return to the seven shirt in absence of the injured Tom Curry and Sam Underhill, both of whom still have a way to go in their development at any rate. Now that Jones has called Don Armand into the squad, he must select the Zimbabwean-born utlility backrow at number eight. The 29-year-old has plenty of ballast for carrying and along with his time spent at openside for Exeter, could make a huge difference as a third breakdown threat alongside Robshaw and Haskell.
England need a consistent performer at scrum-half in the absence of the injured Ben Youngs. Care has proven to be one of the best impact scrum-halves in the world, but has not lived up to Youngs' standards as a starter. Saracens' Richard Wigglesworth must be promoted from the bench, bringing with him the best box kicking game in England and the experience of a 34-year-old still playing some of his best rugby. The fact that Wigglesworth plays with Farrell week-in week-out at club level is yet another string to his bow and would go some way to ensuring continuity in the backs.
On the subject of Farrell, the son of Ireland's defence coach, Andy Farrell, must be selected in his natural position of fly-half after proving that he has what it takes to drive England forward in the face of adversity. Te'o must also be moved to his usual position of inside centre, bringing with him a level of dynamism currently lacking and proving that he works well alongside Farrell not only in Paris, but with the Lions in New Zealand.
As well as these selection changes, the mentality and philosophy must change at the breakdown. Carriers must be paired with a supporting forward, tailing them into the tackle to either assist with the contact or to immediately seal off the ball, much like a chaperone at a high school dance, preventing oppositions' hands wandering where they shouldn't.
These changes alongside the inclusion of more breakdown specialists and athletic mobile carriers will result in the transition of England's issues. If required, a coach specialising in the breakdown could go some way to rectify the issues.
All is not lost and Eddie Jones' anticipated 18-month transition period seems a huge overshot, if the right steps are taken, England can return to dominant form by the start of the 2019 Six Nations, if not the Autumn internationals this year. The biggest question mark now is whether the coaching and playing staff react well enough to the changes that must be made.
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