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England’s World Cup Hangover – A Bath Perspective
By P G Tips
February 4 2020


Eddie Jones - zip it!

England’s 2020 Grand Slam ambitions disappeared on Sunday faster than you could say “Eddie Jones”.  England’s promised physicality was slow to feature and aspirations to be “the greatest ever” looked hollow at half time and ridiculous a few minutes afterwards- staring at a 24 point deficit. The reasons were clear to see: unforced errors, poor decision-making, a lack of heavy ball carriers and leadership. But what next and what does defeat mean for Bath’s England players and hopefuls?    

The first change Eddie can make is to keep his mouth shut for the next week. The threatened “brutality” acted as a red rag to a French team still smarting from their World Cup exit. Next up are Scotland, desperate for redemption after their own dismal World Cup and fresh from carelessly throwing away a winnable game in Dublin. What better medicine for their woes than to puncture the ego of an “Auld Enemy” getting above themselves?

 

Radical changes seem unlikely. Eddie has named an unchanged squad of 35. Manu Tuilagi is among those named but sidelined with a groin strain. There has been no call to Dombrandt, Hughes or Morgan, despite their form and England’s failure to dominate the gain line in Paris. Mako Vunipola is due to start at Murrayfield but a heavy-duty carrier is surely needed from the scrum? Lawes did not convince in this role so perhaps Lewis Ludlam may be tasked with it, but Eddie has said he is inclined to stick with Tom Curry at 8. He sees the experiment as a long-term project-“we feel he can be a really good Number 8.” Indeed he has hinted that he may not want to make changes “defeat does not change who your best 23 players are” he said.

 

That may be so but the game plan needs attention, so does accuracy. The attacking kicking game so potent against France last year did little to disturb the hosts until Johnny May’s late chip and chase. France won the breakdown and although England disrupted France’s lineout ball, they fluffed too many of their own throws in attack. Above all, England need to adapt and play what’s in front of them.  Seven visits to the opponents 22 without scoring  (until May’s solo efforts) tell a sorry tale. More damning were the 4 try -line sieges the French managed to repel – 2 of them with wasted 4 man overlaps out wide.

 

One area where England enjoyed clear dominance was at the scrum. At Murrayfield they must make – and take – early penalty chances from the set piece- it may be the only reliable way of scoring in the fevered atmosphere and drizzle of Murrayfield.  Farrell as Captain and Youngs at scrum half must get a grip. Possession and pressure have to be turned into points so they need to vary the play and decide when to drive close and when to go wide. Farrell’s personal game let him down at Stade Francais, just when leadership was needed most. Perhaps he would be more comfortable directing affairs from stand off? If that is Eddie’s choice it would be tough on George Ford who was the only cool head in England’s midfield, whose kicking helped spark their second half revival and, it should be remembered it was he who saved England’s blushes in last year’s Calcutta Cup.

 

So what of the Bath contingent and their chances for Saturday and the rest of the 6 Nations campaign?

 

Charlie Ewels

Stole early lineout ball but struggled to impose himself in the loose. Not the worst of England’s forwards and worth persevering with but it would be no surprise if he misses out for Murrayfield.

Sam Underhill

Not error free, but one of England’s stronger performers. Powerful carries more notable than his breakdown work where France prospered. Made a few trademark heavy tackles. Should be retained and could be a key man.

Jonathon Joseph

Thrown into the fray earlier than he would have expected due to Tuilagi’s injury. Worked hard with his footwork but failed to find space. Will be under the microscope, but with Tuilagi, Slade and Marchant absent, his experience could prove valuable.

Will Stuart

Got only 5 minutesso had no time to show his wares. Deserves to be retained for the Calcutta Cup bench.

 

Anthony Watson

Furbank struggled in both attack and defence and Daly looked no more comfortable under the high ball on the wing than at full back. If he regains fitness will surely be restored – but where?

Tom Dunn

The front row went well in the scrum and Luke Cowan –Dickie played well from the bench. Unless the Exeter man’s family issues resurface, Tom will have to be patient a little longer.

 

Of course Eddie may decide to stick with his original selection – injury enforced changes aside. Those who made the errors, he could argue, are best placed to understand them and motivated to put them right. Whoever he choses, he’d better come up with some convincing answers fast or England’s hangover will turn into a season long splitting headache.