CHRIS FOY: No progress, just total failure – with Eddie Jones’ selections and strategy under renewed scrutiny – but all we will get for England’s worst year since 2008 will be a whitewash review
- England suffered a 27-13 defeat to South Africa at Twickenham on Saturday
- Eddie Jones’ side concluded an awful autumn campaign with the defeat
- The visiting Springboks had nine first-choice stars out of action for the game
Stand by for another sham review. The RFU will find a creative way to endorse failure. It will be a whitewash — unlike England’s autumn campaign, which was anything but.
The union hierarchy will be persuaded yet again that progress is real, rather than imagined, but nobody outside of Twickenham’s ivory towers is buying it any more. One win from four November Tests and the worst annual return since 2008. Explain that away.
In keeping with the now-familiar routine, Eddie Jones will argue that all will be fine by the World Cup, but supporters are heartily sick of the development narrative. They want to see England winning Test matches now.
England head coach Eddie Jones insists that all will be fine by the World Cup
England keep losing and speaking with relish about how much good it will do them. When, exactly?
The benefits have not been evident yet. Beyond the circled wagons, no one wants or accepts this onus on future over present — and this insistence that it takes months and years to build a cohesive, winning team.
South Africa turned up on Saturday without a raft of their leading men and won by a street. It wasn’t even close. They had to re-organise due to injuries and player-release issues — they even had a player sent off — and look what they managed to deliver. The Springboks controlled the contact areas and ran amok when the chances arose.
Now that is what you call proper, tangible progress. Having lost against Ireland and France — narrowly — they turned their tour around, despite the distraction of another ban for director of rugby Rassie Erasmus. They walloped Italy in Genoa and then eclipsed England in every facet of the game.
The Boks are so often derided as boring, but look at how Damian Willemse, Willie Le Roux and the electric Kurt-Lee Arendse carved open the home defence. South Africa were the ones who lit up Twickenham, not England — as promised.
England trudge off the pitch after their embarrassing 13-27 defeat to South Africa on Saturday
Sadly, England were all spills and no thrills. Their lack of fluency after five weeks together was alarming and disproved the official line that precious time in camp makes all the difference. The hosts were trounced in the set piece and lost their aerial supremacy too. Even Freddie Steward can have an off-day, it transpires.
There were lineout wobbles, missed tackles, loose or dropped passes and too many aimless kicks. England again failed to launch Manu Tuilagi in attack. Near the end, against 14 men, they were unable to execute a basic passing move under no pressure at all. What a mess. Call that progress?
Jones’ players may be training the house down in private and bonding wonderfully, but none of that matters if the product on the pitch is so inadequate.
Of course it is vital that they are united behind the scenes and there is no sense that the beleaguered head coach has lost the dressing-room. His squad seem to be genuinely, fiercely committed to the cause, but they are not being harnessed into a force which reflects their collective quality.
Jones will ignore the backlash, but his selections and strategy are under renewed scrutiny
Before there are any claims of a media witch-hunt, let’s nip that in the bud. Criticising gifted, dedicated players is not a joyful activity. And Jones — despite perceptions — is an engaging figure, even when the flak is flying.
Working for him appears to be an uncomfortable existence which should come with a health warning, but he remains passionate and driven, and time in his company is often entertaining and invigorating.
But it is not character assassination to say that this set-up is not working. There is no longer a conviction around the country that the current regime is bringing the best out of the talent at their disposal.
The RFU’s corridors of power need some extra sound-proofing so they can block out the noise of growing unrest in the shires.
England scraped just one win from four home matches during the autumn campaign
English fans are largely tolerant folk, so the boos at the end reflected a loss of patience, which has been some time coming, given two successive, disastrous Six Nations campaigns. The next annual championship looms in 10 weeks and at this juncture, England appear to be destined for another grim ordeal.
France and Ireland are miles ahead of them. The gap has grown even wider.
If it really does take so long to create a truly connected and functional, multi-purpose team then the game is in grave trouble. It should not be such a tortuous task to mould the country’s cream of the crop into a formidable force.
Club form is only a limited guide to what players can achieve at international level, but it is still jarring to see high-class individuals struggling so badly, weeks after reporting for England duty with their tails up.
Some of the events at Twickenham were bad for rugby as a whole, as well as for England
Marcus Smith arrived after a stunning masterclass for Harlequins at Sale and Owen Farrell had been imperious in the opening month of the season with Saracens. Time in the Test environment should enhance players, not diminish them.
Jones will ignore the backlash, but his selections and strategy are under renewed scrutiny.
If he is going to partner two playmakers at 10 and 12, he has to let them play. And if he is going to persist with Tuilagi, he has to find better ways to unleash him. The decision to rotate the front row did not work and neither did the promotion of Alex Coles ahead of David Ribbans.
Saturday’s match was an often wretched spectacle. Scrum re-sets are a scourge of the sport. Some of the events at Twickenham were bad for rugby as a whole, as well as for England. Stop, start, stop, start. Drinks breaks. Lectures. Tedium.
Spectators will not keep paying a fortune to watch a national team and packs of forwards collapsing in a heap.
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