Jones Needs to Use Real Options, Not Wishful Thinking
The world continues to be ending, to read the English rugby press. While the England slump is serious, I find the psychodrama to be more than a bit much. Two years ago Jones was universally hailed a master. Now he must go. As a newcomer to your shores, is this tendency to reflexively venerate and then be left disillusioned a part of your culture, your English-ness? Ugh.
South Africa were not as effervescent in winning the second test, but the forwards again got the better of the England pack. After another bright start, England were outmuscled and outwitted. The frustration and pain of it was evident in their post-match behaviour. An England fan would be right to wonder if Jones had lost the plot, the players, or both.
And yet, as we noted after the first test, mistakes and poor discipline had a decisive impact on the results. Consider these moments in the game.
- Duane Vermeulen scored the first of South Africa’s two tries by going around and through Billy Vunipola and Maro Itoje. Yes, he was forceful and dynamic, but the defensive effort by these two Lions was awful. The Bok number eight was on his own, and a secure tackle would have halted that move, giving a good defence a chance to turn the ball over, either directly or through penalty.
- England captain Owen Farrell ignored a high-probability shot at goal before halftime, and if memory serves he did so in the second half as well. England’s lineout failed to reward those decisions. Good captaincy would have taken the points, certainly in the first half.
- Rassie Erasmus brought on his front row reserves before Jones countered with his. In that time, the Boks earned a penalty try when Kitshoff predictably overwhelmed Kyle Sinckler. I said out loud the moment Kitshoff came on, “You have to replace Sinckler and Mako right now.” I am no front row genius, but the needed response was obvious even to me. Would Williams and Marler have been able to keep the scrum from getting absolutely monstered? We cannot answer that, but we did know what would happen if they were not brought on to try.
Take one of the two converted tries away from South Africa and add three or six points to England’s score through penalty goals. Despite being outplayed, England were not without a credible opportunity to win the game. Only one of those mistakes is directly on Jones. Farrell needs to be held accountable for poor decision-making as captain. England needed points more than they needed gallant attempts to defy the flow of the game. Billy and Maro need to shoulder blame for their poor effort.
To read the England press, apparently George Ford giving ground in the face of a dominant pack running at him is the reason England are losing these games. The notion is ridiculous. No doubt replacing England’s best distributor over the past three years for another gifted playmaker with defensive frailties will cure everything. I want Danny Cipriani to play well and be successful. I would have selected him for the first test, based on form and to test new combinations. The wishful thinking at play here is breathtaking, never mind breathless. Be honest, if England cannot gain some measure of parity among the forwards and stop making mental and physical mistakes, no Cipriani magic will overcome those shortcomings.
What are the options up front for Jones?
- Billy is home injured. He had some nice carries early, but his overall play suggests he should have been left at home to continue his recovery.
- Mako went home to welcome a child, though his departure is a plus given his appalling indiscipline. He should not have started the second test.
- Shields is ill and unavailable.
- Maro needs to be both benched and given a long vacation.
- Hughes looks off the pace just like Billy, but brings the added gloss of brother Mako in giving away stupid penalties.
So sure, Maggie, single out Tom Curry as the one forward who is at risk of losing his spot. The teenager who has worked the hardest among his teammates in the pack, showed enough pace to suggest he might be an option at open side in this faster version of the game, and has the most improvement left in him. Jonny Hill, Jason Woodward, and Alex Lozowski can be grateful they have not played (though Hill at least will see some minutes this weekend), lest they be blamed for the failures of the vaunted ‘leaders’ of this England team.
To a man, Mako, Jamie George, Maro, Chris Robshaw, Billy, Ben Youngs, and Owen Farrell have underperformed throughout this series. Some of them have been poor. If you are Eddie Jones, what would you do?
My side for the final test: Marler, Cowan-Dickie, Williams, Launchbury (C), Hill, Wilson, Curry, Simmonds, Robson, Cipriani, Solomona, Lozowski, Daly, May, Woodward. Reserves: George, Hepburn, Sinckler, Itoje, Earl, Hughes, Spencer, Ford.