Welcome to the RWC2019 Debriefs. The World Cup is now over and a new 4 year cycle begins, but the first stage of any cycle should be looking back at how things went – what went wrong and what went right – before looking on to how things go for the next cycle to ensure qualification to RWC2023 (if they haven’t automatically qualified) and to make sure they enter that tournament in peak form.
I will be going through these debriefs alphabetically, so today I will be casting my eye over England.
Though they failed to make it out of the pools in 2015, England still qualified for the tournament by finishing 3rd in their pool.
After a pretty awful 2018, England finished 2nd in the Six Nations with a loss away to Wales and a draw against Scotland (in a match that they had led 31-7 at half time. In their warm-up matches, England lost narrowly in Wales, but won comfortably at home against Wales, Ireland and Italy, holding the Azzurri scoreless.
- Pool Stages (1st in Pool C)
- England 35-3 Tonga
- England 45-7 USA
- England 39-10 Argentina
- England C-C France
- England 40-16 Australia
- England 19-7 New Zealand
- England 12-32 South Africa
It was a bit of an odd tournament for England, as the challenge they faced in the pools was very limited, leaving a number of questions as to how prepared they were for the knockouts. Tonga provided a physical opposition, but the challenge that they and the USA could present was always going to struggle against an improved England defence that conceded just 1 try in 3 matches (against Italy, Tonga and the USA). Then against Argentina, the challenge was over when Tomás Lavanini got himself red carded early in the first half, leaving England to pick off 14 men. While England showed some dominance in these games, especially in the scrums and mauls, they were far from inspiring and struggled to get regular cohesiveness in their attacking play. Typhoon Hagibis led to the cancellation of their match against France which would have been an interesting challenge and decided the pool standings.
Moving into the knockouts, it looked like the extra rest actually helped England find their groove. Their victories against Australia and New Zealand were both built on incredible defensive work and flankers Tom Curry and Sam Underhill thoroughly outplaying their more experienced rivals, while the attack finally hit its stride in these games.
Unfortunately, England were unable to do it 3 weeks running as they faced a much more physical outfit who there were unable to bully off the ball. Kyle Sinckler had done a great job of establishing himself as one of the best tightheads in the world through this tournament, so to lose him after just 3 minutes and require Dan Cole to play basically an entire game was always going to be hard. England were pushed around almost at will by the Springbok scrums and mauls, while their defence did a great job of shutting down everything England could produce. Meanwhile, England’s own defence conceded 2 late tries to end the game, the first highlighting risk that had been taken all year of playing Elliot Daly (who was caught in no-man’s land for the first try) at 15 in place of more recognised fullbacks Mike Brown and Alex Goode – who weren’t selected for the squad – or Anthony Watson, who was selected on the wing.
Was this a good tournament for England? I didn’t think they had a chance of beating New Zealand to make the final, so yes it was. It’s just ended on a sour note tinged with what-ifs.
The good news for this team is that the core of this team are so young. Their 3 biggest stars from this tournament – Tom Cury, Maro Itoje and Sam Underhill – will only be 25, 28 and 27 respectively when the next tournament comes around, while a number of the other big names will be in their early 30s at most. Add to that the way that young English talent continues to come through at club level and the squad will be brimming with stars in 4 years. Personally, I would love to see a return for the England Saxons in order to help the young talent get more international experience, perhaps playing Tier 2 nations like the Pacific Islanders.
The big question for me right now is coaching. While Eddie Jones did a great job of turning around a team at their lowest following the 2015 tournament, I feel that his public attitude is abysmal, while a number of players who arguably could and should have been in contention for the squad (perhaps even the starting XV) were not even considered for a spot on the plane, while some players appeared undroppable regardless of how their form deteriorated. The Elliot Daly at 15 experiment needs to end as he is a defensive liability and struggles to compete in the air, putting the team at risk against teams with a strong kicking game. Right now, Jones is contracted to England until 2021, but I would rather see the RFU thank him for creating the platform for success and move onto someone else, who can then spend the next 4 years building a young team for glory in France.