England fans have got it bad. There is so much to fall in love with. If you want heart, courage, desire: England players have it. Depleted in record time, Twickenham’s white knights rose to meet the badge. And yet, as the heat recedes from a battle in which it is easy to find comfort, heavy home defeat is the cold reflection. England fans have got it bad.
Jones’ counters are equally courageous: this performance will serve as a foundation for his team’s assault on the World Cup next year. Whilst extolling what we could all see, that England’s determination is world-class, our Eddie sidesteps the real issue with ease. Are we going to give them the Webb Ellis Trophy because they want it really badly? Much like referees with head contact in a tackle, we don’t judge a team on their intent: we give the prize to the team with the best outcomes. A defeat next weekend in Paris will mean England have lost a majority of their games in the Six Nations for two years running.
To look at the pack, there is precious little to complain about. Maro Itoje is as good as they come, Courtney Lawes is revered by all who know his role; Launchbury equally so. The back row has incredible strength in depth, with talent and industry in equal measure. Reduced by one against the Irish, and then further affected by injury to Tom Curry, England played incredibly well to wrestle the scoreline back to parity. Sinckler didn’t look his best (a back injury hampering him) but his best is awe-inspiring and his partnership with Genge is world-class. The latter operates like the Tom Hardy of English Rugby. Utterly absorbing to watch, his allure exists in the way he holds himself and glares at the opposition. You can’t take your eyes off him, uncertain as to what will follow will be a smile or a swift punch to the solar plexus. Jamie George is a fist-pumping bundle of energy, difficult to stop and as good as the injured and apparently prefered Cowan-Dickie. Each one of the pack stands up against scrutiny; give me the best player in the world 1-8 and if it isn’t one of the aforementioned, they are certainly in the conversation. There is no talent issue in the pack.
In the backs, I can’t see many faults either. Certainly not in personnel. Perhaps you could level a criticism about them all being very good, adaptable ball players: Slade, Malins, Marchant, Daly, Nowell are for me, excellent system players. At Chiefs, Sarries and Quins they look great. But those are sides that have excellent systems. Is there a system that is effectively using their skill sets at England level?
As pointed out by the superb Charlie Morgan in his piece for the Telegraph – England have made 16 linebreaks in their 2022 Six Nations campaign, 10 against Italy, and just the one yesterday against Ireland. In no uncertain terms, England are currently a blunt instrument. Curiously so, when you look at how sharp those players can look at club level.
Martin Gleeson, Simon Amor, Scott Wisemantel and Eddie Jones have all taken charge of the attack over the last five years. They arguably looked their best towards the end of Wisemantel’s reign, but he also spent the longest time with them. Maybe the results will come under Gleeson but timing-wise, it does appear to be a gamble.
The response to this weekend’s game against the French sounds admirable if predictable. Eddie Jones doubts the host’s ‘bouteille’ and will try and take an abrasive, ‘knock the smile off your face’ approach to playing in Paris. You go with what you’ve got. You probably wouldn’t do it any other way. Les Bleus, full of poise and panache, are not a team you would challenge to a dance-off. Get under their ribs, in their faces, give them little room to think creatively. And you’d guess it will work to a degree. Maybe, like against the Irish, the pluck, the pride, the passion will get them so far. But if none of their own invention is forthcoming, what will ultimately be the point?
England and Eddie find themselves in an unusual space. And in simple terms, it can be put like this: they must win. The deflections onto the officials, digressions about coffee shops and discussions about next year cannot be put forth. The only thing that matters this Saturday is that England put more points on the board than France.
The past and future are moot points if the now is not countenanced. The tension will be unbearable. England fans have got it bad.