“The lack of discipline has been very poor”: England’s Six Nations woes


The Six Nations have so far gone nothing like the predictions I made before the tournament began. Wales finishing fifth? What was I thinking?

So far, this Six Nations has been, as I did rightly predict, one of the most competitive and unpredictable tournaments ever. Every game it seems either team could win it (unless you’re Italy), but there is one team whose performance has been the most surprising, and that team is England. England’s performances have been unlike anything we’ve seen from the team in the last few years: they’ve been lacklustre, stalling and verging on unprofessional. So, what has been going wrong?

England currently sits fourth after three games, having beaten Italy but taken losses against Wales and Scotland at Twickenham for the first time since 1983. Whilst praise must be given to both Wales and Scotland for their performances against England – even if the Welsh got some luck – I am rather here to focus on the shortcomings of an England team that has enjoyed so much success as of late.

England is still trying to play a very tough, hard, battling system that is built around a good defence and a strong kicking game. In fact, Eddie Jones specified at the beginning of this tournament that the aim was not exclusively to win the competition but to use it to work on these two parts of the game, which are so crucial to the system they want to play.

So how are they doing in these two areas? Not great. England only has one player in the top ten players for tackles made, yet they have two in the top ten for tackles missed. They only have one in the top ten for turnovers won. In contrast, last year, they had three players in the top ten for tackles made, one for tackles missed and two in turnovers won. This all illustrates that even though England are focusing on the defence, it isn’t even as strong as last year’s.

England have been lacklustre, stalling and verging on unprofessional

The lack of discipline that has come from the defence is very poor. Maro Itoje gave away five penalties against Wales and leads the competition in penalties with ten given in three games, two more than he finished with last year. This shows a personal drop-off for the normally fantastic Itoje but more than that it shows a systemic lack of discipline within the England team. For example, Ellis Genge is on six penalties having not even played every minute, which just makes it incredibly difficult for England to control a game.

This lack of control could be down to a failure of leadership, as demonstrated by Itoje, but is also seen in the poor performances of Owen Farrell. Whilst I personally am a massive fan of Farrell and I do believe he is a good captain (I thought his handling of the Adams try controversy during the game and post-game was very game), it cannot be denied that his personal performances have not been up to par. He has the most handling errors in the competition and is nowhere to be seen on passes or metres made; the stats aren’t very kind to Farrell.

He isn’t quite passing the eye test at the moment also; he looks to be struggling to truly put his imprint on the game and seems to be being carried at times. This is in stark contrast to George Ford, who I believe has been one of England’s few bright lights. If it was up to me, Farrell would be rested for a game, and Ollie Lawrence would be given a genuine chance at number twelve with Ford and Henry Slade. England has nothing to lose.

As for whether Jones’ head is on the chopping block: it is not. This is a coach who has guided England to three Six Nations victories including a Grand Slam, an Autumn Nations Cup victory and a World Cup final. He is not going to be sacked.

It also has to be said that international rugby works in World Cup cycles of four years. We’re two years out from the World Cup in France and this England team is not performing that badly. Two years is enough time to develop. Eddie Jones will not be sacked before the 2023 World Cup. And England should get their form back sooner rather than later; the players are simply too good for that not to happen.

Image: Chris Brown via Creative Commons

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