MARTIN SAMUEL: Brutalism and kicking the game to death achieved short-term gains but there was always going to be a moment of reckoning for England… stripped of all creativity, Eddie Jones’ boys need a reboot
- England’s style of rugby under Jones has long been a cause for concern
- He appears to have stripped creativity and imagination from his players
- Scotland were much better than the 11-6 scoreline suggests on Saturday
Eddie Jones took responsibility in the immediate aftermath of arguably the most shocking defeat of his England tenure, because that is what coaches do.
But answers were few. And that is not a good look, when big questions remain — of him, as much as his squad.
Jones does this. He used similar language after his other great calamity, the 2019 World Cup final defeat by South Africa. Whether it is a defence mechanism, or the event is simply too raw to process, but Jones retreats into fatalism. It was one of those things, or one of those days, as if somehow the stars aligned and cursed England into incompetence.
England’s style of rugby has long been a cause for concern despite recent success
In which case, why employ a gun coach? If it is all in the lap of the gods or what side of bed Owen Farrell gets out of, then anyone can do Jones’ job. And we know that is not true, either.
So there is another explanation. That Jones knows exactly what went wrong but to explain it makes his critics right and suggests England have been travelling a false path since emerging from lockdown.
Brutalism and kicking the game to death achieved short-term gains but there was always going to be a moment of reckoning: and here it was.
‘Look at the possession stats,’ insisted Jones. Yet England have eschewed possession of late. If that is a problem now, this will require no minor makeover.
Big questions remain of England coach Eddie Jones and his squad after the defeat by Scotland
Scotland were much better than the 11-6 scoreline suggests and England’s expected second-half bounce did not materialise, embarrassingly so. Chasing the game, they did not record a single score after the 38th minute.
At that moment, two points separated the teams with Scotland fly-half Finn Russell in the sin bin. Yet England lacked the wit to capitalise on a very advantageous situation.
And yes, the buck stops with the coach, because they are his men. If they lack the necessary game intelligence it is because he has been unable to impart it.
There are some mitigations. Jones’ England has long been centred on the most successful club during his time here, Saracens, and those individuals are not playing rugby right now.
Scotland were much better at Twickenham on Saturday than the 11-6 scoreline suggests
They looked rusty, not least Farrell, whose lack of creativity was crucial with George Ford on the bench. Speaking after the game, he seemed shell-shocked, robotic, so it was hardly surprising this was how England played.
Yet a defeat of this size cannot be put down to a small group of players being undercooked — even if they are some of the most important ones. Sean Maitland is a Saracens man, too. It didn’t seem to bother him greatly.
This has been coming. England’s style of rugby — successful in the autumn — has long been a cause for concern. Jones regards the kicking obsession pragmatically, as a means to an end, and when the team is winning the result is his trump card.
Yet England’s attacking options suggest they are capable of more. Unused to running their way out of trouble, once Plan A began failing against Scotland, there seemed no knowledge of what the alternative might be. The backs were anonymous. Ollie Lawrence carried the ball for the first time after 63 minutes.
Some defeats are so momentous they promote regime change — England’s to Australia in the 2015 World Cup most certainly did. Others raise questions about a philosophy. This one should.
It is not just a first home Calcutta Cup defeat since 1983. That was always going to happen one day. Scotland drew a bizarre encounter at Twickenham in 2019, lost by five points in 2011, by three points in 1999, drew 12-12 in 1989.
It was the other numbers that are worrying: 33 years since England scored so few points in a Five or Six Nations game at home; 56 years since they scored fewer points in a Calcutta Cup match; lowest points total in any game at Twickenham since 2009.
This speaks of Scotland’s excellence, but also of a team that lost its way, its spark of invention; a team unable to solve its problems. Talented players did not know how to get into the game. Perhaps that was why Jones was happy to dally in the garden of fate.
For the alternative is far worse to contemplate. Jones must reckon with the direction he has taken the team this last year. He must reckon with a strategy that appears to have stripped it of much creativity and imagination; that is no longer making the best of the resources.
Far easier to consider Saturday was just one of those days. Keep thinking like that, mind, and there will be plenty more.
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