Home England The Real England Stand Up

The Real England Stand Up

England produced their best performance of 2019 at the weekend against Ireland and look to be peaking at just the right time for the Rugby World Cup.

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Manu Tuilagi of England - Photo: Steve Haag Sports

Finally, we witnessed a performance befitting of the personnel in Eddie Jones’ England squad.

Power, pace, intelligence and some fearful attack were all on display on Saturday and a challenge has most definitely been laid down to the rest of the world.

Up front, the pack rid the demons of seven days previous in Cardiff. They were terrier-like at the breakdown, clearing out in numbers and not letting ball carriers become isolated.

Maro Itoje had arguably his best game to date in an England shirt and George Kruis’ extra mobility in the collision was a welcome addition to the English Armoury.

The balance of the back row will have been one of the most relieving aspect for the watching Twickenham crowd, however. Jones answered the question of whether Tom Curry or Sam Underhill should play on the openside. Both is the answer to that burning question.

Underhill’s tackling rate and willingness to put his body on the line was unmatched. He’s like an annoying Wasp around your summer cider. You’ve just seen him off and as you return to your seat you find out he’s circled around to have another go at the nectar.

Curry was the same over the ball. Even if he didn’t turn it over, he slowed it down. England still managed 13 turnovers during the match though, a stat that will be of significant comfort to the English coaching staff.

Behind the scrum is where the glitz and the glamour of the performance came. As mentioned in my article last week, Jones reverted to the original plan that he implemented in 2016. Two ball players in the 10 and 12 shirts with a man that can cause damage outside of them.

In 2016 it was Jonathon Joseph’s twinkling feet that profited from sumptuous ball, but this time it was Manu Tuilagi.

One of the great things about Tuilagi is that he is a man that just plays in the centre. What I mean by that is that he can play inside or outside and it doesn’t matter. Joseph is an outside centre and that is where he will always be selected whilst Ben Te’o was always an inside centre and was always selected there.

The Samoan born, Leicester Man was used beautifully against Ireland. Coming short on the crash, coming short as a decoy, standing at second receiver off the set piece and linking up play from deep off the screen pass.

Manu is a marked man but if you don’t know where he is going to be next, then it can throw defences into disarray. Watch Joe Cokanasiga’s tries at the weekend and keep a beady eye on Tuilagi’s supporting roles without ball in hand, the second one especially. Then watch Elliot Daly’s try and see the role he plays in carrying the ball up the phase before the score. Defences are petrified of him.

All of this is not possible without the puppet masters pulling the strings of course.

George Ford and Owen Farrell finally got the band back together and what a reunion it was. The passing range, deft touches and knowing when to attack from two clever rugby brains at the top of their game makes this English attack start to look untouchable.

One stat that also highlights just how good and confident Ford has become is his tackling numbers. He made 12 tackles, two of which enforced turnovers, and didn’t miss one on Saturday. Only Itoje made more (13) yet missed four in the process.

Tuilagi’s Leicester team mate also only carried the ball into contact once. That was from questionable ball as well and I am not sure that he really wanted to be shunted back from slow ball either.

Ford is a playmaker that links the ball to aggressive runners and kickers like Farrell and Tuilagi to cause damage.

Often, we saw Ford at second receiver behind the first wave of forward dummy runners to bring runners like Tuilagi and Cokanasiga into midfield channels. He’d have got stick at grassroot levels for coming off the field with such a clean shirt but at international level, if the back row can’t get near the opposition fly-half then it means that they are struggling to get near the rest of the team as well.

Not everything was of a positive nature for the men in white, however.

Ben Youngs’ form is a worry from scrum-half. Remember, Jones has hung his hat on Youngs because he has only picked two scrum-halves in his squad. Willie Heinz is performing well but I think that Jones will have selected him with a view to make an impact off the bench.

Rustiness could be blamed for this of course but it was his basic skills that were letting him down. Passes were high, low and there was one baffling cut out pass which he got horribly wrong and ended up in the Lower Tier of the East Stand.

Box kicking straight in touch on more than one occasion is also unforgiveable.

80 minutes against Italy next weekend is a must for him.

The same goes for Anthony Watson with regards to game time.

Elliot Daly is still not convincing anyone that he is a genuine, International Full Back. Although not tested under the high ball so much this weekend, we have seen frailties in that area, but most concerning is his one on one tackling.

Bundee Aki is a formidable and destructive runner with a low centre of gravity, so attempting to push him into touch rather than tackling him around the legs isn’t going to, nor did it, work.

Watson’s counter attacking ability is also rapier-like compared to Daly but overall, you need your Full Back to fill you with confidence, like a goalkeeper is supposed to in football for his or her defence.

The newly named Saracen doesn’t instil anyone with too much confidence and the basic error count is starting to creep into double figures. No one is doubting Daly’s ability as a rugby player but he is a far better winger than he is Full Back and it’s time Jones gave up on this experiment.

The result from Saturday, the performance and the eight tries will have caused global ripples but that is all they are, ripples.

Consistency is key now and with some obvious flaws that need rectifying, England are still a little way away from becoming the finished article.

That said, they are much closer than nearly all of their rivals are.

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