The Six Key Changes Eddie Jones Made
Stuart Lancaster wanted his team to be nice, upstanding individuals. As demonstrated by his choice of captain, Eddie Jones would much rather employ a legion of demons than a choir of angels. If one word were to sum up his philosophy it would be aggression. That is manifested in several ways, at the breakdown as detailed below and in defence.
Although Paul Gustard’s defensive system is similar to Andy Farrell’s, individuals such as Owen Farrell are given more scope to shoot out the line if they can get to man and ball. Sometimes that aggression gets the better of them. England received three yellow cards and conceded 63 penalties, by far the most in the Championship, and 15 more than they conceded in last year’s Six Nations.
2016: England penalties conceded, 65. 2015: England penalties conceded, 48
All hands to the breakdown
Even though Jones maintained Lancaster’s policy of forgoing a specialist openside, England’s overall approach at the breakdown was transformed. According to data released by Accenture, England made 21 jackals, when the tackler wins the turnover at the corresponding breakdown, in this year’s tournament compared with 13 in the 2015 Six Nations under Lancaster.
Rather than being reliant on a handful of individuals, this was very much a collective policy involving both backs and forwards, particularly with their counterrucking. As we saw with the Mike Brown incident with Conor Murray that can be over zealously applied but it nonetheless demonstrates the group buy-in to disrupting and harassing opposition ball
2016: England jackals won, 21. 2015: England jackals won, 13.
Set piece solidity
In his press conference on Saturday night, Eddie Jones deflected much of the praise coming his way towards his assistants, Paul Gustard and Steve Borthwick, and rightly so. With the help of scrum consultant Ian Peel, Borthwick turned the set piece from what was a horror show in the World Cup into the most formidable unit in the Six Nations.
Both the lineout and scrum success rates rose in this tournament to 90 and 92 per cent respectively. The lineout tally would have been much higher but for a poor second half against Italy. In their three key matches against Ireland, Wales and France, England lost just one throw in 37 attempts while pilfering opposition ball on nine occasions, mainly through the efforts of the outstanding George Kruis and Maro Itoje.
2016: England lineout percentage, 90. 2015: England lineout percentage, 87.
As much as Jones promised to expand England’s attacking horizons, they have actually narrowed somewhat compared to Lancaster’s last Six Nations in charge. Some of that is down to the fact that his ideas are still bedding in.
Also, last year’s tournament as a whole was skewed by the points-chase of Super Saturday. However on virtually every metric, Jones’ England were more conservative than Lancaster’s. They scored fewer tries (18 v 13), made fewer clean breaks (31 v 54), beat fewer defenders (91 v 118), and offloaded less (31 v 38).
2016: England clean breaks, 31. 2015: England clean breaks, 54.
Less is more
Even without such attacking ambition, England under Jones learnt to be more efficient in a number of areas. Despite carrying much less over the course of the Championship (2,091 v 2,643), England, primarily through the efforts of the outstanding Billy Vunipola, crossed the gainline 226 times, which is eight more times than they managed in the 2015 tournament.
Their carrying effectiveness rose from 36 percent to 42 percent. Under Jones, England made less handling errors (42 v 56) which meant their overall turnover tally was much smaller.
2016: England turnovers lost, 61. 2015: England turnovers lost,79.
This cannot be discounted as a factor. To be called Grand Slam champions carries an air of invincibility when England were anything but during this tournament. The victories have been well-earned, but none have been comfortable or entirely convincing. Think back to the corresponding fixtures in 2012 and 2014 when England were denied a potential slam by Scott Williams stripping the ball from Courtney Lawes and Gael Fickou’s outlandish try.
Those are the small margins upon which success is judged. Jones also had the benefit of a virtual clean bill of health over the course of the Championship, which is almost unprecedented given modern rugby’s attrition rate.
The only enforced change he had to make was replacing Joe Launchbury which led to Itoje coming into the side and look how that turned out. But Jones would well argue that England manufactured a lot of their own luck and as Napoleon once said that is the most important attribute of any general, or in this case coach
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