What has England coach Eddie Jones improved - and what needs improving - two games into Six Nations?
With two rounds of the Six Nations completed, Daniel Schofield assesses Eddie Jones' record so far and has identified four areas that have markedly improved, although there is still room for far more.
Use of replacements
Stuart Lancaster always denied that his replacement strategy was pre-planned, but there always appeared to be a certain pattern to when the board went up in matches no matter whether the player being replaced was performing indifferently or sensationally. Against Scotland, Eddie Jones opted to leave his key lieutenants in Dylan Hartley and Dan Cole for 76 and 80 minutes respectively when England needed leadership the most.
In contrast, he gave his young back row replacement, Jack Clifford and Maro Itoje, far more time to make their impact felt against Italy and their contribution helped England ease clear in the final quarter.
Far greater tests await in their next three matches, but thus far England’s defence has been close to perfect under Paul Gustard’s influence. Nine points conceded in each of their opening two matches and no tries conceded. Against Italy, England’s made 121 of 132 tackles. Gustard’s system is not radically different to his predecessor Andy Farrell’s but there seems a greater energy in the willingness to bounce back up from the tackle into the defensive line.
Where England have also made significant strides is through their counter rucking, particularly through the use of George Kruis’s big disruptive boot. Kick-chase The margin between a pinpoint bomb that and an aimless hoof can be mighty small, yet while much depends on the accuracy of the kicker, it also requires a collective desire to pursue and pressure the catcher into a mistake.
Often under Lancaster, this was delegated to a couple of players to pursue before reinforcements arrived. What was striking against Scotland and particularly in the first try against Italy was how England hunted as a pack. George Ford’s kick was right on the money, which Luke McLean fielded just outside his 22 preventing him calling for the mark.
Almost straight away, he was tackled by Jonathan Joseph and Owen Farrell. Mike Brown and James Haskell quickly followed in a second wave forcing the ball loose where George Kruis secured the turnover from which Ford finished the move that his kick had created.
Joseph and Brown gave chase to England's kicks Three areas that need improvement Widening horizons Owen Farrell had a fine game against Italy while George Ford improved after a shaky performance in Edinburgh. Together they are showing signs of recreating the understanding that they shared at youth level, but yet there is still some way to go.
Although the Jack Nowell try against Scotland and the Farrell try against Italy demonstrated the benefit of the twin-playmaker system, another theme has been the lack of ball received by the wings in both games. Without a central physical thrust to tie defenders in, Nowell and Antony Watson have rarely received the ball in the wide open spaces where they thrive and have had to come in field in search for work.
As it ever was. Italy are hardly renowned as the most ferocious exponents of breakdown work, but caused England all manner of problems either slowing down the ball or turning over isolated runners. So too in the first half against Scotland when John Hardie, the openside, was the game’s most influential figure. The prospect of Michael Hooper and David Pocock reprising their destructive double-act in the summer hardly bears thinking about.
Yet if Rome wasn’t built in a day then Jones will need every spare minute along with all the expert help he can summon to solve England’s longstanding problem. Maro Itoje’s impressive cameo against Italy may point to a short-term solution while the Premiership's leading turnover merchant, Matt Kvesic, is an alternative option
In Eddie Jones’ opening two matches in charge, England have conceded 27 penalties. Neither Scotland nor Italy had the wherewithal to make them pay with defeat, but that will not be the case against deadeye marksmen such as Jonathan Sexton and Dan Biggar when Ireland and Wales come to Twickenham. What will be concerning to Jones is the softness of some of those penalties, particularly when going off their feet at the breakdown as well as the culprits involved.
Although he has performed well in most of his duties, Dan Cole’s concession of five penalties is deeply frustrating for a player of his experience.
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