I read a comment on a Wasps Facebook page and thought the views contained were worth sharing further so asked Dan Willis to write a Guest Blog. You can find Dan on Twitter @danwillis1986 (the photos are 6 Nations)
So, a fourth test loss in a row for England fans, and on Facebook the ‘Eddie Out’ brigade are unsurprisingly out in full force. That tier one record-equalling winning streak is a distant memory, and comparisons to the great All Blacks are no longer drawn. England are, shall we say, in a spot of bother.
However, I still believe that Eddie Jones is the right man for the England head coaching position. Yes England are going through a rough patch at the moment, however I don’t believe it’s all down to Eddie’s coaching, nor the coaching set up in general.
Yes England let a big lead slip, but for starters, after 30 minutes three quarters of the team were exhausted. This was after 20 minutes of exhilarating, breathtaking, break-neck speed rugby that arguably would have blown any international side away. However it’s extremely difficult to keep up that tempo England played at, on hard ground at altitude, even more so when many of the side have been playing almost continuous top level rugby for 18 months with little rest. Losing against a Boks side packed with world class talent, by only three points, at Ellis Park is nothing to be sniffed at. That was one of the most exciting games of rugby I’ve seen not only this year, but in the past 20 odd years. A classic. And England can take a lot from the way they attacked the Boks as that was some of the absolute best rugby they’ve played under Jones’s tenure.
One of the most glaring issues that England have, is that there are players on the field that shouldn’t be in the squad- because they are exhausted and in desperate need of a rest. Not to mention the amount of injuries that are being sustained. That’s down to the RFU and their inability to manage player welfare correctly. Yes there are RFU mandated rest periods for elite English players, but there’s not enough of them. I’m not saying that the international calendar should be shortened, far from it- that would be a travesty, I and many others relish seeing the world’s best taking each other on, representing their respective countries, and it’s much better when the players involved are in peak physical condition. The workload of players involved in the England set up needs to be evaluated, and perhaps a limit on the amount of games they play each season needs to be enforced.
Look at Ireland and New Zealand, their big names play substantially less domestic rugby over the course of the season than their English counterparts and as a result, they are fresh for international rugby, and both countries are reaping the rewards of this approach as they are currently ranked second and first respectively in the World Rugby rankings. It’s not like their club sides have suffered from resting key internationals either, with Leinster the current Pro14 and European champions and Crusaders the current Super Rugby champions. Both clubs have a long history of success in their respective competitions, and operate on a smaller budget than English clubs do.
If the RFU don’t somehow start forcing Premiership clubs to rest key English players, then England will start getting left behind on the international scene- and they are already having to play catch-up. A new approach needs to be taken, preferably before the next World Cup.
Wearing an international jersey is the pinnacle of rugby and should be treated as such, I guarantee if you speak to any professional player they would say that their greatest achievement in rugby would be to earn an international cap. Personally, I’ve always been an England fan first, Wasps fan second. Unfortunately at present there’s a mentality of ‘club first, country second’ creeping in amongst some sections of Rugby fans, which is increasingly the norm amongst football fans, and it’s sad to see this creeping in. I love Wasps, I love England, but if it comes down to the choice between watching either side then my country is going to get my vote. Every time.
I’m no fan of central contracts but the RFU have got to start putting their foot down and managing the health of elite English players better. Perhaps it’s also time to get rid of the restriction on selecting overseas based players, and just pick the best English players available. With the budgets that English clubs can now offer their players, there’s not going to be a detriment to the Premiership because of a sudden influx of players slipping off to play abroad. The Premiership salary cap is being increased year on year whereas the Top14 salary cap is being decreased.
Some are saying that Eddie Jones should be sacked. That’s madness. What would bringing in someone else as head coach 15 months away from a World Cup give? Unrest and potentially turmoil within the squad, plus England would likely have to start again from scratch. I think people are forgetting just how far we have come under Eddie’s stewardship, and I firmly believe that England’s current losing run is merely a blip.
Going back to Saturday’s game, when South Africa pulled it back to 24-15, Farrell needed to take charge of the situation and marshal the team, perhaps tell them to slow down a little and keep their structure, much like Martin Johnson would have done for example. That didn’t happen, and no one else seemed to step up to the plate. There’s a serious lack of leadership within the playing squad at the moment, which is also resulting in ill discipline, which is something that absolutely has to be addressed immediately. England give far too many silly penalties away, which has been England’s undoing for years, and it’s costing England greatly.
Obviously defence is also an issue at the moment, but that is going to happen with exhausted players taking to the field. Having to absorb attack after attack, after you’ve played 25 minutes of 100mph rugby, is going to have an impact both mentally and physically. Defensive leaders need to step up and take charge of that line, and England desperately need a turnover specialist and breakdown menace to make the 7 shirt their own. Curry, Underhill and Willis are all showing promise however!
So England fans- keep the faith in Eddie. He’s a world class coach, and on the basis of the first test I firmly believe that we will pick up a win in the second test and well, that may be the turning point. I’m already counting down the days to what will hopefully be another absolute spectacle in Bloemfontein!