The beginning of the end for Eddie’s ‘Warrenball’ England?


There are ways to lose in sport that leave fans proud of the spirit shown by their side. There are ways a defeated side get the plaudits for being part of a great sporting battle. There are many games of rugby that if the final whistle had been sounded two minutes earlier or two minutes later, that a different winner would be crowned.

But not this game.

England went down with a whimper. No shots fired. No backs moves to speak of. No big carries to dent the Scottish’ defence. No tales of going through the gears in this test, England had the handbrake on. Bizarrely it felt like they were losing for eighty minutes. There were no highlights, no near misses, no might-have-been moments to scrutinise.

That England lost by five and managed to score two penalties seem like a miracle now. Scotland should be proud of their performance and clearly fully deserved their victory, but I’m sure they were surprised with the manner of their landmark win.

Eddie Jones accepted responsibility after the game, as well he should. Good news though dear reader, a review of preparation will follow. The blame so far falling on anything from discipline, leadership (the same thing in this context?), absent players and the fitness of the Saracens players. All feel like an easy out though.

All international sides will know the importance of referee management and the importance of adapting in real-time. The XV on the field were mostly experienced players, certainly in key positions, and if they can’t find their voice now they never will.

I’m not buying that those missing were the difference. Some good players may have been absent, but that’s often the case in modern rugby. England should be able to put out half a dozen teams that would be competitive, could show fight and illustrate an ability to find an opponents weaknesses. Jones mentioned Mako Vunipola and Kyle Sinckler would be available next week shows the point is being missed, as Ellis Genge & Will Stuart were two of the few players who performed well.  Yes, the Saracens boys were bound to not be 100%, but it was so much more than that.

We have plan A and that’s effectively a recycled version of Warrenball.  Flat-track bullies. If we’re not blasting them away with ball in hand, kick it, and we’ll defend with devastating line-speed. But what if the opposition can equalise your physicality in the tackle and at the breakdown? What if they play around that initial defensive wall? You should’ve developed a plan b over the last five years.

It’s not that the principles of Warrenball, big powerful runners running making hard yards, isn’t a bad tactic in of itself. It’s just that it relies on the personnel at your disposal more than any other tactic in rugby. Without special players like Manu Tuilagi, Mako Vunipola & Kyle Sinckler, England needed more thought. Their replacements weren’t even intrusted to replicate the tactics. All rugby sides need physicality of course, but for most there is balance in selection and tactics.

If the plan is to play solely route one rugby, scrum half-ball carrier-clear out-repeat, then why play Henry Slade, Jonny May & Anthony Watson? And as England’s tactics rely heavily on their ball carriers winning the collision, Billy Vunipola’s loss of dominance and inclusion alongside him of a durable but not powerful flanker in Mark Wilson, England’s attack becomes blunted.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The England coach has fast players at his disposal should he want to raise the tempo. If Jones himself has no blueprint, he could steal the templates of Wasps or Bristol. Both play attractive, quick rugby and look keep the ball ‘alive’ to create space. Dare an England player offload out of the tackle? Dare England put the ball through the hands and play wide, trusting themselves to cover the pitch and get to the breakdown?

Or how about picking players that are in form? He could’ve called upon the likes of Sam Simmonds, Alex Dombrandt or Zach Mercer for much needed dynamism in the back row but he picked on reputation. Instead of creativity at fly half, George Ford, Joe Simmonds or Marcus Smith he went for his warrior Owen Farrell. Whilst Jones is pinning his hopes on  Vunipola winding the clock back to his 2018 form, and hoping Owen Farrell can resist the urge to repeatedly kick good ball way, so that his side might compete in this championship. His side should have the artillery to beat Italy without playing too much rugby, but bigger challenges await.

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