Six Nations 2018: Jeremy Guscott on the questions facing England
England are over-thinking it at the moment, their top players are playing well below their best and the way Eddie Jones is preparing the team is not working.
As a player you have a responsibility to weigh up the rewards and risks of every decision you make, but too many of England’s players are weighing them up incorrectly.
Ireland, meanwhile, have worked it out: execute your plans and don’t make any mistakes. You can’t give the opposition momentum or an easy way to get the ball back.
Joe Schmidt’s side have worked incredibly hard on that area of the game, and have a Six Nations title to show for it, but I can’t see what England have worked incredibly hard on.
And while England are losing, there are going to be more questions asked. The only way they stop those questions is by beating Ireland.
‘People assume the team lacks leaders’
When a side is winning, the leadership is never questioned. But it’s very easy to ask the question ‘where were the leaders?’ when a team loses.
England’s best players are playing well below their best at the moment, so people make the assumption that the team lacks leaders.
In the current squad, England only have three world-class players – Owen Farrell, Billy Vunipola, and Elliot Daly. That’s it. The likes of Mako Vunipola and Anthony Watson are good internationals but when they are struggling to play at their very best, that puts a massive amount of pressure on the world-class players.
But the biggest leader in the England camp is Eddie Jones. And at the moment the way he is preparing the team and his messages to them just aren’t on the money.
‘England are plodding in attack’
They’re plotting their way into a position where they’re comfortable to run a move but it’s too slow and without any intensity. They’re also not able to go through the phases accurately enough to get themselves into a good attacking position.
They need to change their mentality to ‘we can do anything from anywhere on the field’.
Against France, England were running too far across the field. If you look at where their runners were catching they ball, they’ve drifted too far across the field, leaving no space for their dynamic back three to use.
And what they’re really lacking is explosive ball-runners to take on defenders, win the collisions and get over the gain line. The team can then clear out defenders and get quick ball to attack from deep.
Why isn’t someone like Exeter flanker Don Armand in the side? England need ball carriers; he’s big and bulky but he’s also pretty quick and explosive. Jones has drafted him into the wider squad this week but it remains to be seen whether he changes it up against Ireland.
If you over-think it, like England are doing at the moment, you swamp yourself, you become cloudy and there’s no clarity in your thought. If you start losing games it becomes even murkier.
‘A Lions tour is so mentally draining’
England are not not working hard enough and they’re not working with enough intensity. The reason behind that is they look tired.
Of the 23-man England squad in Paris this weekend, 13 played in the British and Irish Lions series against New Zealand last summer, with George Kruis, Billy Vunipola and Jack Nowell also part of the tour.
Mentally, going on a Lions tour and then coming back to a long domestic and international season makes a huge difference. The Lions is so big, I can’t explain how mentally draining it is.
These days the players are constantly monitored by their club and country with the most advanced sports science methods, so the coaches should be able to tell if they’re drained, and they shouldn’t be picking them if that’s the case.
No player is ever going to say they’re mentally drained, but as a player you don’t realise it and that’s where the management have to step in.
At Twickenham against Ireland in a week’s time there will be more intensity from Eddie Jones’ players because they’re at home. We should see a more energised England side with the emotion of playing at home.
‘There’s no clarity at the breakdown’
A big question has to be Eddie Jones’ selection in the back row. He doesn’t have a lot of options or first-choice players available, but England have not been competitive over the ball in the past two games.
You’ve got second rows playing in the back row and you haven’t got anybody who’s really quick. If you’re up against like-for-like that’s not too bad but when you’re up against quicker back rows you’re going to get beaten to the breakdown.
It’s Jones’ job to make the right selections and get the team in the right frame of mind. Whatever work on the breakdown England did during the period between the Scotland and France games, they didn’t do it very well.
England players who can play well aren’t doing so. There’s no clarity in what they’re trying to do and they don’t know how to do what the coaches are asking.
In both games, England didn’t win ball on the floor, they didn’t run hard enough into collisions to have momentum and then the back-up to clear out that ball and present it to Danny Care in an acceptable way. It was always slow because they didn’t have enough people at the breakdown.
They have a mental challenge now to get themselves up for the final match. You’ve got to be on the money against Ireland.
‘George Ford has almost been anonymous’
Jones now has decisions to make: should he shake this squad to its core and drop at least five players before the next game? Or does he keep the same team and try to get them to improve? He has to change things up somehow.
Nobody stood out against Scotland and not many players did themselves justice against France. They’re not on their last chances yet but no-one should be surprised if they’re dropped.
George Ford has almost been anonymous in this Six Nations. The fly-half is normally the main man but Ford is hardly having any impact and he’s been absent.
Everybody, including myself, has raved about the Ford-Farrell combination. They started off well against Italy but everybody is beating the Azzurri by four tries. But when it gets a bit tougher, England have got to be smarter. Certainly in the last two games, nothing amazing has come from this partnership.
Against Ireland, I would change it up and move Owen Farrell to fly-half, with Ben Te’o and Jonathan Joseph in the centres. I would put Sam Simmonds on the open-side too.
Kyle Sinckler made an impact, carrying well with a bounce and explosion to him. Dan Cole has been a great servant for England over the years and locked down that tight-head position, but if you’re ineffectual around the park your position is going to be questioned.
The analysis of the France game will be a horrible watch for the camp this week – they’ll be putting their hands up to their eyes because they won’t want to watch it.
Jeremy Guscott was talking to BBC Sport’s Louise Gwilliam.