As the June International window opened, the results were to a degree predictable. New Zealand were too powerful for France, Wales outlasted Argentina, as Australia held their defence to overcome Ireland. Across in Africa though, the story was a continuation of the Ups and Downs of England Rugby.
Watching the highlights, it is evident that there were both positives and negatives for both the victor, and the defeated. South Africa will be well pleased by the outcome – a first test win, in the Castle Lager series. A first-up win for new coach and skipper. Result = Check!
The visitors will not feel so pleased. Their ‘up and down form’ is of concern to both stakeholders and management. It seems like the harder they try, the deeper the side sink into a quagmire of self doubt.
The Ups and Downs of England Rugby
Much has been made of the change in fortunes for head coach Eddie Jones. Claimed as the ‘saviour of the Roses’ but, since the events of the NatWest Six Nations, more questions are being asked.
Winning is a comfort blanket. Happy in the celebrations, teams and managers are vaunted. Though, as the enjoyment suffers an loss, the judgement changes. Sometimes all too quickly, that once a winning sequence returns, the outraged are short on apologies. But if that losing sequenced is prolonged then, all too soon the outraged gain in volume.
After this fifth consecutive loss, Eddie Jones is less than comfortable. More needing to cover himself in a blanket of self-doubt than in glowing reports. His role in the successive losses is in the direction of the team, but the players themselves will feel the heat even more. Some will still feel like ‘hiding under the blankets’ until the second test match.
As in any professional industry, losing is not comfortable. Many might wish to act in one of two ways:
England Rugby can ‘front up’
- That is, to be honest with the fans. Admit that things are not going well, that the actions of players, management and of the group, must be corrected.
- That would give many a sense of accountability. That honest evaluation is being utilized, that inward questions of individuals and of the team, can be addressed.
- By doing this, the team can look themselves in the mirror and know that they are truthful. Opening up, fronting up to the large media contingent and looking for answers.
England Rugby can make ‘instant changes’
- Changes to the starting line-up are made, with an exact motion. Not in apportioning blame, but assessing what they can do now, to remedy the loss.
- Individuals can begin to change their styles and practices. Players or segments of the team look at their actions (video analysis, game plan and game management discussed) and those men see that how they performed was not up to standard.
- Eddie Jones can admit that the tactics and strategies have not worked, and tell the England Rugby public that he is responsible, and will take action to change for the better of the team.
In all those formulations, the one element is admission. To admit that what was done has not worked [front-up], and that change will take place which should alter the actions and strategies [instant changes]. Both can be used positively, provided that honesty and non-selfish behaviours are implemented.
England Rugby have made a marked return, to reclaim the second ranking in World Rugby. That was a great accomplishment. It should not be discounted, however it was one objective. Now that the place has been lost, it needs to be regained – a new goal set.
Eddie Jones’ natural option maybe not the ‘best option’
If any coach in World Rugby is known for his gregarious character, it is Eddie Jones. A man who is known to phone players and assistant coaches in the small hours, his personality comes through in his style of coaching. So when he is winning, that confidence is infectious. The 18 match winning streak was a revelation; only ever matched by the highly confident All Blacks.
What is important now, after four test losses (not including the Barbarians match) is critical. His personality might now be best to accept that things are not going well. Although, but his public statements to media may not give stakeholders the reinforcement that England Rugby accept their limitations.
Jones said after the opening test loss “there’s no problem with our spirit and effort, what’s wrong is a few slight individual errors and indiscipline. If we can get rid of those we’ll be the team that gets the win in the second Test in Bloemfontein.”
Over confidence works when you have been winning. Reflection and self awareness would work better after a series of losses. So during this week, it is crucial that the tone of Jones and his management changes this week. That they are aware of the concern that fans have – that they are honest with themselves. And if the team can demonstrate that they are learning from the mistakes; take positives from the spirit they showed to finish off the game, but that this team heading into next weekend will want to play better.
Players also need to show the ‘want’ for improvement
A common sentiment when losing, from those who believe it falls too often on the coach’s shoulders, is “well the coach isn’t out on the field.” But the converse argument is ‘his or hers must the last voice they hear’ so it’s about the message. The delivery of it, the meaning and the team buy in.
What can seem like a formula-based problem, can be seen as a culture one too. Ups and downs can feel difficult to control. Winning is a habit, as can losing be too and the reality is that is takes a group all wanting to play better. Of wanting to all contribute; with the coach directing that message.
The most positive message from Jones; post the opening loss, was “there is no doubt at all it’s fixable. We are here to win a Test series, and we can still do that.”
England Rugby fans must still show belief. Provided that the group have looked hard at themselves in the mirror.
South Africa v England – Saturday June 16, Bloemfontein
“Main photo credit”