England have a chance for history. Four years ago, English rugby experienced its darkest day. Stuart Lancaster and his men dumped out of a home World Cup and a reshuffle was imminent.
In came Eddie Jones fresh off the high of an infamous win over the Springboks with up and coming Japan side. Fast forward to 2019 and Jones is looking for a victory of the same calibre, against the same opposition, on the biggest stage.
There have been a number of peaks and troughs over this World Cup cycle so here are the five key moments that have moulded the World Cup finalists into the team they are today.
Introduction of ruthless bite
Chris Robshaw’s decision to kick for the corner vs Wales in 2015 lead to his leadership coming under scrutiny. This pushed him into the category of scapegoat and was pushed away from the role.
Robshaw was good captain in his own right but Jones wanted a leader with more bite. The Australian controversially chose Dylan Hartley who had missed the 2015 World Cup through suspension after headbutting Jamie George in the Premiership Semi-Final.
Hartley is renowned for his fiery and ruthless character and Jones wanted a team that could replicate that. It was evident from his first team selection against Scotland in the Six Nations that he wanted a fearless team that would attack. The selections of Danny Care, George Ford and Owen Farrell showed this and resulted in a scrappy first win for Jones.
This installed the Jones mentality to the good foundations that Lancaster has created prior to the World Cup and created the blueprint for the side they wanted to become.
This ruthless plan was first fully displayed on their tour of Australia with a whitewash series victory in emphatic style scoring nine tries in three tests.
Jones had given England a reason to be referred to once again as ‘The arrogant English.’
Introduction of Ford-Farrell axis
It was Jones’s idea to break the mould of a big force at 12 and an athletic 13 that had become a custom to Lancaster’s England side. In recent years England have had an embarrassment of riches in terms of their outside backs with the likes of Anthony Watson, Jack Nowell and Jonny May.
The plan would be to use the teams natural pace to challenge teams round the edges and exhaust teams as they work in defence. This game plan was able to take place with forwards become more mobile and skillful and essentially seen as additional ball players.
Having two expert distributors allows England to have two points of attack and play-makers on the park that can guide them around the field. Ford has been one of England’s standout performers in this world cup with his great game management and top kicking displays has quietened the fans calling for Danny Cipriani to take his place.
Bringing in Scott Wisemantel
Wisemantel came into the England frame on a temporary basis on the tour to South Africa as an Attack consultant. The Australian had been working on and off with England pre-world cup returning down under to work as a bricklayer and a teacher. However, throughout this time he would continue his analysis.
Wisemantel’s analytical eye has been able to pick apart opposition defences. England’s attacking approach in the Six Nations was predominantly kicking based which was worked out by Wales which led for Wisemantel and Jones to go back to the drawing board. More emphasis has been put upon using handling to put their back three in out wide and kicking has been predominantly used to pin teams back and kick for territory.
England have utilised the skills of their forwards in attack with the likes of Kyle Sinckler and Mako Vunipola being as important ball players as their backs. This has been a key tactic in exposing defences out wide this world cup and can cause havoc with however the opposition adjust with short and out the back options.
Wisemantel has bought creativity to his coaching to help improve the basic skills such as practicing high balls after dipping the ball in soapy water. The Australian’s ability to adapt and improvise when his previous tactics has been one of England’s most important components in their Six Nations recovery and run to the final.
Producing a plan B
As mentioned earlier, England were caught out by Wales in the Six Nations when their kicking tactic implemented successfully against Ireland and France was found out.
England didn’t adapt and continued to attempt to kick to compete against arguably the strongest opposition back three in the tournament. The difference was noticeable in their world cup warm up matches as they looked to use their skillful pack to narrow the defence with tip on balls off the shoulder and would then release the backs wide.
This diversity has enabled England to break down sides and be clinical when a score is needed. South Africa looked to play a similar kicking game against Wales as England did in the Six Nations so they should be able to pick apart it’s weaknesses and punish a poor kick chase.
Taking the All Blacks to wire
This was very much the day England fans went from doubters into believers. England pushed one of the strongest All Blacks sides right to the end and only lost out by a Courtney Lawes toe.
Just like last Saturday England started quickly scoring within two minutes and kept that intensity for 30 minutes. However, on that day England didn’t keep that intensity for as long as Saturday and they let the All Blacks come at them.
The Damien McKenzie score shifted momentum before half time and then ill discipline cost them the game as the boot of Beauden Barrett was on target that day.
The result was disappointing but the performance showed England were back to their best and could compete with the very best again. England kept that intensity and clinical edge on Saturday and with a monumental effort in defence, managed to suffocate the Kiwi attack and make them look like an average side.
England will head into this Saturday as favourites but will not leave any stone unturned to make sure they prepare to be at their very best once again.
“Main photo credit”