By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) – After Saturday’s incredible 38-all draw with Scotland Eddie Jones said he has a “good idea” why England have developed a tendency to throw away strong positions, but whether it will be as easy to fix the problem as he suggests is another matter.
For all his confidence in the post-match news conference, Jones, like most people who watched the amazing Twickenham game, will surely have woken up wondering just how his team managed to blow a 31-0 lead against a Scotland team who were mere spectators in the opening half-hour.
England needed an 83rd-minute try by George Ford to salvage a draw after they had been scoreless for a 50-minute period during which time the Scots ran in six tries.
Jones called it a “recurring theme” – referencing the Six Nations defeat in Cardiff last month and the first two games of last years’ tour to South Africa where England were well on top only to lose all three.
“It’s 100 percent mental… it’s not something you can fix easily but we know what the problem is. It’s going to take some digging deep into the team psyche but I think it’s a good lesson for us before the World Cup,” he said.
“The players were just lacking the discipline to do the simple things over and over and maybe we got seduced by the scoreboard.”
“You do that in a World Cup pool game against Tonga and you can find yourself in a different situation and we’d rather have those lessons now.”
England, though, have already had, and seemingly wasted, plenty of opportunities to learn, most recently in Cardiff where they looked like rabbit in the headlights in the last 20 minutes of a game they had controlled for the first half.
As Scotland’s man of the match flyhalf Finn Russell ran riot in the wide open spaces on Saturday the situation was crying out for England to deliver the rugby equivalent of “putting their foot on the ball” to settle the situation and regroup.
Unfortunately the man who should have been doing it, captain Owen Farrell was, by his own admission, instead at the heart of the problem. He gave away two tries via a chargedown and an interception and seemed unable to settle his team mates into a period of simple possession that could and should have been able to stem the Scottish momentum.
“I do wonder if there is too much pressure on Farrell being captain, playing flyhalf and kicking goals,” said England’s World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward.
Former captain Lawrence Dallaglio wrote in his column in the Sunday Times: “Momentum it will inevitably swing back and forth. The trick is to wrestle it back once you’ve lost it. England have lost that knack. It’s not easy of course but there are a few tricks of the trade experienced teams adopt. They include a man going down with injury just to take some sting out of the game; a clever substitution, or a couple of go-to moves that can be relied on to ease the pressure.”
Both men, however, agreed that the problems were fixable and that, as Woodward said: “Now is not time to over react – there are more positives than negatives from this Six Nations.”
Dallaglio said: “For 80 minutes in Dublin and in the first half yesterday, they played the best attacking rugby in the tournament.”
England have four warm-up games in August – against Ireland, Italy and two against Wales – before heading to the World Cup.
They will arrive in Japan with everyone knowing they have the ability to test anyone in the tournament but, unless Jones can solve the “mental issue”, also with everyone else believing that, whatever the situation on the scoreboard, they still have a chance.
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Amlan Chakraborty)