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Scotland poked the bear, now England will punish the rest of us

Eddie Jones' golden run appears over. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Roar Rookie
27th February, 2018
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While most are rejoicing at seeing Scotland dish it out to England, it may turn out to be the catalyst the Poms need to inject some serious life into their 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign.

One of the negative outcomes of a mainly unbeaten run is that it becomes an end in itself, something to be protected.

But in the run-up to the most important tournament rugby, it can become a distraction, disabling advancement and hampering innovation. This at a time when Ireland, Wales and Scotland are all taking tangible strides with their gameplans.

After a barnstorming start, with a Grand Slam in the Six Nations in 2016, and a tour of Australia which not only showed grit but genuine flair, Eddie Jones’ side have plateaued. If anything, their gameplan has become more restrictive as Jones sought to protect his streak.

The warning signs that were there in 2017 against Ireland, Wales, France and for the first hour against Australia on the end of year tour, were all in evidence on Saturday.

The substitutions made against Scotland reflected that recognition of the underlying flaws.

Jones is playing with Stuart Lancaster’s squad.
Only five members of Saturday’s 23 were not in Stuart Lancaster’s World Cup squad. Three years on, there are only five new players in the matchday 23.

Compare that to Scotland who had 11 newbies, or New Zealand who used a grand total of 55 players last year, trusting them in big games and being prepared to risk losses in order to not only deepen the squad but to bring additional skills in.

Jones has not been prepared to take these risks, and if you have to rely on calling up a 34-year-old halfback due to injury, what have you been doing these past two years?

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The coach has got a better outcome from these players than they showed in 2015, but he is now trying to defy the law of diminishing returns. You can only get so much production from a single new input. That single input is the coach and four years is a long time.

On his appointment, Jones mentioned that England’s U20s had won two of the last three World Cups, “so there’s talent out there”. Clearly he isn’t prepared to take the risk of losing matches to promote them.

Captain, my captain
Bringing Dylan Hartley back from the suspension wilderness was inspired at the beginning of his tenure, but is starting to look well passed its use by date.

Not only as captain but also as hooker, Hartley is not the bloke to rally behind when the chips are down – indeed, when it gets tough, he is one of the first hooked.

The time for change was a year ago.

Eddie Jones and Dylan Hartley pose with the cup

Photo by Tim Anger

A balanced loose-forward trio
Prior to the last World Cup, Jones – then outside the camp – was vociferous that Chris Robshaw was not an openside. But there he was against Wales and Scotland, plodding around at 7 because the coach couldn’t bring himself to trust a newbie.

Robshaw is a good footballer, but he is no one’s openside and his continued inclusion unbalances the loose three.

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Scotland showed what can done on the floor when your opposition doesn’t have any pace in the loose, but also what can be done when your 10 has no pressure placed on him

World Cup 2019
As far as the next global tournament is concerned, many would have been happy to let this English side continue along their merry way, locked into a kicking game and continuing to get enough wins so that the current squad and tactics were not challenged.

England have had a great run, but within the wider playing group there is an even better side.

Scotland, who it should be said were wonderfully coached on the day with a laundry list of targets to go after, may have just poked the bear.

The reaction will be the test.