November is nearly upon us. Growing up on the outskirts of London this is when the mud starts turning to frozen ground, the sky is nearly dark by the time you walk home from school. Drizzle and dreariness close in. The Stark words echo in your mind: Winter is coming.
Meanwhile, in Australia the days are getting longer, summer storms start to roll in, jumpers and jeans are thrown into the winter drawer not to be touched for five months or so. Sunscreen permeates the house each morning just as the sun does at 4am and the BBQ gets a clean down.
Two polar opposites.
One full of optimism one full of pessimism. This is how a lot of the commentary regarding England rugby feels at the moment and as the November internationals bear down upon us; where are England really at? Let’s look at the two viewpoints.
First the doomsayers, England have in effect come last in the Six Nations twice in the last four years.
The England staff are unsettled and the review last year was designed to absolve Eddie Jones.
He appears belligerent and refuses to pick form players. England’s negative kicking tactics not only turned fans off during the pandemic but are now being found out at international level. England are the Lions lite behind the eight ball with a captain that sounds as though he will explode every time he speaks to the referee.
The fact a country with the financial and playing resources of England finished fifth twice in the last four years shows how poorly managed they are. Sure they beat NZ in the semi-final but since then have gone nowhere. Eddie needs to go unless he turns it all around in November and the next Six Nations.
There is, however, room for an optimistic view.
Since the Rugby World Cup, England have the best Test win record only bettered by New Zealand by 1 per cent.
Players such as Marcus Smith, Ellis Genge, Sam Simmonds & Alex Dombrandt have developed so much since the last Six Nations.
Manu Tuilagi Tuilagi is fit. Eddie has a new set of coaches who are actually in the country now acclimatised. England won two of the last five tournaments they were in and came second in another two. During a COVID-affected tournament where England kept very strict COVID protocols such as only training together and then spending time in their rooms they lost three games.
So where will enigmatic England end up? No team is ever as good as the media are saying and no team is ever as bad. Eddie Jones backed up this exact thinking with his quote:
“I think, particularly in England, there’s either really great things, or there’s a crisis – nothing in between. And generally rugby is about the bits in between,” he said.
In reality, England are at a pivot point in their journey to the 2023 World Cup, indeed last Six Nations I think they attempted to pivot to an attack minded gameplan that didn’t come off. There are really any number of ways this England team could play. If they need to be tight they can be. They definitely have the players to play Harlequin globe trotter rugby which brings us to the real enigma.
What will the gameplan be (Saracens or Harlequins)? Who gets the keys to Number 10? Can a Smith/ Farrell/ Tuilagi axis work? Or must Smith bid his time on the bench while Farrell runs the show?
This is why Eddie Jones is paid the big bucks, every person in The Roar community will have a different viewpoint but how can you say with any certainty what will get the best out of England?
For me the smart money is on a handsome win against Tonga with Marcus Smith at 10 to lead to a media barrage to have Smith start against Australia and South Africa.
Then two tight Test matches will be played, Australia will give a much better run for their money than we have been accustomed to and then I think England will exact revenge against a weary and somewhat depleted Springboks.
For mine a 2-1 or 3-0 series depending on who seizes the key moments.
If this happens the hype around Eddie will die down and where will England sit? Probably around the same place as before. If a 1-2 series result occurs expect the media to say the world is falling down but if both games are tight how far behind will England really be? England will sit where they always seem to sit, somewhere in between.