England: From Flops to Feared

Posted: February 3, 2016 in Uncategorized

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England are favourites to win this year’s RBS Six Nations Championship and for once it’s not only the players who think it. Paddy Power, one of the world’s largest bookmakers, also have the Rose Wearers tipped to win the tournament ahead of the other five countries, with Italy (who have pipped France and Ireland to the post after 80 minutes in recent years) appearing as slight outsiders at 500/1. Worth a fiver? Why not.

But for all the talk of fearing England (their players, their game plan, not to mention the built up idea of fortress Twickenham) the 75 men from five different nations who take to the field as opposition over the next couple of months should be reminded of one small fact: England have only won one Championship since 2003.

Before the World Cup, the hosts were one of the favourites to lift the Webb Ellis trophy for the second time since Martin Johnson’s era. Coming off the back of a Six Nations won by Ireland, they struggled and crashed out early (just in case you were living under a rock until now). But losing that Six Nations probably didn’t cost England a second thought going into the World Cup. After all, they scored fifty plus against a free-running French outfit. Not only that, but South Africa came last in the Tri-Nations in 2009 before lifting the Webb Ellis trophy for the second time. Do you think they cared about the Tri-Nations title when the coveted world title was theirs? Doubtful.

Sir Clive Woodward was not too bothered about Six Nations titles either. He trialled different teams and built towards a World Cup. Any interviews or autobiographies of the players of that era will tell you much the same: the World Cup was the goal.

But Woodward, even though he lost a number of early games, and even though a couple of Grand Slams slipped away, developed a habit in English rugby. A habit which they constantly developed in order to see them become one of the best teams in the northern hemisphere for three years before the ultimate culmination. He developed a habit of winning.

England won four Five Nations Championships during the 90’s, with three Grand Slams. They also won the Six Nations in 2000, 2001, and 2003, with the last being a Grand Slam. Fast forward eight years, and there, in 2011, will you see England’s last title. No Grand Slam, no Triple Crown. Times have changed in England rugby, and with all the hype presented to us by the media, it seems to be completely and totally undeserved.

Since Woodward’s departure, five coaches have come and left: Andy Robinson, Brian Ashton, Rob Andrew, Martin Johnson and Stuart Lancaster. Between them, they coached England in 130 Test matches, with 70 wins and 2 draws. Hardly a percentage worth fearing.

Eddie Jones will come in and put his own stamp on England, that much is definite. He is known for working teams to the bone in order to get the best from them. The players realise they have a blank slate to work with and will need to put in the work for selection (bar Cipriani, who could score all of Sale’s points for the next 10 years and not be selected, it would seem).

Players will work harder both on and off the pitch to warrant selection. Jones won’t pick players on their previous accolades, he will want the players who are willing to give their everything. And so they will.

When I saw the that England were the odds on favourite for this year’s tournament I was forced to agree. A new coach brings a new game plan, not to mention a new work ethic. Neil Francis’ opinion mirrors the sentiment:

From what I know about Eddie Jones – the England players are in for a rude shock – Jones is absolutely ruthless on and off the park. He is up at 5am in the morning and cutting and analysing video by 6am and at it until dark.

 

England will unquestionably be a better team as a result of it – but it has become clear that the teams that will succeed in the Six Nations will have coaches with forceful and even obsessive personalities. You might not enjoy the preparation but success will be the fruit of your labours – unless of course you overdo it.

 

Maro Itoje will make a huge impact once included (his omission is ridiculous), and although I don’t agree with his selection as captain, Hartley will bring added physicality and security to the set pieces. Robshaw will be a different animal now that the weight of captaincy is no longer on his shoulders, and he will look to banish last year’s demons too.

Danny Care, George Ford and Owen Farrell should make up the 9, 10 and 12 alignment and, with kicking options off all three, will exit from danger easily. Ford and Farrell will be looking to dust off from the World Cup and bring their form from Bath and Saracens into the international arena.

England will look to end their 4 year Championship drought this year, and Jones will hope to start on the right foot with the fans. The players also know that they need to give their fans something to believe in after a disastrous early exit last year. If they don’t step up now, they never will.

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