Eddie Jones must take blame for England's Six Nations defeat to Wales, says Nolli Waterman
Last Updated: 27/02/19 10:59am
In her latest column, former England international Nolli Waterman reflects on England's Six Nations defeat in Wales...
In every performance environment, the buck must stop somewhere when things don't go to plan.
Eddie Jones must surely take responsibility for England's lack of creativity, unsuccessful and painfully over-played game plan. This was the polar opposite to what everyone had praised in the first two rounds for the men in white.
There are defeats where a player will be singled out, matches where the referee will get the blame, but on Saturday, in Cardiff, the buck stopped firmly with Jones.
I do feel that Jones will earn his worth through dissecting the information gathered from Saturday's game because win or lose, you definitely should learn. However, when looking at his performance at the weekend there is plenty to question and criticise.
You would like to think that the head coach encourages his leaders both on and off the field to help in the formulation of the team's game plan. This would help embed the fundamentals of his decisions. However, this game plan just seemed to stink of "more of last week please" without any further thought to how or why Wales might respond and consequently play differently to both Ireland and France.
There seemed little or no adjustment throughout the match to the plan and I find it hard to believe that the English players do not have the capacity to realise it wasn't working! Is Jones really that controlling when it comes to sticking to the script?
Alongside the game plan of how players play, coaches must also manage the deployment of players in either their starting lineup or coming on from the bench. This should be a true art for team sports and one that Warren Gatland should be saying he definitely nailed.
We will never know if the game would have been different if Dan Biggar had started, however the selection of him on the bench and timing of his introduction to the game was, in my opinion, the defining decision in the Welsh win.
Jones, on the other hand, did not change his underperforming half-back pairing. It is very rare for a front row player to last the duration in the modern professional game, but yet he did not take Jamie George off the field. Was this a lack of belief in his bench? Or did he not believe his 'finishers' were good enough to finish?
Either way, in my opinion, he got it wrong. Not only because of the loss of the match but also because he failed to provide invaluable experience to players, who if selected, will need to stand up and perform under pressure during the World Cup. In any tournament you must rotate players to survive the brutality of the pool stages and then enter the knock out phase with as many players available as possible.
This is particularly true with Dan Robson. An extremely talented young player who has had 11 minutes of international rugby exposure over three games. What a waste! If Jones is not looking to select him because he wants to have the experience of players like Danny Care return for the World Cup, then why is he going with this youngster for the Six Nations?
A crucial aspect of using the bench is knowing when to take players off the field. In my opinion, Jones got it wrong with his shepherd's crook on Kyle Sinckler. As an England fan, it was massively frustrating seeing him give away two consecutive silly penalties. However, Jones did not give his on-field leaders the opportunity to change how Kyle was behaving as he was immediately removed.
This is something that could cost England at the World Cup as Sinckler is becoming a monumental player when on form and his temperament is the part of his game that makes him so abrasive. In my opinion, this just needs to be 'managed' by his peers on the field.
His removal from the field not only gave Wales a let off, as he had been playing so well, but also further fuelled the crowd response with the fans all booing him off the field.
Now I definitely don't believe Warren Gatland had a perfect day at the office either and I am sure he will have a lot of questions for Robin McBryde. The lineout is the main area that Wales have to look to improve over the coming few weeks while building up to the World Cup.
Without a decent lineout, you cannot punish teams when they infringe (and you are out of kicking range). This was evident during the first half as Wales twice kicked to the corner and butchered their chance to create a points-scoring opportunity by messing up at their set piece.
One of the other components that affect an international coach is the opportunity to select players who are playing for foreign teams. Although this can be completely out of their control, as a union decision, I would be interested to know if Gatland has ever tried to influence the WRU. Surely it would increase his opportunity to perform at the World Cup as Wales do not have available their quick, talented and probably first choice scrum-half Rhys Webb?
This is where Jones has got it right. He has respected the decision of the union but has moved to ensure that he has at least one senior player to pick if he wants. He spoke with Chris Ashton at the Barbarians game last summer and opened the door for him. Of course it was down to Ashton to make the decision to leave France, however, he may not have done this if Jones had not reached out.
Something both coaches may envy was the statement released by the South African Rugby Union this week. On their social media account, they quoted Rassie Erasmus explaining their reasons for the change in selection of players from foreign countries. This clearly shows he had influence over this decision and, as such, has given him access to all of the best players in the build-up to the World Cup.
When looking at all-round performance of the world's best coaches, Gatland seems to be winning the charge so far. I don't believe that Jones will get left totally behind but he has a lot to improve.
The best bit about Saturday's game is that it is only round three. We have the opportunity to witness how each coach learns, develops and progresses their performance, whilst moving closer to the only thing that will really be remembered from 2019. The Webb Ellis Cup and a winners' medal.