England’s demise in the Six Nations this year has arguably been just as surprising as Wales’ shock climb to the top of the table. Eddie Jones’ side were the favourites in the 2021 Six Nations Championship odds prior to the start of the tournament, whilst Wales were well and truly written off by almost everybody.
However, it has been quite the opposite. England have lost two of their opening three games, suffering defeat to Scotland at Twickenham for the first time in almost 40 years, before losing 40-24 to Wales at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff. That victory for Wayne Pivac’s men secured them the Triple Crown, after they stunned both Ireland and Scotland in the first two gameweeks, and Wales are now well on course for a potential Grand Slam title.
In hindsight, England’s poor start to the Six Nations shouldn’t have been that much of a shock. Jones’ squad was restricted to just 28 players after the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and Premiership clubs agreed to limit his selection in order to reduce the risk of Covid-19 cases, whilst the Australian coach’s rigorous training plan to get his players in tip-top shape was thrown up in the air, as he had to isolate due to one of his staff testing positive for the virus.
That aside, the squad’s wealth of Saracens players, which includes the likes of England captain Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Elliot Daly and several others, hadn’t played a minute of rugby since they beat France to win the inaugural Autumn Nations Cup back in early December.
Yet, the Six Nations Betting Tips were still firmly in their favour and few would have predicted such a slump prior to the tournament. However, the defeat to Wales has left England’s defence of their title in tatters and people are starting to question if Jones’ days in charge of the side are numbered.
"This team is finished now. There will be a new team made," Jones said when England suffered that 32-12 defeat to South Africa in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final. But that hasn’t always been the case for England in the games that have followed.
Yes, Jones has capped 11 new players since that excruciating defeat in Japan. However, 12 of the 15 World Cup final starters lined up against Wales in Cardiff and had the likes of Courtney Lawes and Manu Tuilagi not been carrying knocks, then the Australian could have named his exact World Cup starting XI.
In April 2020, Jones claimed that he didn’t think his group of players had ‘another World Cup in them.’ But in the build-up to his team’s next game against France this weekend, he said: “I would say anywhere up to 70 per cent of this squad will go through to the World Cup.”
It’s hard to fathom what has changed Jones’ view on his squad. He has gone from writing off the old guard to sticking by them. Maybe it was when they bounced back from the South Africa defeat to win the Six Nations. But there is still no room for newbies a year on, and that was made more than clear in the defeat to Wales.
With the World Cup still over two years away, surely now is the time for Jones to start truly integrating those 11 players he capped for the first time after the 2019 World Cup, along with others, rather than bringing 70 percent of the current crop to France, so that England are in the best possible shape heading to the tournament.
Just look at Wales, they are coming out of their tough transitional period and thriving, perhaps it’s time England did the same.