The Australian’s Red Rose side is one built on a relentless desire to win at all costs, regardless of what strategy, gameplan or style of rugby is employed to gain victory.
Stuart Lancaster’s England side were often consistently good but never good enough when it really mattered – as reflected by his teams’ second placed Six Nations finishes over four seasons and their disastrous World Cup campaign. This nability to take their rugby to another level was often mirrored by an inability of the England team to settle on a particular style of rugby or way of thinking.
At times England tried to play more expansive rugby than they had under previous coaches Andy Robinson, Brian Ashton and Martin Johnson, and at times it worked. No one will ever forget England’s dismantling of France in 2015 when they put 55 points on Les Bleus, or the tremendous victory over the All Blacks when England walked away 38-21 winners at Twickenham.
But at other times they relented – or indeed panicked as was the case at last year’s World Cup – and quickly went into their metaphorical shells, limiting themselves to a defensive mindset that could often play into the hands of more ambitiously-minded international outfits. Take Australia, for instance.
In many ways, England’s indecisiveness regarding its identity was so representative of Stuart Lancaster’s standing as a head coach. Inspired by many, a mimicker of others, but ultimately lacking in a clarity of vision for England as a rugby nation.
When the exuberantly confident Eddie Jones took over, he’d already proven his adaptability as a coach. Whether it was taking an unfancied Australian side to a World Cup final, going one step further with a powerful South African team or defeating the Springbok goliaths with the Davids of Japan, Jones chose styles of rugby that suited the players available to him.
And now likewise with England, he has taken on board the traditional strengths of the English game: the scrum, the lineout and the maul and brought in a stronger defensive mindset through the brilliant thinking of Saracens’ chief architect Paul Gustard. With that he has matched a powerful defence and a strength up front with a canniness and intelligence behind the pack that exploits weaknesses in the opposition.
But the gameplan is malleable and changes dependent on the opposition. Whilst at times England will kick and will tackle to the point of oblivion, as was the case last weekend, they will run and outmanoeuvre as was evidenced against Italy, France, Wales and Ireland in the Six Nations.
This is further embodied by Jones’ occasional tinkering with the team, whether it be in the starting line-up or the bench. Both Mako Vunipola and Joe Marler started during the Six Nations and Danny Care and Ben Youngs were used at different times as England marched on to a first grand slam in thirteen years.
Yet to encapsulate the difference between the Lancaster era and now is to point to an unwavering and unswerving desire to win. It doesn’t matter how the team play, all that matters is the team scores more points.
The bizarre English obsession with trying to play like the All Blacks or the Wallabies has held the senior team back for over a decade now; before the Woodward era it often reared its ugly head at the worst possible times. No one will ever forget what happened to the previously forward-focused England side of the 1991 Rugby World Cup.
Will anyone outside of Australia remember what type of rugby England played if they beat the Aussies for an unprecedented third time in a row down under? Unlikely, even if the scoreline ends up being 3 – 0 in England’s favour.
England now has a foundation in which to play the game but also a tactical nous that was missing until recently. That is coupled with an efficiency in counter-attack and when turnover chances provide a chink in an opponent’s armoury, England exploit it to the full.
Be as boring as you like, England, but get the win on Saturday. That would truly be exciting rugby.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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