With England’s Autumn Internationals campaign about to come to close for another year once more, we take a look at the five main areas that Eddie Jones and his charges will have learnt from their three games so far.
1) England’s defence must still improve
The ‘backs-to-the-wall’ resilience of England’s performance against Argentina when down to 14 and at times 13 men spoke volumes about Paul Gustard as an international coach, but it followed two games where England had previously allowed in soft tries against both South Africa and Fiji.
Fijian players Leone Nakawara and Metuisela Talebula both went over for five pointers that suggested a lack of concentration from England, although Nemani Nadolo’s flattening of England winger Semesa Rokoduguni was no slight on the Bath man given the sheer power of his opposite number. Few players in the world would be able to stop Nadolo given that space and distance.
Against South Africa, England also conceded two tries that were hardly sparkling efforts from the Springboks, both down to errors by the hosts more than anything.
It was a similar story in the summer series in Australia when a superb defensive effort in the second test – with the England putting in more than 200 tackles – was followed by the side conceding five tries in the third game.
The match against Australia this Saturday should prove the sternest test of the men in white’s defensive capabilities so far this year.
2) England’s efficiency in attack is on the up
Despite conceding 7 tries in three games, England notched up a total of 15 tries across the trio of matches: 4 against South Africa, 9 against Fiji and 2 against Argentina.
Even with 13 or 14 men and very limited territory and possession, England were regularly creating opportunities to attack against the Argentinians, and some of the tries against Fiji and South Africa were slick and superb.
But some of the moves in the build up to tries, such as Jonny May’s score against the Springboks which showcased some of the best handling an England team has displayed in many years, suggest Eddie Jones is working his magic on a team who have been defined so far by their abilities to capitalise on counter-attack and errors from the opposition rather than create their own chances.
3) Depth is growing in almost all positions
It’s easy to forget that England went into this campaign with a growing injury list: Maro Itoje, George Kruis, James Haskell, Jack Clifford, Manu Tuilagi, Anthony Watson and Jack Nowell were just some of the names ruled out before preparations had even begun.
To have three wins from three and in such a convincing manner shows the talent that Eddie Jones is unearthing in youngsters like Kyle Sinckler and Charlie Ewels, but also the options he has in the second row, back row and on the wings.
Yet the reliance on Owen Farrell as an inside centre, even though he has been reliable and effective there since Jones took charge, should be a concern to England fans.
The Australian clearly sees Ben Te’o as player for the medium term, but he should also look at both Henry Slade and when fully fit Manu Tuilagi as viable options for the 12 shirt.
That then leaves the head coach with the unenviable task of choosing between two high class players as his first choice fly-half without even considering the likes of Alex Lozowski, Danny Cipriani, Harry Mallinder or Freddie Burns.
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4) England finally has a good kick chase game
Former coach Stuart Lancaster made no secret of his admiration for Saracens’ kick chase, something that the Cumbrian wanted to embed into his England team. Yet England’s ability in this area has looked sluggish and undercooked previously.
Now, however, Ben Youngs’ box kicking and the speed and improving aerial ability of wingers like Jonny Way, Semesa Rokoduguni – although perhaps not yet Elliot Daly – is combining well and is putting pressure on the opposition.
The kick chase is quickly becoming a real strength of this England team and something that will be fascinating to watch come the Australia game.
5) Chris Robshaw is a world class player
The Harlequins backrower has had more detractors than Donald Trump has had well-publicized conspiracy theories, but this autumn has seen the former England captain prove his worth to his country.
Robshaw must be named England’s player of the autumn tests given his ability at the breakdown, his work rate, his tackling, his deft hands and his unbridled determination. He has been at the heart of everything good and great about this team since Jones took over as coach back in January, and is now undoubtedly one of the world’s best blindsides.
Keeping Robshaw at six and removing him of the responsibility as captain was an inspired move and has allowed the player to blossom in the team. He is one of the first names on the teamsheet.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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