Undefeated in 2016 so far and with the trophies beginning to build up back at Twickenham once more, Eddie Jones and England will be satisifed with their performances this year, but their attack is something that is far from perfect.
Many fans are cynical about the use of statistics in the modern game, but take a read of this and you might see some validity in what they can tell you.
In the Six Nations England scored 13 tries, behind both Wales on 17 and Ireland on 15. That works out at 2.6 tries a game. In Australia they scored 9 tries to the Wallabies’ 10, across three games that’s 3 tries a game and so improvements are starting to happen, at least statistically speaking.
Go back to last Autumn’s World Cup and New Zealand scored 39 tries across 7 games or 5.5 tries a match. Australia, France and Argentina all lagged behind the All Blacks on 28, 26 and 27 tries apiece, or roughly about 4 tries a match. Take it even further back to New Zealand’s tour of Europe in 2014 and the figures are 28 tries in 5 games, or 5.2 tries a match.
Whichever way you look at it, New Zealand are way out in front of everyone in terms of scoring ability and it’s a gap England need to close to put themselves at the pinnacle of the sport for the first time since 2003.
Of course Eddie Jones is well aware of this and took on responsibility for England’s attack himself in the Six Nations before appointing former Australian legend Glen Ella to his coaching staff for the tour of Australia. Ella, like his brothers, is a man of natural rugby ability and flair in attack.
Back in early June Glen Ella told the Guardian: “I texted Eddie during the Six Nations and said: ‘These guys have actually got some talent.’ I hope I can have some influence so that by the time they come to Sydney for the third Test they’ll be playing the way Eddie wants them to play. It’s not a case of snapping your fingers and tomorrow we’ve got a backline capable of playing the way Australia does. When you’re adjusting different parts of your game it feels awkward until you feel comfortable with it. I’m just helping the guys along, giving them some hints, having a look at their running lines and adjusting them as I see fit.”
It is a tough job for Eddie Jones and his coaches when the type of rugby being played in the Premiership doesn’t necessarily produced tries. In the Aviva Premiership last year a total of 616 tries were scored, an average of 51.3 per team. Divide that by 22 games over the course of the season and it works out at 2.3 tries a match. In Super Rugby it’s 289 tries for five New Zealand teams across 15 games, or 57.8 per team. That’s 3.85 tries a match.
In Australia England withstood at times a ferocious Wallabies attack. The second test saw England make 151 tackles to Australia’s 46. In rugby defence can win you games, but not so against the All Blacks. The last time New Zealand lost – in Sydney in the Rugby Championship in August 2015, Australia outscored them three tries to one.
South Africa equalled the All Blacks’ three tries in their victory in Johannesburg in 2014. England did the same thing in their surprise win over New Zealand at Twickenham back in 2012. You can’t beat the All Blacks without scoring tries.
England did score in their recent tour of Australia, but most of the tries came from counter-attack or more importantly mistakes made by the Wallabies. However, things are starting to improve.
Dan Cole’s running line for his try in the third and final test showed he is trying to expand his game and Anthony Watson’s awareness for Mike Brown’s score highlights the kind of work Ella has been doing with the players. Four tries apiece were scored for each team.
Eddie Jones must now find a new attacking coach, someone who can carry on the good work begun by him and Glen Ella. Exeter Chiefs’ Ali Hepher led England Saxons to an historic 2 – 0 series win over South Africa ‘A’ and may be the right man to fit the bill.
Whoever takes on the role will have a number of issues to consider. Is Owen Farrell the right option long-term at 12? Can he really become a world-class second five-eighth if Saracens continue to select him as a fly-half? What is the best balance for the England back row? Can a trio featuring both Nathan Hughes and Billy Vunipola actually work? Is England’s current back three of Watson, Nowell and Brown the most potent attacking options it has?
England need to get into a position to feel confident to score anywhere at any time. Their efficiency in attack is improving, but they cannot expect the All Blacks to gift them opportunities, those chances will need to be engineered.
If the England jigsaw is to be completed then the missing pieces in attack need to be found.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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