England are failing to learn from defeat

Tom Curry

Tom Curry

There was a strong sense of déjà vu watching England play South Africa at the weekend. For the second successive week they stormed out of the blocks, scoring quick, well-worked tries, before contriving to throw away a commanding lead and lose – albeit, from only 12-0, rather than 24-3 the preceding week.

Again, there were big issues with discipline and defence. I went into it in detail last week so will try to avoid doing so again, for as much my own sanity as yours. But alongside this, it is the mentality of the team that is now causing concern.

It is getting exceptionally frustrating as a fan to watch this England side. In the run up to the game, Owen Farrell spoke about the discipline issue, saying ‘We had a good chat about the discipline side of things. I just think we got stuck in a bit of a rut on the weekend’.

Ben Youngs also spoke about it: ‘[Discipline] has certainly put us under more pressure than we needed to.

‘We talked about it and reviewed it heavily … The individuals are fully aware that at the weekend some of those penalties were highly avoidable and unnecessary. If we want to win, we have to cut that down by at least half.’

Well they failed spectacularly there. Still stuck in that rut, they in fact managed to surpass their previous tally of 12 and record 13 infringements, with another yellow card to boot.

What is more exasperating about this is the brain-numbing stupidity of some of the penalties. When the team are crippling their chances at victory through such high levels of ill-discipline, why Mako Vunipola would you reach down and slap Pieter-Steph du Toit in the face when he’s lying at the bottom of a ruck? Seriously?

Same question goes to Nathan Hughes stretching off the floor to smack the ball out of Faf de Klerk’s hands. That earned Hughes a yellow card and was the final nail in the coffin of any possibility of a comeback.

I seriously hope they get taken to task by their teammates over those two infractions. If Mako were not already travelling home, and Billy Vunipola not injured and Hughes a necessary replacement, I would argue dropping them both. Actually I would still advocate dropping Hughes for Sam Simmonds as a response.

Sometimes penalties are unavoidable – when you kill the ball as the final defender or collapse a maul to prevent a certain score, but not here.

More generally, concerns are starting to develop around the players’ attitude. Suffering a losing streak like this as a professional athlete cannot be pleasant, but Ben Youngs’ 10-second interview with Sky Sports before walking away was frankly petulant. No matter what the result, the players are representing their country and owe it to the fans to talk to the media. He has rightly apologised.

I am not sure exactly what allegedly happened with Mike Brown and Joe Marler and a group of fans after the game, but it is another concerning altercation. Jones is an arch-confrontationist himself, and recently apologised to Bath’s Bruce Craig for likening him to Donald Trump (‘he has the same hairstyle’), while there was the furore around those infamous jibes about the Celtic nations earlier in the year.

That these incidents came from three of the most experienced players in the group is also worrying. I am struggling to see leadership and Farrell has an enormous task on his hands to turn the emotion within the team around. A tough ask of a relative novice captain.

More broadly – and despite calling loudly for Farrell to be handed the armband – I was disappointed with his on-field captaincy on Saturday. Mistaken decision not to go for three points before the break aside, he seemed to fail to build a rapport with referee Romain Poite. Loudly confronting and arguing with Poite throughout the match, the official seemed to take less notice of Farrell as the game progressed – he was the antithesis of the composed Springbok skipper Siya Kolisi.

Jones followed up the game by reiterating the 25 players unavailable to him. 25 unavailable there may be, but how many would get into the starting XV or match-day 23? Anthony Watson and Jack Nowell would have a claim on a back-three shirt, but the game was not lost there (indeed, Jonny May was again the team’s best player). Perhaps Jonathan Joseph or Ben Te’o would come into the 13 shirt and shore up the defence, but neither were in sterling form in the latter stages of the season.

The pack is where England are struggling – a fit and firing Courtney Lawes would add something to the second row, while Sam Underhill might be in with a shout. Dylan Hartley and Dan Cole’s reputations have been enhanced by their absence, but neither were setting the world on fire in the Six Nations. Hartley’s leadership is perhaps the most sorely missed attribute. But surely Jones’ excuses cannot do much to boost the morale of those players there in South Africa.

Where do we go from here? Well a win is in dire need. But that is stating the obvious. By hook or crook, Jones needs to wring something out of this group in the third test and get a victory on the board – dead rubber or no dead rubber. Does Jones stick or twist? Back his players to finally learn from their mistakes and adapt, or ring the changes, in the hope that dropping key players will make a statement too strong to ignore.

Come the Autumn and there is no let up, despite being at home, as we face South Africa again, while the long-awaited showdown with the All Blacks and a test against Australia sandwich an easier game against Japan. That New Zealand test was at one point enjoying billing as world number one vs two.

There is no enjoyment from criticising the team. And it is not losing to South Africa away from home – a place where England have not won since 2000 – that irks so, rather the manner of loss and frustrating inability to rectify fundamental aspects of rugby.

An end-of-season break is approaching and the players, England’s Lions contingent in particular, will hopefully benefit from a bit of rest and a preseason. However, right now it is their brains, as much as their bodies, that look in need of some rejuvenation.

By Henry Ker

25 thoughts on “England are failing to learn from defeat

  1. Your comments on Farrell’s leadership is telling and I agree entirely with your sentiment. My friends and I commented during the game that there are differences between true leaders and those who crave leadership – by being vocal / saying the right things and generally posturing. I am worried that Farrell falls into this later category. I don’t remotely blame him for his appointment but I worry that Jones is falling into Lancaster’s trap of falling for the teachers pet (Robshaw, Wood, Parling etc) over the performer. In both EJ’s and SL’s coaching environment you never heard stories of captain and coach disagreements. By all accounts Johnson and Woodward were regularly at each other and I can imagine the same can be said of Carling / Cooke / Rowell too… (?) I hope that EJ is not surrounding himself with yes men – or worse, our system isn’t producing players who challenge their coaches.

    I’d like to add that by performance I mean both playing and captaincy. Farrell has not performed in either regard and there is now talk of him being made fly half – the most crucial decision making position on the pitch, to add to his captaincy responsibilities and goal kicking duties.

    I may be wrong and I would be happily corrected but Farrell seems to me to a process driven player and more that possessing a natural instinct for the game his been honed on the training field and analysis room. I am of the thought process that leadership comes from within and you either have it or you don’t. Merely being the sternest, hardest working and most vocal (good traits by all means) – doesn’t make you the right man for the job. It is that intangible, deep rooted rugby intelligence and human empathy that great leaders have which I feel he is missing… I hope he proves me wrong!

  2. I think most experts in the art of leadership agree management by fear aggression and constant pressure will only produce good results over a limited period before resentment anger and frustration develops in those being led.
    Deep in their hearts I think the most Likely emotion amongst the players I can’t wait u until this effing tour is over.

  3. I feel sorry for the players.the rot set in for this team during the 6 nations with them paying the price for very poor coaching.
    Am getting utterly sick of Eddie going on about what a marvellous learning curve this is! Can anyone truly imagine stev e Hansen spouting this utter bs! If an all blacks coach spoke in this kind of way he would be sectioned!
    Oh and just for the record I started to really go off Eddie before he started losing when he was so patronising and dismissive of players like Robson and Armand.
    This talk of not having 25 players and having to test out strength in depth really stretches credulity to breaking point.

    1. But Bolter, surely players with the experience of Brown and Youngs have enough confidence and maturity to override poor coaching annd play the game how they think it needs to be played. Jones is a coach not a mesmerist. I agree with your basic tenet but for god’s sake, if senior players can’t rip up the coaching manual and simply play to the opposition and conditions then they don’t deserve to wear the shirt.

      Another major concern is players confusing anger with desire and passion. Brown has always been he archetypical angry young man but Farrell has serious form and is not maturing. I don’t think he’s captain material at all tbh. He’s petulant, confrontational,self absorbed and arrogant. Sadly , it seems that those words are being adopted as the collective England ethos.
      EJ has fostered an “us and them” spirit within the squad but all it has achieved is ongoing disconnect and alienation between the players and the fans. I think Eddie has shot his bolt.

  4. Much of the above comments make sense, however, how do England FIX it for nxt Saturday? For me, I don’t think that SA would win a reverse 3 match series in England. Their outside backs are novices, so England could think in terms of 1stly, having the confidence to get it wide as often as they can & run @ them as if they WERE @ home. Then, 2ndly, in order to do this, they MUST win more POSSESSION; territory would also be good. So they need to gamble a bit & chuck the kitchen sink into the breakdown, get the necessary possession & also hinder or, ideally, up their own turnover rate. And FGS, stop Ford (by replacing him with Danny Cip? Yikes, but what do they have to lose? Esp, when DC is un-robotic, like GF) from kicking it aimlessly AWAY. Keep the pill & England have a chance to score (TRIES?!), kick it away & SA have the opportunity to score. They also need to shore up in ‘D’. Keeping their positions & shape esp under duress & ensure that they cover for each other if a man is out of posi, e.g., in a ruck. And it’s already been mentioned, but FCOL why pick dumb flakes who give it away with indiscipline? It’s killing England & @ crucial times on the scoreboard. EJ simply HAS to STOP this or it’s curtains x3! If England can get near parity and they should be able to, it ought to take the pressure of ‘D’ & also the suicidal urge to get penalised. The scrum & lineout need tuning, but this should be meat & drink to the pack. It’s nothing new. They’ve done their drills countless times before, so pare it back. Just do the basics well & their game should prosper from there. And this applies to their WHOLE game, I mean SCW said it didn’t he, with ‘TCUP’. This surely, should lead to their DOING it under pressure. Simple really.. isn’t It? And finally BTW, too many changes will likely disrupt & dismay the team, but how about a shift, e.g., of Daley to centre & Brown to f/back. They are probably their BEST posi’s. EJ then has to utilise them better with some innovation in the line & by giving them some reign in making decisions of how to play situations on the hoof. Also, who @ 8 now? Need a rocket man, but then also, who’s going to carry it aggressively? Unsure myself on that 1. Unconvinced that EJ has the vision to alter things effectively, but fingers xxed?

    1. Good analysis Don!

      I would say though, I like Daly at 15, and Brown at 11. I think Daly is worth persevering with at the back, he certainly improves the attack. Brown appeared to drop into 15 when England didn’t have the ball so if he had been safer under the high ball (which is usually the case!) then it would have worked well.

      1. Blub
        Thanks. I don’t have particularly have an issue with what you state about Brown & Daly. However, as I think England need more penetration in midfield, Daly would, IMO, better fit that bill. Pity for England that they don’t have 2 of them! It’s a move that I think EJ ought to have already tried, especially as it’s Daly’s club posi & what would/have they got/to lose? Well, the game I suppose, but if they find could a gem here, then it may mend a chronically creaking axis.

  5. I’d agree with all of the above Henry bar one teeny bit (and I’ll accept it’s subjective). I wouldn’t describe B Young’s interview as petulant, and I feel a lot is being made of it. To quote his exact words: “Yeh, we’re really disappointed. We lost the series, we’re gutted about that, we’ll work hard this week and we look forward to getting it right next week, cheers.”

    Personally, I don’t think it was rude – it is definitely brief, and he could have let her ask another question, but he is also an elite athlete who has finished a match – the question then is are post-match interviews obligatory, or are they optional for athletes? I would side with the latter – at the end of the day, they are only human beings, and whilst sport is a form of entertainment I think we should still be allowed to empathise in that situation. Furthermore, whilst he was short, he did at least thank (said cheers) the interviewer (something lost in media reporting).

    Furthermore, if you look at the content he said, its the classic post-match PR; literally such a vague comment that it could be applied to any sport. However, I don’t think he would have given any more information even if the interview had been longer, with the current climate of players saying “boys are disappointed, things we have to work on in training” etc – maybe he would’ve said that they need to work harder on defence, or that altitude affected them – but really when has a post match interview ever really told us anything we didn’t know?

    So why come down so hard on him? Yes somewhere in his contract will be that he has some media duties so he should be prepared, but he will also have the same flaws you and I have too. Furthermore, the actual content of what he said (and what is normally given) is so vague anyway that I don’t feel like anyone missed out on any new information. On the whole, I just feel bad for the dude because this is being labelled as “pathetic” “disappointing” “childish” “disrespectful” whereas all he’s done is not given people what they wanted.

    I have to admit I’m actually not a fan of him as a player so there’s not bias here, I just don’t like over the top commentary.

    1. I agree with this. He is not the captain. Media duties start after they have left the field, not while the squad is having a huddle. He was polite, but a bit abrupt.

      I prefer this to players not caring. The next question would probably have been something like “Where do England go from here?” To which the answer is ‘the dressing room’. To expect a player to have any further insight without having any time to digest or analyse the result and the game is ridiculous.

    2. Agreed.
      It wasn’t ‘ideal’ is how i would describe Young’s reaction. Contractually the players will be bound to answer the reporters questions – that is all. Youngs did so, no doubt with economy of effort because he was down beat and wanted to get the hell off the pitch! Christ…so would I in his shoes!
      Real snowflake rubbish!
      Rude and petulant are way off the mark. Where was he rude? He certainly didn’t tell her to “p**s off”
      He answered the question (s) and moved on (literally) with a “cheers” afterwards.
      This is real “snowflake” territory and media dramatisation i suspect – great story where none exists!

    3. Hi Marco, Mike L and AlexD,
      I take your point on this but think we will have to agree to disagree. While I agree nothing Youngs said itself was rude, it was dismissive of a professional trying to do their job. I accept they will be hurting but they are representing their country and I think they owe the fans a few minutes of their time after the game. I am not 100% on how they decide who speaks, but if Youngs wasn’t up to the task then someone else should have done it. I know some people were not keen on Mike Brown’s response a few years back at the world cup, but I would rather a response like that than just walking away. Alongside Jones having a bit of a standoff with the BBC’s Chris Jones about ‘aggressive questioning’ I don’t think it was a great response to the media. But then I work as journalist in my day job so maybe I am being a bit of a snowflake over how the players are interacting with journalists. But compared to how players usually front up, whether in rugby or other sports (take tennis for examples – when a player loses a grand slam final they must be crushed, but they damn well make sure they take the time to do their media duties), I think it was poor.

      On another note – having heard more about the Mike Brown/Joe Marler confrontation with fans (the ‘fans’ were slagging the players off as they came off the pitch) I am much more sympathetic to Brown and Marler’s response and understand them sticking up for themselves. No place for that in the game.

      1. Can’t help feeling that if players were not persistently confronted with pre prepared questions fed to a compulsory dolly bird, some of whom know as much about rugby as I do about fashion, you would get more considered answers.

        1. Andy, having met a few of the journalists, I can assure you they know a huge amount about rugby. It is their job. Bringing their gender into it is not necessary.

  6. Am I alone in thinking Nathan Hughes just isn’t up to the task?

    He’s supposed t be a like for like replacement for Billy but just doesn’t seem to have the same impact and replicate his Wasps form.

    The main issue for England, discipline and defence aside, is the lack of plan B and that’s another thing we have been worked out on.

    Our bench tends to be direct replacements for those on the pitch rather than that of any game changers but these are professional players Sam Simmonds, Danny Cipriani and Dan Robson all offer something different in their relative positions and all could change a game through their style of play but this being said if England are in a winning position surely all are professional enough to play to the game plan and close the game out.

    Naming Cipriani on the bench and then bringing him on with 13 minutes to go when the game is lost is utter madness.

    1. Re Nathan Hughes.I am not convinced he is fully match fit.Underperforming like a number of other players.Plenty of reasons given by contributors.
      Hughes charges forward in an upright position whereas Billy crouches and leads with his shoulder.Why can’t the forwards coach see that and correct it?Fundamental surely.

      1. Harlequin – I have thought the same about Hughes’ body position and think you’re right but he has been the same every time he deputises for Billy.

  7. Acee
    As per what you write above yes players do have criticisms to answer….although Brown has played better than most! But how easy or feasible is it to override Eddie ‘s gameplan? Campese said that Eddie forced the Ozzie players to robotically follow the gameplan! He and others also said that Eddie had old fashioned ideas which didn’t flow with the changes in the game!
    I just feel the coaching staff have way more to answer for than the players and that one of the obvious reasons they give away penalties is A. They are knackered B. They don’t believe in the systems put in place.
    Everyone said during the 6nations the lions players were exhausted and there were stats about how faz had played a million more premiership minutes than Sexton. Everyone said the sarries players should be rested this summer but they are all out there playing at altitude!
    Warburton and others said that it was obvious the English lions were tired and that is mental as much as anything else. Do you wonder that they panic and do stupid things?? Plus Jones has run their confidence into the ground.
    Why on earth has he constructed and persisted with a gameplan built around one player who is always injured?!
    Why is the English maul worse than sarries or exeter?!
    I do feel you are harsh on faz given the above. And then this bilge by Eddie telling him to rule by fear! He is in an unenviable position.

    1. Listening to the Chris Jones/Ugo Monye podcast, it sounds like the Brown and Marler exchanges weren’t that serious and pretty forgiveable.

      Chris Jones made the good point that we are missing rare opportunities to learn about players. Cipriani, Robson, Spencer, Isiekwe (!!!) and plenty of others have had next to no time.

      In some positions it’s understandable but particularly at scrum half we are no closer to adding necessary depth. Why does Youngs need these minutes? Ditto Ford.

      1. This is what I find the most disappointing. Given the number of absentees (25 apparently) it seems this was the perfect chance to blood some rookies and see which ones could possibly make the WC.
        Yet two tests in and we are seeing the same tried and tested players run out. Yes we have seen Shields and Curry run out, but what about Lozowski, Cipriani, Robson, Spencer, Woodward, Earle, Wilson? Is Jones relying on the likes of Watson, Nowell and JJ all returning to full fitness, and Youngs and Care remaining injury free from now until post WC?
        This constant naivety/arrogance is just baffling.

        1. I can actually see the reasoning in most positions – right or wrong, there’s some justification.

          Back three – Brown/Daly is an experiment, May in hot form
          Centres – giving Farrell and Slade a go together
          Front row – giving George and Sinckler starts, Genge injured
          Second row – somewhat confusing! Not sure EJ trusts Hill, clearly has doubts now about Isiekwe. In any case, he’s got Kruis and Lawes waiting at home so not such a need for depth.
          Back row – Curry now becoming established, a rare bright point from this tour. I’m personally not happy about Shields but he’s being given time. Unfortunate over-reliance on Billy. As others have said, an alternative to Hughes would be useful (Ewers?).

          BUT – we absolutely could have afforded to start others at 9 and 10.

    2. I did’nt know about Campese’s comment or that the Aussie players were so cowed by Jones. That certainly gives me a different perspective on the situation. If all that is true then where do we go from here? I was hugely concerned with Jones’ interviwe in the Times earlier this wk. He seems to be absolutely relishing the amount of controversy and discord surrounding the camp at present,to the extent that he seems to see it as part of his coaching remit. Someone needs to tell him he is not bigger tha the job and his first responsibility is to his employers and then the players.
      With regard to Faz, i stick by my view that he is petulant, there have been plenty of examples of that over the years and he is overly confrontational. He lets his heart rule his head.
      Having said all that, if he’s being asked to act the tough guy then yes, he’s in a very awkward spot. (As are the RFU)

  8. I agree, Cips was excellent when he came on and should start the 3rd test, what is the point in him going if Ford keeps starting when we already know what he does. Likewise Robson, not even played a minute yet for me is the 2nd best scrum half in England (after de Klerk) and is not even being given a bench slot – he must be fuming. I also agree re Hughes, he is just not doing it for England and I would rather have Ben Morgan who always seemed to play well in an England shirt. It just seems like we have wasted an opportunity to add depth to a squad that badly needs it.

    1. Stu
      Interesting point about Morgan. After all, he was in the team which beat NZ @ Twickenham in 2012, so he’s got some mileage. Wondered what has/had happened to him. He’s not injured too is he?


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