After final defeat to the Springboks, where do England go now?

Joe Marler

Sixteen years ago, after his Wallabies side lost to England in extra time of the World Cup final, Jones quipped ‘England are the best team in the world… by one minute.’ On Saturday, in the 2019 final, South Africa were the best team by the full 80.

Two teams entered this match, one off the back of a dominant victory over back-to-back World Cup winners, one having squeaked past an injury-ravaged Welsh team. But it was the latter who took home the trophy. A hat-tip to the Springboks – worthy winners and Siya Kolisi lifting the trophy is a seminal moment for the sport and South Africa.

England were beaten up, given an old-fashioned schooling at the set piece by a South Africa team who rose to the occasion. England, in contrasted, wilted; an anti-climactic collapse with passes flung to no one, kicks out on the full, missed tackles and muddled attack, where the week before all had been executed to perfection.

What can we read into it? Not too much perhaps. In England’s semi-final win, two great teams took to the field, one produced a brilliant performance, the other an abject one. In the final the same thing happened, England just swapped which they were. ‘That’s the great thing about rugby, one day you’re the best team in the world, the next a team knocks you off,’ Jones said after the game. So, England are not as good as the semi-final suggested, but also not as bad as the final defeat. Overall, it is still a tournament for England to be proud of, even if the ending hurt.

Or perhaps we can read everything into it. This wasn’t the contest we hoped for, or even expected. Was there an emotional hangover from the semi-final? We questioned whether England could back it up and the answer was no. But they are not alone – since 1999, the four teams to have knocked New Zealand out have failed to win the next game: France in ’99, Australia in ’03, France in ’07 and now England in 2019. Does it have an impact? Only those four teams will know for sure.

Psychology aside, where this match was certainly lost was at the set piece. In the scrum, Tendai Mtawarira had Dan Cole on toast for breakfast, with a large helping of marmalade. It was one of the most one-sided scrummaging displays I can recall between top-tier teams since, well, Mtawarira against Phil Vickery in the first 2009 Lions test. What rubs salt into the wound is the scrum is seen as Cole’s strongest aspect. Having sadly lost Kyle Sinckler to a freak concussion off Maro Itoje’s elbow in the second minute, England were robbed of one of their attacking lynchpins. Cole instead is supposed to provide, at the very least, scrum stability.

Of course, the scrum is an eight-man effort. With the more athletic Courtney Lawes at lock, perhaps the added ballast of George Kruis was missed (Jones made the switch at the break). Joe Marler also helped steady things when he came on at 45, but by then it was too late.

Some of those penalties were clear cut, others less so. The issue is, when a scrum has an early ascendency, the referee will naturally side with that team on 50:50 calls. That is not to complain about the refereeing, but it does put an onus on the struggling pack to change the officials’ minds. Where were the pack leaders on Saturday? Who was talking to Jérôme Garcès, trying to get him onside and putting doubt in his mind about the legality of the Springboks’ scrum? In the 2003 final, when the scrum was under pressure, Jason Leonard came on and told the ref he would sort out the scrum because he was the most experienced scrummager in the world. It worked.

I’m not saying get into the ref’s face and shout, but this is a World Cup final – there is nothing to be earned from meek acceptance. England needed someone to do something.

We can also look to squad selection issues, particularly at tighthead and scrumhalf. Ben Youngs was having one of his off days, but there was little option to replace him given Ben Spencer, a player with only 18 minutes of test experience and had been with the squad for a few days as a late replacement for the injured Willi Heinz. England were light in specialist positions – instead Jones took an extra back-three player, gambling on an injured Jack Nowell getting fit and playing a key part in the tournament. He didn’t and in hindsight it was a mistake.

So where do England go from here? This was the youngest team to play a World Cup final, and many – unless form or fitness strike – will be there in 2023 and all the more experienced. For players just breaking through like Tom Curry and Sam Underhill it is exciting to think how good they could be. But for several core players, this might have been one of their last games for England. ‘There is always a better samurai around the corner,’ Jones told the media, and this applies to the players, as much as anyone.

If we take 32 as the rough average age of international retirement, by the 2023 World Cup Jonny May, Ben Youngs, Mark Wilson, Jamie George, Marler, Heinz, Kruis, Cole and Lawes will be 33 or older. Owen Farrell, Jonathan Joseph, Manu Tuilagi and Mako Vunipola will be 32. Some of those players will likely be retired or may be struggling to still mix it with the best.

There are also several key positions to sort out. As well as tighthead and scrumhalf, where we are crying out for a couple of long-term options to come into the squad, there is also question marks around the centres and fullback. Although relatively anonymous in the final, England have been transformed with Tuilagi back in the fold. But he is injury prone, might not make the next tournament and is currently so pivotal, the back line looks in danger of falling apart without him. We need another gainline-breaking ball carrier to try and fill his sizeable shoes.

I have always been a huge fan of Elliot Daly and although he has not been the most steady 15, argued what he brings in attack far outweighs his issues under the high ball or in defence. Unfortunately, I think the final showed we need another option. Anthony Watson might work well there, but beyond him there are wingers who could do a job but few out-and-out fullbacks. Regardless, long-term, Daly should be fighting for a wing or outside centre spot, unless he gets regular game time for Saracens at 15 to help his development.

Then there is the no small matter of the coach past 2021 when Jones’ contract expires. The idea was potentially to bring in another coach to work under Jones, ensuring a smooth transition. That looks unlikely, however, and seems counter-intuitive given the importance of building over the four-year cycle. Instead I hope Jones signs on for another four years. He has unfinished business. Let’s finish it in 2023 Eddie.

By Henry Ker

22 thoughts on “After final defeat to the Springboks, where do England go now?

  1. I’m trying to see the silver linings in this, yes we are likely to see some of the old guard phased out over the next few years but boy do we have the talent to fill these spaces. Whether Ford and farrell make it to the next WC to me is a question of form, dependent on how the likes of Marcus Smith develop. Scrum half is a quandary but Spence, Townsend, Mitchell and a handful of others can really push for the next world cup.
    Whether Daly at 15 will be long term is to be seen, Watson can shift there but doesn’t have the passing game that Daly possesses. With the likes of big Joe.C, Thorley, Kibirige we have plenty of players ready to step up. Im unsure of the age of Manu but Slade should be looking to make the 13 shirt his own.

  2. I am of the mindset to not read too much into it and just move on. You can spend all day over analysing a loss like this but the bottom line is SA just came with more determination, better game plan and unfortunately England could not get a foot hold. This can and has happened to many great teams. NZ in the semis for example, but I don’t see them suddenly ripping up the rule book and wondering where they go from the SF defeat. England’s next focus has to be pushing for a Grand Slam that will IMO help excercise the demons of the final. I don’t feel in the immediate afermath a wholesales of changes is needed, but stating what is the obvious to most of us we do need to start addressing certain areas such as scrum half, full back and I am still adamant we need a settle centre partnering and not Farrell at 12. Now the big call (or not so big) is who becomes your first choice 10? Its a tough call as both have qualities worthy of being a No1 choice.

    Daly for me is in last chance saloon. He is not an international FB, so for me he needs to be given a run in the centre or re-run on the wing. If he still doesn’t cut it at the top level then move on. We cannot carry baggage based on past form. It will be interesting to see where he fits in at Sarries as I feel this will have a big influence on his form in a white shirt.

    Youngs needs to go NOW. Yes pretty much our entire team had a poor WC final, but he was simply awful and you simply cannot blame his performance on the fact he was on the back foot. He melted like a 99 in the Sahara desert.

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  3. Firstly for me if England are to throw a marker down and win in 2023 they need to dominate the 6 Nations, one of the problems with the current team is that they have been in a Grand Slam winning position twice in recent years and capitulated when it matters handing the title to Ireland and Wales respectively.

    One of the features of New Zealand’s dominance is there control of The Rugby Championship (well not this year).

    We also need some more ruthless aggression so not allow teams to come and play at Twickenham, dominate them and send them home not wanting to return and also carry this into away games and beat lesser teams like Scotland on their home grounds and beat them well.

    We also need at least two world class scrum halves Ben Youngs isn’t worthy of 90+ caps and we need someone of the George Gregan/Faf De Klerk mould who is an absolute pest, Robson (f fit) for me should be in the side.

    A plan B would also be great, one thing I have bemoaned about Eddie Jones’ reign is the lack of a game changer on the bench, I’m going to use the Cipriani word but what would’ve hurt on Saturday with England under the cosh, throwing caution to the wind and sending on a genuine game changer, debate how good the England Bench is but look at Saturday and the players on the pitch, where was there not a like for like change?

    I also feel like we need to mix it up a bit from 8, OK Billy needs game time and can run for 80 minutes but if that game isn’t working send on Sam Simmonds perhaps a more dynamic number 8, imagine 6, 7 and 8 of Curry, Underhill and Simmonds.

    Finally stop trying to put square Elliot Daly’s into round Mike Brown/Alex Goode shaped holes.

    Players needing to go Cole, Youngs, Francis, Daly (on current form and at Fullback), Heinz, (only due to age, nothing else).

    1. Couldn’t agree more. England of recent times have a tendency to let the occasion get in the way of the game. It’s one thing to prepare for a game like NZ but it’s another to prepare for a final and the pressures that go with it. Who cares what the team is? They’re obviously good enough otherwise they wouldn’t be there. You cite great examples of us “choking” when it counts and the last game against Scotland in the 6 Nations springs to mind. Regardless, we needed to win that game to be in with a shot of being crowned and we blew a 31 point lead.

      Full credit to SA for turning up on the day but let’s be honest, they didn’t keep us out of the game, WE kept us out of the game from before the first ball was kicked.

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      1. John, what evidence is there for yr last statement? Why would England keep themselves out of it? Could yr contention not equally have been applied to NZ v Eng?

    2. Couldn’t agree more. England of recent times have a tendency to let the occasion get in the way of the game. It’s one thing to prepare for a game like NZ but it’s another to prepare for a final and the pressures that go with it. Who cares what the team is? They’re obviously good enough otherwise they wouldn’t be there. You cite great examples of us “choking” when it counts and the last game against Scotland in the 6 Nations springs to mind. Regardless, we needed to win that game to be in with a shot of being crowned and we blew a 31 point lead.

      Full credit to SA for turning up on the day in the final and yes, they are worthy victors, but let’s be honest, they didn’t keep us out of the game, WE kept us out of the game from before the first ball was kicked.

    3. I am interested to see if Simmonds can step up to international level, the jury is out based on his previous performances. I think that back row Curry, Underhill, Simmonds is a bit small but a 6 like Ted Hill or Jack Willis could balance it out.

  4. I think areas of concern are tighthead, second row and 12.

    Sinckler will be doing his thing for a while to come but where’s the competition close to his level?

    Kruis, Lawes and Launchbury might not make it to 2023. Again, not much out there to replace their quality. Hopefully some fresh blood emerges.

    Manu has openly said he doesn’t think he’ll get to 2023 and this I think necessitates a change in approach as there just aren’t the line breakers out there in his or Te’o’s mold. However, we can introduce that power into the backs with Cokanasiga (and to a lesser extent Earle), move Watson to 15 and get Daly competing for 13. I wouldn’t mind seeing these midfield positional battles for the next cycle:

    10 – Farrell/Ford
    12 – Slade/Lozowski
    13 – Daly/Marchant

    Scrum half is obviously a glaring problem now but I think the talent is out there – Robson and Spencer might keep it warm for a couple of years while the likes of Randall, Thacker, Maunder etc are integrated.

    We do also need an alternative at 8. Might be Dombrandt, or Mercer as a genuine Plan B. Personally think Simmonds wouldn’t cut it at test level as anything other than a 7 but flanker is not a position we’ll be short on for a long time.

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    1. 12 is definitely an area of concern. We seem to have a wealth of options at 13: Joseph, (Slade), Daly, Marchant… Redpath, Lawrence, Dingwall. But we are crying out for a decent 12. Farrell’s passing game was very good but his running game is below par – we need someone who is a running threat to fix the defence and help the fly-half.

  5. Time to look at reality in the kisser.Much of the selection has been predicated on the availability of Billy and Manu and selection has invariably been compromised.With,their age,injury records and miles on the clock, I think it very likely that neither will be in France.EJ needs to nail this down within the next year.
    For the Forwards Genge and Obano can back up Makro.At hooker plenty of choice,Tight head we are a bit thin,could do with another scrummaging monster.Second Row is fine as are flankers.We need another 8 who can compliment the Kamikazis,possibly Dombrant,or Willis or even Itoje-if a ball player is required then Mercer and Simmons can fit the bill.
    The Backs as ever are more problematic.As its quite likely we will be without Manu it is essential we have a fast passing scrum half as we will have to play a faster game.To get some variety we will need some heft in the shape of Big joe so the game plans will have to be flexible.At 10 you can play either and nurse young Smith along,though,Farrell,needs to be relieved of the captaincy,apart from compromising selection his game is suffering-Ford will do a good job until we can get a big nasty forward up to the mark-Itoje get “Like Johnno”.
    In the centres by my reckoning Slade has had 11 games to cement 13 and quite frankly he hasn’t done it,apart from the fact that he is suspect defensively we will need a fast ball handler,namely JJ or Daley-Slade should have a serious try at 15.
    Bags of choice in the Back3 so no problems there.Physically we don’t have a problem-Its the space between the ears that needs attention from all.

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    1. Slade has come nearest to “doing it” in my opinion (cementing 13). No other player has “done it” who has been tried by EJ. Plus there were mitigating. Injuries and inconsistent selection. I’d give him the entire 6ns and then decide. For a form or confidence player that would seem the sensible thing. Who else is there? Trinder (like a Willie Le Roux size not being everything)! Not sure Marchant’s any better than JJ.

    2. Lewis Bean is a second row “unit” but he’s already 27 and new to Prem Rugby too. i’d like to see him get a chance in the 6N or AI’s all the same.

    3. Marler could possibly make the next WC. He would be 31 which is relatively young for a prop. There is good depth there though so would want to see some players given a run out. Mako also got folded in the scrum v SA so needs to work on this.
      I don’t know who else we have in the pipeline for 10. Smith is the obvious choice, but other than that are there any up and coming fly-halves? Farrell and Ford can both make the next WC, but it’s a tad worrying that we seem unable to adjust mid-game when we have our backs against the walls.
      I agree with you re Slade. He has had plenty of chances to consistently perform at 13 and just hasn’t done it. Maybe it’s time Daly got a run, but still not convinced he would be the best option in that position.

      1. Marler would be 33, according to Wiki.

        In terms of fly halves coming through I was quite impressed with James Grayson against Quins. Thought he controlled things very well. Joe Simmonds doing plenty of good as well.

  6. Commented some on England in Joe Large’s look back at the WC post. Starts at HHS top though. Is there another Samurai around the corner from Eddie? Seems not, so what will he do about future playing style, or plan B? This may dictate some personnel changes & positional shift/s. However, before thinking of such, will he look at inserting a new captain 1st? Prob not IMO, at least not immediately. I mention this because Farrell is seen as integral to the England team. A captain change will require someone with more intellect & engaging manner than Farrell. Not sure how this type would sit with Eddie’s ego though. If, as I suspect, EJ is something of a control freak then this could present a stumbling block for the team’s progression. Shades of Cip here (not as skipper)? However, if EJ sees a future captain as a thinker AND a partner, then this will help England IMO. Have to wait & see, but this choice, or not of course, could have far reaching consequences for the team’s future. Quite pivotal I think. Other positional changes could stem from whom runs things on field. These have been poured over already, so no need to dwell on 1/2, f/back, fly1/2, prop/s, 2nd, b/row, midfield compositions is there? Oops.

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    1. Does the next captain need to be a member of the pack Don? Thinking about all the other top international teams and there is a common theme…the captain is a forward. The last captains I can think of who weren’t a forward was Bastareaud :S, and maybe further back BOD.
      Having a forward as captain means they’re closer to the referee at set piece time, perhaps adding their voice when decisions aren’t going their way. Does an international 10 need to focus on the game management of the team, and not that of the ref?
      Relieving Farrell as captain doesn’t mean he won’t have influence. He can still talk/instruct/direct.

      1. There’s also the point that Martin Johnson made the other day that when the kicker is lining up a conversion/penalty, there’s an opportunity for the captain to talk to his team or the ref. You can’t do that if you’re taking the kick.

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      2. As mentioned elsewhere before, doesn’t particularly matter where the captain is positioned, so long as he best has the nous for the job. What pt in having a skipper closer to the ref if he (skip, not ref), talks nonsensically? Don’t see Farrell having positively influenced refs, or games when change of tactics was required. OTOH, don ‘t see harm in making him v captn as sounding board or for adv.

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  7. If you enter a gun fight don’t bring a peashooter,
    if you aim to demolish a building,don’t bring a couple of sledgehammers bring a wrecking ball,like the Boks did.
    Guscott now suggests law change to nullify Bok bomb squad.Why did England and for that matter Ireland,France etc not bring their own bomb squads?
    O’Gara wonders why Eddie Jones didn’t bend rules to thwart Boks.Really is cheating now OK?
    Ex-Ireland lock: Springbok World Cup win tainted by drug abuse. Aphiwe Dyantyi tested positive
    and now all Boks are steroid users.

    Guys what is going on because it all sounds a lot like sour grapes.

    1. Well sour grapes apart Frans & Ive never particularly rated Guscott’s opinions btw, this wrecking ball, pea shooter stuff is somewhat retrospective & subjective isn’t it? I mean didn’t SA look more like like the latter v NZ? Maybe a slightly bigger pea shooter v Wales? Isn’t yr wrecking ball view based mainly on one game. The final? Don’t go along with the drug stuff either btw II.

    2. Ive said it before and i’ll say it again, I have zero time for the british media they will build teams up only to smash them down and stomp on the remains, they will throw wild controversial news out their under shocking headlines just to increase the click count and they will twist anything around on its head to suit their own agenda. I find comments sections far more informative and balanced even if you do get some one eyedness there normally enough counter views and discussion to get to the heart of the matter

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