Has Eddie Jones lost faith in his finishers?

George Ford

Sometimes, when things aren’t going your way, you need to make a change – but on Saturday Eddie Jones left his back-up plan rooted firmly on the bench. It seems England’s ‘Finishers’ are no more. We are back to having mere ‘replacements’.

Against a tenacious Wales, English fans’ expectations got a healthy reality. Not only were England facing a more settled and effective back-three unit, able to more comfortably deal with the kicking game, but the gameplan’s execution was also off. England just kept turning the ball over. Wales ended the game with a worrying 65% possession and 68% territory. And what little ball England had, they were ineffective with.

Ed Alexander has already discussed where it all went wrong for England, but for me the most surprising element was Jones’ refusal to trust his finishers to step up where his starters were falling short.

The key period in which the match was lost was between about 50 minutes and 68, when Cory Hill scored a try to put Wales ahead for the first time. England put a kick out on the full, knocked it on a couple of times and conceded several penalties. It felt like they were tiring after such an attritional match and it all compounded to turn the momentum towards Wales. The crowd got behind them and you felt suddenly, for the first time in three games, England were in real trouble.

During that period Wales made three changes (on 61 minutes), including bringing on Dan Biggar – the player who would deliver the coup de grace in the 78th minute – and had brought on every replacement by the final whistle.

In contrast, Jones did not look to make substitutions beyond what was absolutely necessary. While Harry Williams came on for Kyle Sinckler on 57 minutes, that was cautionary move as Sinckler had given away a few penalties. Joe Launchbury joined the fray on 64.

Beyond that, we had to wait until the three minutes from time to see Ellis Genge and Brad Shields (an injury replacement) come on.

Our reserve hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie and halfbacks Dan Robson and George Ford never made it onto the pitch.

You compare this to 18 months ago, when Danny Care and Jamie George would replace Ben Youngs and Dylan Hartley like clockwork midway through the second half. Jones coined ‘finishers’ because he wanted to highlight the vital contribution they make, going so far as to refer to the replacements as such in press releases and being careful to mention what impact they would have in press conferences. It wasn’t just about the starting XV; the game would be won with the full squad.

After Australia game in the Autumn 2017 series, I wrote about this dynamic: ‘Youngs does his thing for three-quarters of the game, then Care comes on to revel in the chaos of the final minutes. There is no player better suited to the role than Care’.

That feels an age ago. Now Youngs is being asked to play the full 80, even in games like this one when he was far below his best. That Hartley is out injured may explain Jones’ reticence to replace George, but Care has simply been discarded – despite some great form for Quins. Supposedly Robson has been brought in because he will be the World Cup back-up nine, yet Jones seemingly doesn’t trust him enough to bring him on as a game changer when Ben Youngs is having a bit of a shocker.

Jones has does have previous form here. Ben Spencer was on the bench as the reserve scrum half in South Africa and got a grand total of 11 minutes across the first two tests. He didn’t get on the pitch in the third.

George Ford has 53 caps, was England’s starting 10 for the first couple of years under Jones and has been a captain in the past. Yet he wasn’t backed against Wales and brought on to offer a change in style? The change in tempo would have asked different questions of Wales; England could have moved Farrell out to 12 and allowed Manu Tuilagi to benefit from more space at 13.

When asked about the decision not to bring on Ford and Robson, Jones said: ‘We just felt it wasn’t a game that opened up at all … In certain positions, we needed to make changes and in others we needed to stick at it.’

The brutal physicality of England’s gameplan asks a huge amount of the tight-five forwards (Jamie George made 24 tackles in total) and the game was crying out for some renewed energy up front, but again Cowan-Dickie wasn’t brought on.

That’s not to say the substitutions would have definitely made the difference. We were only losing by four points after Hill’s try, so maybe Jones didn’t want to upset the dynamic and backed his team to find the score. Was changing half-backs too dramatic a switch? A show of lack of confidence? Admitting failure with your gameplan? No, every player has an off day, and Jones has hardly shied away from making a dramatic substitution far earlier in the game in the past.

But it is surely detrimental to an emerging test player like Robson, that when it comes to the crunch your coach doesn’t back you to help turn the game. He didn’t get a single minute in the victory over Ireland, even when England were guaranteed the win, and just the 10 in the thrashing against France. At this point, surely it would be better to bring back Care, given the England coaches aren’t even finding out whether Robson is capable of being a test nine.

Jones has pointed out before that the game is not won with 15 players, but 23. Yet right now he is trying to do it with 17, maybe 18. If players like Robson and Ford are not the answer when the game is slipping away then Jones should look at changing his bench and bring back players like Care, or even Cipriani. Sometimes you have to twist; Eddie needs game-changers he will back to win a match in the balance.

By Henry Ker

16 thoughts on “Has Eddie Jones lost faith in his finishers?

  1. Another ? HK. Have the finishers have lost faith in Jones? If so, the danger is to their morale & the risk of its spreading throughout the team. England don’t need another Mourhino right now. If Italy & Scotland likely get clobbered, then IMO, there’s a concern that the current issues around a ltd, mechanical, predictable plan & the lack of effective game changers on, or being brought on to the field, the cracks get papered over.. as is currently the case. Hard to win a game with much less than 40% territory or particularly possession. However, with any forethought @ 1/2 time or even after Hill had scored, when England were still in it, the game was retrievable. But not by persisting with the boot. The situation cried out for Cipriani, who is inexplicably & entirely excluded, to keep valuable possession & vary play through running, passing, even chipping, grubbering occasionally & bringing the danger back 3 men into the game. More likely to have prospered by creating chances, keeping Wales guessing & giving the fwds some respite as the match got into its business end. Don’t state that Cip is a walk on water Messiah, but his more versatile & varied style would @ least have given England a chance. But that’s history now. Can’t change that, but the future can be changed. The real issue for me is that Jones, Mitchell & co, collectively, outwardly @ least, seem oblivious & incapable of recognising the aforementioned issues that appear obviously in need of addressing , let alone rectifying them. Frustrating in the extreme for fans.. & more!?

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      1. Think it might be stretching a bit to think that the finishers have ‘lost faith’ with Jones after one loss when they weren’t used.
        This isn’t to under-estimate the problems but with recent wins over SA, Aus, Ireland and France, not to mention a paper-thin loss to NZ, I would imagine that EJ has some credit in the bank with the players

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        1. Wasn’t just thinking of 1 loss Pablito. Been documented better here by others, including authors, that guys like Robson, ect getting almost zip game time. But deeper than that, picking 1/2 his pack only due to injury. Picking Daly out of position, ignoring experienced players with alternative skills, like Morgan, Cip, Brown. Also, It was not the Welsh loss in itself that is of concern re Jones, but it’s manner & effect.

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          1. Perhaps it’s because you agree with them Andy. And I’ve only been posting here for a 100 yrs!

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      1. Well. I haven’t been back for 14 yrs Acee, but my perception is that he wasn’t ‘forgiven’ for losing to, ironically, Jones’ Oz in the 03 WC. Esp as it was a mth after NZ had put 30 on Oz, on the same ground, previously. Out thought by Lones on the latter occasion, but, like EJ last Sat, didn’t have the nous to change tack in the 2nd 1/2. Came across as somewhat arrogant & intransigent.. like you know who. Been a bit of a transient, itinerant traveller who comes over as convincing, but has never won anything. Don’t think it’s a coincidenal that he’s hawked his services abroad. Not rated @ home is my take.

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  2. As Ej has always said its all about the WC so possibly (hopefully) he was testing his preferred XV to see if they could wrestle back the match and deal with the situation. He now has the answer! That said the bench we have IMO is not a bench that can come on with 15min left and claw back a situation such as the Wales game. They are however a bench that could gave been used at 50mins when plan A was not working but the tide had not fully swung!

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    1. Been repeated countless times now DM, but Jones needed to change tactics, not just bring on fresh legs.. to do the same.

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      1. Thats what I mean DP. The likes of Ford and Robson could have changed the game plan but it would have needee to be at 50min as i dont see either of them players to swing an arm wrestle back. Of course EJ would need to instruct them to go on with diff tactics!

    2. Also DM, it’s about both. The here & now & the WC. @ this stage, despite Hutch’s opinion after the Ireland game that it was about wallowing in the glory, the Wales game exposed this complancy in thinking. Or, as some1 else put it, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?’. These opinions were erroneous. It was broke, but it wasn’t fixed! As prev stated, some forethought, even current sight then, was required. Might have prevented the Cardiff setback. Now some future forethought, (maybe) learned the hard way, will surely be in order, incl & esp for the WC.

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  3. The problem as I see it is that of the inability to change tactics during the match.Much has been made of the claim that Farrell is the best all round fly half,that is open to debate,what is not open to debate is that when it comes to attack Farrell is a long way behind Ford and Cipriani. As a parrelell if you were to ask a Liverpool supporter who was the better of Keegan and Dalgllish they would unanimously say Dalglish-Its a matter of instinct.
    If one goes back to 2003 Johnny was preferred to the much more naturally gifted Charlie,but that didn’t matter so much as Johnny had to two top class operators in Greenwood and Catt to help him at 12.Farrell needs help,he cant be expected to carry the whole load.The games against Scotland and Italy may or may not tell us much but one thing is certain after the Wales match we will get found out again against the big boys unless we sharpen up in attack.It may prove necessary to go back to the twin-playmaker approach.To the doubters I refer them back to the Wales match two years ago-England only won that match because Ford instantly saw the attack possiblities from Foxys kick.
    I certainly don’t want to go through the experience of watching a second half like that again-Its a miracle that my TV survived !!

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    1. Precisely JS10. Well, for the 1st part of yr piece. Don’t know so much about Dalgleish v Keegan. They were both prolific, but Keegan IS English. Regrds Wilco, he kicked goals.. & could tackle. Think Charlie Hodgson lacked some confidence. Pity.
      He didn’t fit the mould like JW.. or OF. Might go back to FF axis, but I doubt it. Jones is too fixated. Recommend that you watch future England games @ yr local. If their TV doesn’t survive, @ least yr’s will. Happy days.

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