Spineless England need to make some changes

Alex Dombrandt

England’s defeat in Paris was extremely disappointing. Where the Rugby World Cup win over New Zealand had thrilled and offered so much promise, familiar failings were exposed by South Africa in the final, and again by France on Sunday.

Eddie Jones has picked the same squad to prepare for the next match against Scotland in Murrayfield, Gregor Townsend will be plotting another defeat of the English, and there seems to be a refusal by Jones to acknowledge any failings in selection, even though it seems so obvious to the rest of us.

In my opinion, there is no spine around which this team is built. Where are the leaders in central positions, such as hooker, Number 8, scrum-half, fly-half and full back?

Jamie George is a fine player, solid at the set piece and often outstanding in the loose. He has the ability to look for space and throw a pass, which is most unusual for a traditional English forward, and is streets ahead of the next best hooker.

But from there it gets a lot worse.

Tom Curry is a brilliant flanker, but he had a shocker at Number 8 – which was entirely predictable. Despite having the ascendancy in several scrums, there was insufficient control at the base, which meant that the ball was either lost, or distributed away before Nigel Owens could blow for a penalty. This wasted several scoring opportunities, and failed to press home one of the few advantages that England enjoyed.

Moreover, at just 21 and playing out of position, Curry cannot be expected to galvanise a forward pack in the same way as a Lawrence Dallaglio or Kieran Read, and England sorely missed some leadership in the pack.

This issue was exacerbated by Ben Youngs continuing his poor run of form at scrum-half. Youngs seems short of confidence, despite nearing a century of England caps, and when quick ball is the order of the day against a ferocious defence, any hesitation before a ponderous pass immediately puts the team on the back foot. And again there’s no leadership, with an out-of-sorts Youngs unable to bark orders at the young pack in front of him.

Outside Youngs, George Ford had a superb World Cup, but thrives on the front-foot ball that has been so lacking in the past two outings. He is famously indecisive in retreat, and apparently unable to change tack if things aren’t going England’s way. Perhaps this is due to being overshadowed by his old friend Owen Farrell beside him in the centres, arguably the best fly-half in the side. England’s captain can be one of the best players in the world, but is also prone to petulant moments which undermine his own authority and instead of having two commanding playmakers at 10 and 12, we have two men equally capable of capitulation.

Finally at full-back, George Furbank had a debut to forget and this feels like it’s becoming a problem position for England. It wasn’t long ago that people were crying out for more attacking creativity than Mike Brown could offer at 15, but Brown’s experience and leadership would be extremely welcome now. Elliot Daly had an underwhelming run before and during the World Cup, and we can’t expect Furbank to offer any steady leadership at this stage of his career. I’m all for giving him a run in the side, as long as the leadership void is filled elsewhere.

I’m not making a case for wholesale changes by any means, but Jones must be prepared to change things up in the two-week break after the Scotland match this weekend.

Alex Dombrandt would be the first name on my call-up list, followed by as many as two or three scrum-halves to start integrating them into the squad. Dombrandt can offer powerful, direct ball-carrying, the sort of which can inspire others around him, galvanising the entire pack and giving everyone else something to work with on the front foot.

If England can shore things up at 8 and develop any sort of depth at 9 – such critical positions in the spine of the team to facilitate England’s attacking game – we may yet see everyone else playing with more authority.

27 thoughts on “Spineless England need to make some changes

  1. Absolutely agree; Dombrandt, Earl, Morgan, Simmonds or Hughes would all add to the team at 8. We have plenty of options and I can’t understand why Curry was played there.

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  2. Not Hughes please; we’ve been there. Asking for Hughes is like people voting for Alex Goode in the past. Both had their chances so why they should suddenly come charging over the hill on a white charger when put to the test again?
    Dombrandt or Earl yes but Hughes…..!
    Have a look at two players per position, not just one to introduce competition, so whilst keeping Furbank, Woodward could be thrown a line.

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    1. I’d go for Morgan as things stand. He’s been around the block,so won’t be phased if things go badly, is big, carries like a goods train,is quite good as a line out jump option and has never let England down. No, he won’t be around in four years time but right now we need to get the balance right and that has to start ASAP.

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    2. Hughes looks a different player now he’s at Bristol; quicker, better footwork. I would say he is one of the form 8’s in the prem along with Simmonds and Dombrandt. Ahead of Morgan imo.

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      1. Can he lower his centre of gravity and smash through players though? It sounds absurd, but has he learnt to do this yet? I doubt it. He might be smashing it up in the Prem but the step up to international is different as he found out to his detriment last time. Earl, Dombrandt, Morgan or even Hill at 8 absolutely but Hughes!

        1. Give Bristol a watch, I think you’d be surprised. Regardless, I dont think we will be seeing any of the aforementioned in the squad unfortunately. I just hope he plays Earl at 8 this weekend – Scotland love making a mess of the breakdown so a mobile back three of Curry-Underhill-Earl would be a good counter imo.

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    3. You can’t compare Hughes to Goode. Goode was never given a proper run at the 15 shirt for England but has consistently proved to be one of the best players in Europe for several years now. Too late to get him in now but he was robbed of a good amount of England caps IMHO

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  3. The other glaring weakness is the lack of creativity from the midfield and half backs.
    We are in desperate need of a centre who is capable of playing head up and drawing the opposition either with a quick burst of speed or a cute pass. They don’t have to be six foot three and sixteen and a half stone either. look at Ringrose.

    1. Look at Tompkins! And he is a Sarries player!
      It’s obvious where the problem lies and that is Eddie, apparently Curry is being turned into an 8 for keeps as he resembles some All Black 8 I have never heard of.
      Anyone else as sick to death of Eddie as I am?

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      1. Yes. Curry will be like Rodney So’oialo! This is the long term aim to develop him as an 8!
        And Eddie says Furbank played well in Paris which is news to me.

        1. Well, was he that bad? Forget the two knock ons, what else did he do that was poor?
          And what is Eddie going to say? “Yeah mate, he was c*** wasn’t he!” Obviously not, Eddie wouldnt throw him under the bus, Furbank wouldnt play international ever again.

        2. Surely Curry has a say in this? Can you imagine Dallaglio or Back putting up with this crap? They would have had Jones up against the dressing room wall.

    1. I sometimes used to buy classical CD’s because of the paintings on their covers, but like the Harlequin jersey, they had little to do with England’s rugby spine.

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  4. Hooker – George is a proven quality player and LCD isn’t far behind. No issues there.
    No 8 – Without BV we lack options. Solution: convert our young outstanding flanker! Er, no. Bring in someone who plays in that position might be a better bet. Dombrandt and/or Simmonds should have been in the original squad, but Jones thought he could convert a flanker and bring in a lock to beef up the back row. Play players in the their best position usually works well. Plus, select players who are in form.
    SH – Jones has gotten us into this hole by sticking with Youngs and latterly bringing in a 30 something journeyman. Jones has got a lot right as a selector, but the SH position is one that he has consistently got wrong. Spencer deserved a proper chance and there is a strong case for a younger SH like Randall or Henry Taylor to at least put some pressure on those who are in the squad, seemingly undroppable.
    FH – Ford is the best FH in the squad. He’s got far more creativity and skill than Farrell and i think would prosper alongside a sharper 9 and a decent 12 (which Farrell isn’t) Oddly we have a very good 12 in the squad and gave him all of 4 minutes on Sunday.
    FB – I can forgive Furbank for a disappointing debut. He never really settled and showed us little of what he is capable of. Give him another go. He’s got the game that could prosper.

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  5. Just keeping up with Eddie’s latest codswallop, we’ve gone from a four year plan to win the last World cup to:

    ‘It is always about winning the next game’ (pre-France), and post-France:

    ‘We don’t have a one-game selection policy.’

    Really, he’s just too clever for us mortals.

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  6. Unclear on this spine bizzo. Hooker, 8, 9 & 10? Ok, but if a non spine player like prop (thinking everyone’s favourite villan Cole here) falls over, how does this not affect a team’s spine? Is not lock a spine position too? How would the scrum, l/out function if a lock couldn’t pull his weight? I’d gave thought that the fr 5 were the spine of the pack. The loose fwds are hardly add ons either, as they too are essential to the side. Understand that the 1/2’s can both be pivotal for b/line functionally & in dictating especially attack tactics, but without anticipation, penetration, guile, defence in midfield, their efforts are compromised. Likewise with wingers & also importantly the f/back, in attack & on defence. Been documented ad infinitum about changes to posi’s like 6, 8, 9, perhaps 10, 12 even 13 & of course 15. Some changes could & probably would, make positive difference to England’s performance, especially next w/end. However, as I’ve banged out before, the coach & captain as decision makers concerning style, tactics & when to change them, is of equal, maybe more importance.

  7. I made precisely this point about the spine of the team being weak on here a before las Sunday´s debacle, but it gives me absolutely no pleasure to be proved right. If EJ is genuinely planning to try to convert one of the best wing forwards in the world into an 8 he should be strung up. I also wonder whether he has had a word with Sale about his plans? Presumably not, or they would have given Curry at least one run out there before last week. I think Youngs has to bear a considerable amount of blame for the mess at the back of the scrum. Surely he should have been guiding, nagging and harrying his tyro 8 and pointing him in the right direction. Instead, he was almost silent, at least a yard too slow. and no help to Curry at all, despite the fact that our front 5 appeared to have a slight edge. Danny Care and Richard Wigglesworth both do a masterly job of marshalling their forwards, and must be spitting feathers at being discarded in favour of someone who has not played well for at least two years. As for this idea that Farrell is a world class 10 and has a permanent place in the side, it needs abandoning rapidly. He looks tired, out of sorts and in need of a long break. We have a queue of young 10´s forming up behind Ford with Smith, Simmonds, Grayson, Umaga, and Tuilagi all looking extremely promising. Several of the changes that Jones should make are absolutely crying out to be made, but we all know he won´t make them. I predict more of the same this week, though we may sneak a win as Scotland seem to have forgotten how to put sides away.

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    1. Steve Diamond’s view:

      “I haven’t had any conversation with Eddie about Tom playing No8 and he won’t play at No8 for us.

      “Tom has a very good skills set but his best position is six or seven… but you have to remember I’m a mere minnow in the world of coaching. I have only seen this guy playing six or seven for the last three years!

      “The irony of it is this is that if your team gets to the final of a World Cup and the best player in that team is Tom Curry – for example – then why would you play him out of position?

      “However, I always back the national coach and fair play to Eddie, he will see him in a couple of games and if it doesn’t work out he will revert him back to his best position.”

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      1. Well it’s not as bad as him trying to convert Ben Curry into a scrum half!
        On another note, apparently Eddie has said he doesn’t rate the young scrum halves because they don’t show leadership! Like the extraordinary leadership Youngs demonstrates.. ! I mean, all this is getting beyond a joke.
        Why does he continually try and cannibalise his players by making them play different roles: Daly to fullback, Curry to 8, Nowell a potential 13 when Daly is a 13 &tc, &tc…honestly I am so fed up with him! Also what kind of message is he sending to players like Spencer and Dombrandt ? Must be pretty demoralising…

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