Following the disastrous World Cup campaign that brought a sudden end to Stuart Lancaster’s reign, England are now trying to put that embarrassment behind them by gaining the right to call themselves the best in the Northern Hemisphere. To do so they will have to break their run of four consecutive second places in the Six Nations. But with Eddie Jones in charge and a change of captaincy under Dylan Hartley, the team has improved to 2 from 2 and join France as the only teams left who can strive for the all-elusive Grand Slam.
With both wins coming against the two traditionally weakest sides in the tournament, it is still to be seen if Eddie Jones has changed the mentality of the squad into that of winners. He certainly hasn’t particularly mixed up the current pecking order for selection, with critics accusing him of playing it safe. Many saw these first two fixtures as a testing ground to ease in the newer players of the squad into the role of playing in white. However, Clifford has only started from the bench in both games while Itoje, who has shown immense form for Saracens this season only received 25 minutes of action. Both showed they were fully capable of fulfilling their respective roles and had mature game plans to put into action. It’s a shame that they will only have limited experience going into the arguably tougher stretch of the championship.
England’s offense looked a little shaky against a resurgent Scottish team who were coming off an impressive world cup run which left them wanting more. However, with a solid set piece, they still managed to cross the whitewash twice and eke out a victory. By the time the team had to travel to Italy they were far more confident and expansive in their play, with creative plays from Danny Care and Jonathan Joseph contributing to the forty points they notched up against the Azzurri.
— Telegraph Rugby (@TelegraphRugby) February 14, 2016
Now the only team left not to have conceded a try, England’s defence looks to be in good order, but when they come up against Ireland and Wales, gaps might open up. The stats certainly suggest that something has to give. Against, Italy they only had 39% possession and 37% territory, which immediately puts a lot of strain on the fitness of the players to keep the defensive line in shape. They also managed to lose over 40% of their own lineouts, partly due to the lack of a third jumper in the lineout which can also be attributed to Jones’ selection. However, regardless of the reason, against a team such as Ireland which likes to play territory and has a strong kicking game, this could be costly.
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) February 23, 2016
Looking ahead, Ireland are going to be wanting to keep their slim hopes of defending their crown alive and so will not be pushed over lightly. However, during their 1 point loss against a French side still trying to prove itself, crucial decisions were made which England could potentially exploit if repeated. If they can beat the Irish then the true show of whether Jones has had an impact will show as England will have to repeat their nightmare World Cup pool fixture against Wales.