England’s performance in the opening weekend of the RBS 6 Nations will be judged on restricted criteria. It was not a dazzling display, however the usual media messages along the ‘not bad for a first hit’ lines have and should be used. Importantly though the players are not new to each other so we shouldn’t be too lenient. Although after only two weeks with the new coaches many of the more complicated systems, structures and patterns of play will generally be scribbles on a whiteboard or PDFs on a smartphone app. However what can be judged is the work rate and commitment shown by the players, easily portrayed by the carries and tackles of individual players, especially in a game with similar possession Scotland 47% England 50%.
Here we will look at the standout performers in both forward packs, specifically the back five on whom so much pre game emphasis was placed. For England the standout player was Billy Vunipola with an outstanding 19 carries and 10 tackles, Eddie Jones has placed much emphasis on the Number 8 and his 80 minute performance will hopefully be a sign of things to come. In George Kruis, England found themselves playing statistically with an extra back row. James Haskell was brilliant in defence making 22 tackles, delivering the exact performance Eddie Jones would have required from him, however his performance would have been similar in the 6 shirt. For Scotland by far and away their best player was Jonny Gray who in 69 minutes managed to outshine his counterparts, 15 tackles and 11 carries is brilliant from a second row, his work rate alone allows Scotland to pick a lighter more dynamic back row. Take a look at how the respective players compare when broken down per minute played.
As the scoreline suggested Scottish players really did keep up with England and given the 7 linebreaks they managed maybe should have got more out the game. With Kruis and Gray both putting in monumental shifts Scotland seemed to lack the outstanding back row performance England received from Haskell and Vunipola who both delivered on their individual strengths. As a unit the England back row edged their counter parts and ultimately that won the game.
Statistically England’s performance will have been enough to please Jones, he has since mentioned in the media that personnel may be tweaked for the Italy game, he may consider starting Clifford at 7 and shifting Haskell to 6 to see if that adds balance.
Another measure of England’s performance that can be judged is their defence, working within a similar and generally successful system to that deployed by Andy Farrell, it offers the quickest fix and an insight into the new look aggression and mindset of the England side. Highlighted perfectly in the clips below.
Although nowhere near a perfect performance with plenty of breakdown subtleties and attack to work on, there were certainly positives to focus on and a new edge optimised rightly or wrongly by Owen Farrell towards the end.