England lose third Six Nations game in a row to confirm that this is a team caught in an identity crisis

This was another defeat that raised several questions: What comes next for England? Where are they headed? And do they have the quality to compete at next year’s World Cup?

Samuel Lovett
Twickenham
Saturday 17 March 2018 18:14
Comments
Where do England go from this?
Where do England go from this?

It was fitting that England’s greatest test under the tenure of Eddie Jones would play out in the harshest of conditions. No sunshine, no warmth, no calm blue skies above. Instead, a biting wind from the east and plunging temperatures that saw a sprinkling of snow fall lazily on south-west London. Dethroned and stripped of their 2017 title, England found themselves out in the cold. And it was the Irish who put them there.

Battered, bruised and comfortably beaten, England have now lost three games on the trot and find themselves caught in a crippling identity crisis - one that raises numerous questions of this English side.

Indeed, what comes next for England? Where are they headed? Do they have the player quality to genuinely compete at next year’s World Cup? And will Jones - a man who earlier this week said he thrives “under the pump” - be the man to revive the Red Rose?

A dejected Dylan Hartley looks on after Ireland's second try 

Succumbing to a 24-15 defeat on their own turf - this was the first time since October 2015 that England have lost at Twickenham - it was a performance that shattered any remaining illusions of grandeur that may still have surrounded Jones’ men heading into the match.

England’s physicality at the breakdown had been exposed at Murrayfield, while the side’s spirit and discipline fell under scrutiny at the Stade de France, but, here, it was the team’s composure which was found wanting.

This proved to be the case after just five minutes. Under pressure from a precise Johnny Sexton kick, as well as the looming presence of Rob Kearney, Anthony Watson’s nerve snapped. With the ball fumbled and out of the bread basket, Garry Ringrose pounced on the scraps to land the first blow.

Individual error may have helped Ireland along with their first try but the same cannot be said for their second. Following a swift Irish line-out, a rush of green shirts exploded in the centre of the pitch to leave England bamboozled before the critical incision was made, allowing Bundee Aki to break through the hosts’ questionable backline. From there, safe hands and momentum saw the Irish through to the line. Jones’ men had been outplayed and cut open.

Maro Itoje competes for the ball at an England line-out 

It was a movement that, in one quick flash, highlighted the gulf in quality between these two teams. More so, it was further confirmation of England’s vanishing defence in this tournament. Watertight against the Welsh, Jones’ men shipped three against the Scots and a further three here today. Traditionally one of England’s more polished attributes, it’s an area of the side’s game that will need addressing in the months ahead.

What, then, to make of England’s attacking game? When the anger and focus was there, Jones’ men proved they have the quality needed to put points on teams of Ireland’s calibre. Owen Farrell’s boot, a threatening weapon against Wales, was once again put to good use today - his nudged kick the moment of magic England needed to slice open the Irish defence. Elliot Daly’s second try, meanwhile, was the product of fast, clean hands, finished off by a smart pop of the ball by Mike Brown.

But, as has been the case for this entire championship, the consistency simply wasn’t there. Dylan Hartley’s overshot line-out throw in the 30th minute, coming off the back of a rare period of English pressure, encapsulated the lack of composure missing from Jones’ men. It’s in moments such as these where the sport’s best grab a game by the scruff of its neck and make their opponents pay. England were incapable of doing this. Coupled with the side’s poor discipline - 11 penalties were conceded in total by the hosts - it’s clear Jones’ men are in need of direction. The quality is there - England’s tries proved as much - but the belief and right mentality remains absent.

England put up a fight, and even snatched a late score at the death, but, ultimately, it wasn’t enough. After such bright beginnings under the mercurial Australian, the side have been exposed, their aura of invincibility dissipated. After the defeats against Scotland and France, today's result was further confirmation of that. The small comfort for Jones and his camp is that this unravelling came 12 months before next summer’s World Cup. Time now, then, to assess the damage, survey the lay of the land and get England back up on their feet and out of the cold.

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