Rugby’s Nations Cup will reach its conclusion this weekend, as England face France in Sunday’s final, but anyone expecting a diversion from the stodgy fare on show for the last month is likely to be disappointed, according to England coach Eddie Jones.
England have collected dominant victories over Georgia, Ireland and Wales, but Jones says the game at the moment, which has had no fans in stadiums, is more for the purists.
Jones conceded some frustration after the Wales win that he hadn’t been able to “accelerate” the team’s development as much as he would like and that they lacked cohesion, but, he said on Tuesday when he named Sunday’s squad, that the style was more a function of the current focus on laws than any deliberate choice.
“Just looking at rugby at the moment it’s certainly a tough, physical game, a real game for the purists,” he said. “It reminds me of the 2007 World Cup where defences were pretty dominant and kicking was one of the major ways to get ahead in the game. We go through these periods — the next cycle is always an attacking one, so let’s enjoy the defensive cycle we have at the moment.”
Jones’s England have led the way in defence, conceding only two tries in the competition and keeping Ireland largely at arm’s length during a virtual entire second half on the back foot at Twickenham.
In attack, however, there has been little to get excited about as his halfbacks have rained down kicks in a desperate bid to turn dominant defensive lines and to avoid the high risk of losing the ball to turnovers under the current focus of refereeing the breakdown.
“Look at every side in the world now, they’re so much better organised in defence — everyone’s getting off the line hard and time and space are at a premium and unless we are able to get quick ball it’s very difficult to play with any fluency,” he said. “It’s always dependent on the laws.”
Jones congratulated the organisers for their “fantastic job” in putting on the competition to replace the usual southern hemisphere tour games but said he was unconcerned that France would arrive short of most of their first-choice players due to their rule limiting their release from their clubs.
“We’ve worked hard for nine weeks to get to this position and we can’t control what the opposition puts out there,” said the Australian, whose team were well beaten in Paris in the opening game of the Six Nations in February.
“You know whatever side France put out is going to be competitive, they’re going to be tough. They’ve won the last two under-20 World Cups so they have plenty of good players and we’re not concerned about that one iota.
“We’re worried about our performance and how we can improve that. In a championship, the final week is always the greatest learning week. You learn a lot about yourselves, about your team mates, about how you operate as a team.
“We’ve had one unsuccessful final in the last 13 months [the World Cup defeat by South Africa] so we’ve learned from that and we’d like to put our learnings into practice this week.”