For a lot of Eddie Jones’ spell at the helm of English rugby union, England have looked like the most likely side to challenge New Zealand when the World Cup comes around in 2019, with the Red Rose playing an efficient brand of rugby under the Australian, who has brought belief back to the English camp.
England were a long time unbeaten under Jones following his appointment and seriously looking like righting the wrongs of 2015 with excellent preparation ahead of the 2019 World Cup – recording back-to-back Six Nations crowns in 2016 and 2017, losing just once in ten fixtures in the competition.
The 2018 competition is in full swing, but England are struggling to replicate the form they previously showed in the Northern Hemisphere’s elite competition, with Jones’ side suffering a disappointing 25-13 defeat to Scotland on Matchday 3, which ended their hopes of a Grand Slam.
That defeat against Scotland might have dented England’s hopes of a third consecutive Six Nation crown, however, it also showed how Jones’ side can be targeted and weak areas of their set-up. A lot was made of Owen Farrell’s pre-match bust-up at Murrayfield, and whilst England will argue it didn’t affect a sloppy first-half performance, it is hard not to believe England’s key man didn’t have the incident at the back of his mind.
Farrell is key to England, whether he is at fly-half or inside-centre, but whilst he has cut a composed figure under Jones, he still lives on the edge and looking back to the 2015 World Cup, he showed ill-discipline in the defeat to Australia when his side really needed him.
Jones has worked hard to iron out those flaws in Farrell’s game, and there is a chance that he could be captaining England at the World Cup in Japan, depending on Dylan Hartley’s selection battle with Jamie George for the hooking role.
Despite that recent defeat to Scotland in the Six Nations, Farrell and his teammates are still well fancied to run New Zealand close in Japan, with England priced at 7/2 with bet365’s rugby union betting markets to pick up their first World Cup since 2003.
The defeat against Scotland showed where England can be ruffled, and could be an indication that Jones needs to find a ‘Plan B’ between now and the World Cup in Japan. Ireland are looking strong and alongside England will be expected to bring the biggest challenge from the Northern Hemisphere, whilst Australia will be in the running to compete with New Zealand.
How good England have been under Jones shouldn’t be forgotten because of one poor 40 minutes of rugby against Scotland, but it certainly showed cracks in their armoury that has looked so firm under Jones’ rule. Of course, whilst 2019 and the World Cup seems to be rapidly approaching, there is still plenty of rugby to be played and England will still hold hopes of toppling New Zealand, but their performance in the 2018 Six Nations will have caused their Australian head coach a few headaches.