AS Ireland England IT was something unthinkable three weeks ago but reality has arrived and with it, the real possibility of three successive defeats for an England that was all conquering for a good two years.
If Ireland beats England at Twickenham this Saturday there is also the likelihood of England finishing fifth in the competition – the lowest for the side since 1983, when it was the Five Nations.
In the Six Nations, since the first edition in 2000, the last time England lost three of five matches was in 2006.
England had been on a high since Australian Eddie Jones took over as coach after the 2015 World Cup, an 18-match winning streak stopped only by Ireland’s 13-9 win in Dublin in last year’s Six Nations, a win which denied England a Grand Slam. But England was still good enough to retain the title it won the previous year.
Thereafter England went on another unbeaten sequence, including a three-Test win in Australia.
It was only one defeat in 25 matches – until Scotland played an outstanding game on February 24 to win 25-13 while also exposing cracks in the England game. The most obvious were England’s poor show at the breakdown and a lack of bite in attack.
Now Jones is considering an attacks coach in his coaching team after handling this part of the preparations himself.
No doubt in Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson and Jonny May England has real pace out wide but often times they were isolated when stopped by a strong defence. Opportunities with ball in hand were also limited against France when outside centre Ben Te’o chose not to pass the ball out on several occasions.
So from 1 defeat in 25 matches England went to two from 26 and is now staring at the real possibility of three defeats from 27 matches and this a team that at one point was talking about beating the world champion All Blacks, talking over their spot at the top of the world rankings and also about winning next year’s World Cup.
Instead England’s world ranking has dropped one spot to third behind Ireland.
As against Scotland, England was again exposed by France at the breakdown, giving away 11 turnovers and an unacceptable 16 penalties by a team of its standards.
The immediate reaction by Jones was to say that his boys had failed to adapt to the different interpretations by the referees on the breakdown.
The fact is the new laws on rucking or the breakdown were first experimented by the northern hemisphere a season ahead of the south that is only dealing with them this season but a team like England that has consistently been in the top five in the world can’t be so bad as to not being able to adapt quickly enough to any new law when weaker teams have had no issues.
Lose another game this weekend and more knives will be out aiming at Jones, especially when the national union has provided all the finances required to form a team that will be in the forefront to challenge the All Blacks in the World Cup.
Despite the success Jones achieved in his first two years in charge, it was only a few weeks ago that a journalist took a look back at his coaching career and pointed out that in most instances, Jones’ success rate was consistent in his first two years in charge and his stints with various teams didn’t last more than four years.
He will have this weekend’s match to prove his critics wrong, followed by the three-Test series away against the Springboks in June. More defeats would only ring the alarm bells louder, especially with the limited time available ahead of the World Cup.
And in recent weeks a few rugby journalists had billed the All Blacks-Ireland game on November 17 as the crunch Test for the former, not the one against England the weekend before. That’s how bad just two defeats have done to put a dent in England’s rugby reputation.