Two down, two victories, two substitutes granted their debuts and two home matches to come.
Seems like it’s twos up for Eddie Jones at present – he’s navigated his team through what could have been a couple of awkward first couple of banana-skin matches with Scotland and Italy waiting in the wings for any slip-up.
The key to these victories has been his use of substitutes to change the game for England. Jones seems to be able to navigate, select and utilise his options on the replacements bench with aplomb.
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Firstly, against Scotland, he was able to bring on Ben Youngs for the slightly stuttering Danny Care to bring some further accuracy to the service to his backline, along with the option of his superior box-kicking as a further element for their exit strategy from their own 22-metre line.
Last time out, the favour was returned with the need to press the game further and drive the air from the lungs of the Italians, Care was brought on to add a little tempo to the game which he delivered well, shipping the ball quickly and seizing the moment for his deft chip through to Jonathan Joseph for a well-worked try.
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Along the way, Jones also blooded some new and inexperienced personnel to expose them to the sharp end of international rugby. Horses for courses which hasn’t always been the staple (or should that be stable) of English tactics. Against Italy, with the introduction of Maro Itoje to the back-row alongside Joe Launchbury, also fresh from the bench meant further dynamism was introduced for an increasingly stretched and tired Italian defence to deal with.
Itoje coming on for Robshaw allowed Eddie Jones to test the debutant on the flank, giving a further (or perhaps more viable) option in the lineout, but his club form shone through almost
immediately with a turnover steal in a ruck by excellent body positioning low under the opposition players.
These introductions weren’t put in bang on the hour-mark as seemed to be the case with Stuart Lancaster’s regime, where he would seemingly empty his armoury of substitutes at a time predetermined before the start of the match.
Jones seems, even if it’s an illusion, to be able to read the opportune moment to introduce his players – with the past two matches having had change-overs some five minutes into the second half, he’s giving his bench players some time to put a mark on proceedings.
There were some eyebrows raised with the change of Mako Vunipola at the expense of Joe Marler at loose head prop for Italy as the convention tends to be to have your better scrummager to start, allowing them to tire the opposition for the more mobile man to exploit later.
This convention ignored allowed Vunipola to be given a vote of confidence in his scrummaging, allowing him to make an impact around the field from the start, whilst when Marler did enter the fray, his power in the tight caused the Italian pack no end of worries late in the day.
The change of players from starting to bench, even in his brief time
at the helm, may even mean that there’s less of a stigma about sitting
on the sidelines for a while – the thoughts of the cavalry waiting to enter the battle rather than the second wave of also-rans is key at keeping a player’s mind on the task.
It seems that going against the grain is a key trait to Jones’ coaching methods.
For now, it seems like it’s paying dividends. The true tests are yet to come in this Six Nations, though – their next match against the outstanding northern hemisphere side in Ireland will show how robust the new ideology has become.
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