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What English rugby can learn from South Africa’s World Cup win

Tendai Mtawarira

English rugby is almost in crisis after a thrashing at the hands of France in their Six Nations opener, with Eddie Jones’ side eventually going down 24-17 at the Stade de France.

South Africa stunned the world with a game of brute force.

The final scoreline does not tell the whole story, however, as England were 17-0 down at half-time with the game already over as a contest.

Jones has been strongly criticised in the wake of the defeat with his England side having now been beaten five of his last seven Six Nations games played away from Twickenham.

Kyran Bracken, part of the England team that won the World Cup in 2003, called for Jones to leave as coach “right now” after his controversial comments ahead of the France game.

Jones has been accused of fueling France’s fire by what he said to the media before the match and the Australian will be in the spotlight again for the Scotland game.

England lost to South Africa in last year’s World Cup final, so what can Jones and his team learn from the Springboks’ triumph?

Favourite status not necessarily helpful

The English should not feel that bad as pretty much no one saw the Boks winning the World Cup. All the odds were stacked in New Zealand’s favour and for the final most bookies and pundits had England walking away with the trophy. South African punters made a killing while Australians are probably wishing they had chosen a no deposit free bet casino to place their wager on the game.

Jones has said he wants England to be playing the best rugby the world has ever seen, but sometimes a coach just has to focus on getting the right result.

South Africa’s rugby during the tournament was not often sparkling but they got the job done with ruthless efficiency and there was no doubt they deserved to lift the trophy overall.

Jones has put a target on England’s back and, as a direct result of his comments that were perceived to be arrogant, every team will now be determined to get one over on his team. This is especially the case for Scotland in the upcoming Calcutta Cup, with the rivalry between the sides already fierce. Giving teams additional motivation in the Six Nations is not needed at all.

England have not won either of the past two Six Nations tournaments either, so there is little to suggest Jones is right to hail his team’s world-dominating potential in that fashion either. A little more humility, such as that seen in the South Africa side last year, would not go amiss at all.

Jones should clarify his England future

Losing in the World Cup final was always going to have a major impact on England, but perhaps an underlying factor involved in their loss to France was the confusion over Jones’ future.

Jones has a two-year contract so it is unclear whether or not he is going to be in charge for the next World Cup campaign in 2023. And if he is not going to be at the helm, England will have to go through the upheaval of a change of coach in the middle of their World Cup preparations.

France 2023 might feel like a long way away, but the cycle heading towards the next World Cup is already up and running with this year’s Six Nations the first step towards that tournament.

If England want Jones to still be in charge at the next World Cup, they should tie the Australian down to a long-term contract now. And if Jones has no intention of remaining in his job for the next four years, he should start thinking about standing down to make room for the next man.

Contrast the current England position with South Africa at the World Cup. Rassie Erasmus replaced Allister Coetzee less than two years before Japan 2019, but he had enough time to build the team he wanted to take into the tournament. Captain Siya Kolisi – the first black man to lead the Springboks – had been in the post since 2018, so there was stability in both positions.

England’s captain Owen Farrell was heavily criticised after the France game and right now it is hard to see him leading the team into the next World Cup. Two key positions, captain and coach, and England have no stability in either role. George Ford is a potential replacement captain.

Pick players in the right position

One of the key factors in England’s shock loss in Paris was players lining up in unfamiliar roles. Tom Curry appeared uneasy with the position he featured in with the lack of a classic number eight in the side proving costly for Jones’ men.

Getting that position right is going to be key ahead of the next World Cup and, again, England can learn from South Africa when it comes to this position.

Duane Vermeulen starred throughout Japan 2019 and was named the man of the match for his performance in the final against England. Exeter’s Sam Simmonds or Harlequins’ Alex Dombrandt could play at eight for England rather than the current confusion over the role.

Charlie Ewels and debutant full-back George Furbank should also be at risk of dropping out of the England team for the game against France.

What is for sure is that under-fire coach Jones has a lot of big decisions to make if he is to complete his ambitious goal of making England the greatest team in rugby history.

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