Did Wales pave the way for an English transformation?

That old wooden-handled toolset handed down from your grandfather, the best man speech at your wedding and Eddie Jones. What do these three have in common?

By Alistair Stokes
15th November 2018
By Alistair Stokes
15th November 2018

That old wooden-handled toolset handed down from your grandfather, the best man speech at your wedding and Eddie Jones. What do these three have in common? All have had considerable question marks over their bluntness and the potential aftermath of the job at hand.

In regards to Mr Jones, it does come as a surprise that this statement does not concern his methods in the media, but the widespread condemnation of his reliance on stout ball carriers. The Vunipola brothers, Ben Te'o and Courtney Lawes have all been unavailable to Jones during significant Test windows over the last two seasons, windows that would see a significant drop in form and resulting criticism of the Australian's dependence on his more muscular squad members.

This draws a distinguished resemblance to the critiques of the seemingly extinct 'Warren Ball', or 'Gatland Ball', depending on your preference. Limited, reliant on specific individuals and ignorant of smaller, more exciting players. One would struggle to decipher whether this was a statement penned in 2014 Cardiff or 2018 London.

However, Gatland and his Welsh compatriots have since revolutionised the way they play, making a jump to hyper speed at the start of the 2018 Six Nations. A transformation that leant on a significant portion of their Scarlets contingent, borrowing fine-tuned form from the club Wales' coach-elect, Wayne Pivac, utilised to thrill fans with an 'attack from anywhere' ideology.

The more scholarly Welsh fans will have noted the odd change in play during the season that preceded this evolution, specifically during their disastrous tour of New Zealand in 2016. This was a series in which the men in red began to lift the skirt and reveal the ankles of their soon-to-develop brand of rugby; changes masked by the heavy nature of their defeats to the All Blacks and Super Rugby side the Chiefs.

A similar rhetoric is currently taking place in a white jersey, with England showing clear signs of attempting to evolve the very core of their game.

Against the Springboks two weeks ago, England's forwards began to tip on passes in contact, shifting the point of attack. This worked hand in hand with the changes Jones made upfront, with the likes of Brad Shields and Kyle Sinckler taking advantage of their pace and agility to add an extra oomph around the field; most evident against the All Blacks last weekend.

So far, many of these opportunities will have gone under the radar, yet to develop from its current fledgling stage to the full-blooded edition that could soon emerge. A prime example of this was Shields' knock-on less than a metre from the Springboks' tryline a fortnight ago. The opportunity may have been wasted, but should not go unnoticed.

A changing of the guard in England's backline has also hinted towards this transformation. The two most significant changes are that of Wasps utility man and British and Irish Lion Elliot Daly replacing the reliable Mike Brown at fullback and straight running centre Ben Te'o stepping into a starting role in midfield; bringing an end to the George Ford-Owen Farrell axis. These two developments have transformed the balance of England's backline, paving the way for a new dimension of attacking opportunities.

While Daly is yet to fully embed himself into his new position and Te'o is still finding his feet after a long-term injury layoff, the space the latter opens up for a newly-balanced backline and upskilled pack - both in personnel and methods - displays clear signs of an evolution of the Rose.

The changes may not have come to fruition thus far, but Wales' results prior to their rout of Scotland in Cardiff last February told a similar tale. A lot can change in a year at Test level and we may find the Tier one landscape unrecognisable by the time Japan 2019 comes around.

The Rugby Magazine

Filed under: International, England, Wales
Written by: Alistair Stokes
Follow: @alistokesrugby · @therugbymag

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