England beat Ireland: Matt Dawson says playing Eddie Jones’ side is like facing All Blacks


Matt Dawson

No team is going to want to play England at the moment. It is like playing the All Blacks.

England are a relentless, ruthless team who grind away at you. Physically and mentally you have to be at the top of your game in order to challenge them.

It is tough for a side to get 23 players to that place.

You also have to bring something to the party that England have not prepared for. You have to throw a bit of caution to the wind.

In Ireland’s 18-7 Autumn Nations Cup defeat at Twickenham on Saturday, they were bereft of ideas and the hosts lapped it up.

England’s games are now mirroring those days of playing against the All Blacks from the mid-90s to the mid-2010s.

When you faced that New Zealand side, you had to come up with something new. You had to play with a clear and present vision of where the space was.

You had to have the physicality and you had to score tries. Playing against England is like that at the moment. You are never going to beat them just by kicking goals.

If a side lacks that firepower, I cannot see how they are going to beat England.

It is now five years since Eddie Jones took over as head coach and the side is in a fantastic place.

The strength in depth of the squad, the record they have at Twickenham, a World Cup final, Six Nations titles, Grand Slams – Jones’ CV while in charge is very impressive.

Having said that, I do not think any team at the moment has the right to call themselves the greatest in the world.

New Zealand, England and France would be your top three – South Africa are world champions but aren’t playing right now – but whether anyone will get to the consistent double World Cup-winning standard over the course of a decade that the All Blacks reached, I am not too sure.

Autumn Nations Cup pool a
The winner of Pool A plays the winner of Pool B on 5 or 6 December to determine the Autumn Nations Cup champions

‘It is all about defence for England’

Jones’ interview after the Ireland game was insightful to me.

If I had not heard that interview, I would be saying England are a world-class outfit up front and defensively, but what about their attacking strategy? It is almost non-existent.

When he spoke about England’s defensive performance after the match, Jones made it clear that for whatever reason – Covid-19, training time or the time of year – defence is what it is all about.

I have been in that type of scenario when I was playing at Wasps – and it does work. You get to a certain part of the season when you are happier when the opposition has the ball.

In the second half when England had established a decisive advantage against Ireland, they did not get out of third gear in terms of attacking because they were just determined to put pressure on their opponent.

The stats show it: England made 255 tackles compared to Ireland’s 84. It is all well and good – and it worked – but I do wonder whether the players genuinely enjoy playing that type of rugby.

History shows us players get bored without that ability to attack and play. It happened when Stuart Lancaster was England head coach.

England are playing as close to zero-risk rugby as they can.

Even when they were getting into Ireland’s 22 and there was a slight overlap, they were taking all the risk out of their attacking strategy and turning the opposition.

It is only going to be an individual bit of brilliance from Jonny May or turnover ball when the game is broken up when England are going to attack.

My question would be, in a year’s time and if they are still playing the same rugby and there are gilt-edged opportunities that they do not take, does that start to breed frustration among the players?

Maro Itoje
England’s Maro Itoje shone in defence against Ireland

‘Ireland do not have a successor to Sexton’

Ireland are crying out for a fly-half. Andy Farrell’s side is rebuilding and they have got some talented players but there is a significant gulf between Johnny Sexton and anyone else they can put in their 10 shirt at the moment.

There doesn’t seem to be a successor to the Lions fly-half.

Joey Carbery is the next most talented ball-player but he has been indefinitely sidelined with an ongoing ankle injury.

Even when Sexton is fit, on his current form he is unfortunately not back to his World Player of the Year level.

The forward pack have got great potential and they have some decent leaders.

But they need some ‘game managers’ – a fly-half to stir it up and direct the team. That was highlighted against England.

There were a few opportunities for Ireland early on but as England’s defence became increasingly oppressive, fly-half Ross Byrne was backing away from taking them on.

When Billy Burns came on and chipped over for Jacob Stockdale to score, that was the gamble and creativity that they needed.

Matt Dawson was speaking to BBC Sport’s Becky Grey.

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