England should stop using their brains to make Six Nations headway

Fraser Dingwall celebrates Ben Earl’s try as England edge past Wales (Picture: Getty)

England survived an almighty scare against 
Wales but if they are to find a way to beat Scotland next week, they will have to get to grips with their 
faltering attempts at a new approach, stop over-thinking and start playing on instinct.

At half-time, a large part of the Twickenham crowd were certainly struggling to keep faith in the England team to recover from the deficit they faced against a Wales side whose try just before the break through Alex Mann raised plenty of questions about the hosts’ performance.

A key issue is how the players are adapting to a new regime in defence, with the loss from the frontline of Kevin Sinfield, replaced by double World Cup-winning coach Felix Jones.

It seems to make sense, on paper. However, Kevin was the heartbeat of that team. He has been Steve Borthwick’s empathic arm, with England’s head coach (below) said to struggle with the tender nature required of a modern-day coach.

While this brings concerns over Borthwick’s connection with his players, it also raises another issue – learning what the new regime wants on a tight timescale.

Steve Borthwick struggles with the cuddly side of coaching

Steve Borthwick struggles with the cuddly side of coaching (Picture: Reuters)

It was evident against Italy and again too when faced by Wales that this is very much work in progress. It is no different than when Andy Farrell came into being with England in 2012. Two very sub-standard defensive performances followed as players dealt, under high pressure, with learning new fundamentals being asked of them in their new structures.

When faced with the increased intensity of Test-match rugby, the ability to think clearly and trust instincts is critical to the success of any defence. At the moment, the English players seem to be second guessing themselves. In fact, worse than that, they are thinking.

It seems crazy to say but engaging that slower part of the brain, the one that processes reactivity and slows down decision-making, hurts defences. That is very evident in England’s players and their approach at the moment.

So too their attack, which does at least look more fluid than it has done in recent history. The best thing we can say about it is they are trying. They are attempting to create opportunities and take the game to the opposition.

The issue is, they cannot win the gainline. Love it or hate it, Test matches are decided upon these hard-won inches, and England have no grade A carriers that can shift the momentum to then allow their silkier players more time and space to open up the play for others. Without this, England look a little toothless, even though those who watch Premiership rugby week in, week out know the quality their players possess.

The transfer of that ability to the international game seems not to be quite there, without the likes of Manu Tuilagi and Ollie Lawrence to open up corridors 
of attack.

With all that against them, though, England are two from two and, even with a lack of cut and thrust on both sides of the ball, they are still on for a Grand Slam, and only Ireland can also say that. Are we comparing them to the elegance of Ireland? Not at all but they are in it, and that does count for something.

Elliot Dee kicks the ball off of the tee as George Ford looks on

Elliot Dee kicks the ball off of the tee as George Ford looks on (Picture: AFP/Getty)

Ref’s Ford call was a shocker

George Ford’s cancelled conversion against Wales, when the game was delicately poised, was a shocking decision.

Kickers are allowed to move their feet to be comfortable and Ford had not taken a step towards the ball – there was clearly no intent at all to start his run-up – when Rio Dyer charged him down and Elliot Dee raced in to kick the ball off its tee.

In essence, the referee made a poor call and should have had the bravery to organise a retake.

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