England have had a stunningly successful 16 months since Eddie Jones was appointed to succeed Stuart Lancaster. 16 wins out of 16 under the pugnacious Aussie is a remarkable achievement and illustrates the scale of the task facing Scotland at Twickenham on Saturday. If the visitors are to have any chance it’s worth taking a look at the periods of these games when England have been strongest.
There is a stark difference between the aggregate scores for the first and second halves of the matches during Eddie Jones’ streak, with his side winning the opening period by +63 points compared to +164 points after the break. In fact there was only one occasion in those games where England ‘lost’ the second 40 minutes (when 2 late tries for Wales at Twickenham briefly threw that clash back into the balance) whereas they have ‘won’ the first 40 a slightly more average 10 times in 16 fixtures.
Splitting the cumulative totals by quarter illustrates the strength of the English game as matches progress:
England have shut out their opponents in the final quarter in 11 of the 16 games. A solitary unconverted try by Australia represents the entire points scoring return in the last 20 minutes for the sides that have taken on the English in their 6 most recent matches.
Boasting an attack that becomes more potent and a defence that becomes more stifling the later in the game it gets England present a huge challenge for any side. There are reasons though why so many sides’ winning streaks have finished around this level. New Zealand have lost after 18, 17 (twice), 16 and 15 (twice) consecutive victories. South Africa have managed runs of 17 and 15. Nathan Hines mentioned it early on in the week of press duties that this sort of record can start to weigh heavily in terms of expectation.
England are past the innovation stage of Eddie Jones’ reign, the period where the changes he was bringing were transforming attitudes and playing styles. They’re now very much in the maturity phase of the run. What is really keeping them going is just that experience of winning, the bloody-minded attitude and expectation that they will find a way to get the result no matter the situation they find themselves in. It’s one of the keys to those strong second halves and almost overpowering final quarters. These are the characteristics that have brought them through slow starts or poor opening periods against Australia, France, Wales and, most recently, Italy. There comes a point though where the match position becomes too much to overcome or where the mental fatigue of reaching that peak yet again just drops off the performance level by that crucial 1 or 2%.
The only way for Scotland to test this is to put England under as much stress as possible. They have to be efficient and take any and all opportunities presented to them. This has been a strength for Vern Cotter’s men, taking points on essentially every visit to the Welsh 22 in their most recent match. Conversely England’s fight to protect their winning record has been aided by France and Wales blowing excellent try scoring opportunities followed by Tommaso Allan’s wayward kicking from the tee for Italy. These sides have failed to build a solid lead when they’ve had spells dominating territory and possession, allowing England to stay in touch and then boss the game in those championship minutes late on.
The fundamental issue for Scotland is the winning mentality hard-wired into their hosts allied to the strength Eddie Jones can call upon from the bench. (For all Jones’ media bamboozling babble with every game the ‘finishers’ label seems more and more justified and not a construct to keep squad players content!) The Scots need to be in a position to control the game late on, to try and keep any English fightback at arms length. Can the dark blues get out in front early and give themselves a chance of their first victory at Twickenham for 34 years?