Ian McGeechan: England still two years behind All Blacks

By Sir Ian McGeechan

England fans celebrate the side's 3-0 series sweep of Australia. Photo /Getty
England fans celebrate the side's 3-0 series sweep of Australia. Photo /Getty

There is no doubt that England have been absolutely outstanding in winning 3-0 in Australia. It is a magnificent achievement, but the truth is that they are still some distance behind New Zealand.

In fact, I would say they are two years behind the world champions.

New Zealand are still ahead of England and everyone else, simply because of their all-court game.

Even with the great players they have lost, I think they have already shown that they can still play that game where they are so comfortable in the wide channels and they are so good and accurate with their offloads once they get on the front foot. There is a collective reaction to find the players in space

You can also see their intent to play when they disregard the hooter at the end of a half or at full time. They just keep going when other sides would just kick the ball out and say 'we have done the job'.

No other team can match that intensity or commitment at the moment. You have to try to stay with them all the time and hope that the scoreboard falls your way at the end, because they will never let up and have a habit of scoring at the critical times.

England do not have that instinct yet. Eddie Jones has given them the instinct to win, which is obviously crucial, but what he will want to do in his time with the players in the next two years is to challenge them to commit to changing their game.

Jones has got so many things right so far and has been adding little things along the way, but he will try to add such things as the counter-attack, at which New Zealand were so devastatingly good yesterday against Wales.

England needed Jones to get them over the line, to use his winning mindset to take them from those four consecutive second-place finishes in the Six Nations to being Grand Slam winners and now series victors in Australia. He has made some very good players play even better.

There has been a big southern-hemisphere influence in this. There are still people out there who say that coaching does not have an impact, but here we have some very strong evidence to the contrary.

Obviously there is Jones, and, of course, the Englishmen Paul Gustard and Steve Borthwick have had their say and influence, but then there are the likes of George Smith, Glen Ella and Andrew Johns, who have all spent time in the England camp. Neal Hatley has come in as scrum coach and though he represented the Saxons he has spent a lot of time in South Africa and brings their mindset to the scrummage work.

But there has been no copying in the style of play. England have played their own way. But you cannot get away from the fact that they do not get wide as impressively or as easily as Australia or New Zealand.

That is down to attitude and intent, but also training too. If you do not do it week in, week out, then it is difficult to switch it on at Test level.

There are some downsides to some of the things that happen in Super Rugby, but the most significant upside of that competition is that it challenges players to play with width and to get support to those players in the wide channels quickly.

When Australia got it right in Sydney yesterday, they looked a yard quicker than England in recognising the mismatches and working to the wider spaces. New Zealand were the same against Wales. When they were on the front foot they got players in positions quicker.

That is something that the northern-hemisphere players have not got by way of instinct. And that is a reflection of Super Rugby as opposed to the Aviva Premiership, the Guinness PRO12 and the French Top 14.

I am not saying that all the rugby should be the same. What you want is the rugby to be effectively delivering what the strengths are of the different competitions and systems.

And that is what Jones has done with England. Apart from the first half in Sydney yesterday they have not played a great deal of rugby, but what they are doing is making better decisions far more often in key areas, which keeps the strengths they have in play and in the game for longer. So the impact on the game becomes totally different because of what they are doing. In the end, Australia could not find the answers in their own game to come away with a win.

But I think that in two years' time Jones will be looking to have found an influx of speed, accuracy and intent that can be put into England's game so that they have the numbers in the outside channels to do some serious damage.

It is not inherent in the players. Jones is going to have to put it there and give them an England mindset that grows every time they come together.

I think Warren Gatland will coach the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand next year and he knows that to beat the All Blacks you have to play differently.

That is why Wales have tried to change their game by playing wider and quicker, with Taulupe Faletau in the wide channels and an attempt to get other forwards out there in those positions. But they need more shape in those channels and they do not have that because they do not possess the same variety of runners that New Zealand have.

Gatland will know this and it will influence his selection. He will look at players who he thinks will have an open mind and can say, "Yes, I can play differently in a Lions jersey to produce this sort of rugby to trouble New Zealand."

He has got to do that. Playing set-piece rugby, or even-paced rugby, will not defeat the All Blacks. He put that on the table with his approach with Wales in this series. They tired badly yesterday, but they have shown that it does take time to change and adapt.

That said, it has still been a decent summer for the northern hemisphere, a step forwards after the Rugby World Cup. England are clearly above Australia and South Africa now, Ireland have made history and Scotland, despite not overly impressing, have won two Test matches, but New Zealand are still some way out on top.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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