Eddie Jones believes England are suffering from a fault line exposed during the 2015 World Cup as he plans to recruit outside help to work on reshaping his players’ minds.
Mirroring the collapse in Cardiff earlier in the Six Nations, England fell apart in the second half against Scotland as a 31-0 lead was squandered with only a converted injury-time try by George Ford salvaging a 38-38 draw.
It continues a theme that initially developed on last summer’s tour to South Africa when strong positions were surrendered in the first two Tests.
Jones insists the flaw evident on Saturday was a result of England’s traumatic group exit from their own World Cup four years ago, but is adamant it will be rectified in time for Japan 2019.
“It’s about how the team thinks under pressure. It’s like we have some hand grenades in the back of a jeep and sometimes they go off when there’s a lot of pressure. We have a few of them and we’ve got to get rid of them,” Jones said.
“The team has probably had it since the 2015 World Cup and we’ve been working on a process to fix it. We will get it right, but it takes time.
“Whenever you have a difficult tournament or difficult games, there’s always a lingering thought process there. Sometimes it takes longer than you’d like to fix it, but it is fixable.
“It comes in when you get under pressure, a lot of pressure, and you can’t work out a way to get back to what you want to do.
“I’ve got one person that’s going to help us that’s a bit of an expert. I’m not sharing that name with you now. I haven’t used her before.”
Jones is confident the summer-long pre-World Cup training squad offers enough time to work on the fragility seized upon by Wales and Scotland.
“When we won 18 games in a row, we still had those problems. And they have come to the fore in a couple of games recently which is beneficial for us because it’s made it quite clear what we have to fix to be the best team in the world,” he said.
England’s most capped scrum-half Ben Youngs disputes Jones’ explanation for why the team is vulnerable to self-inflicted wounds, although there was no hiding his frustration at a bewildering disintegration against the Scots.
“I wouldn’t agree with that at all. I don’t think it’s pressure, we just need a better understanding of where the momentum of the game is and what we want at that current moment,” Youngs said.
“We are looking at ourselves in the mirror going: ‘What have we done’? You can’t be that ruthless in the first half and then be so toothless in the second.
“We thought the job was done and it was far from done. We were too loose, too flippant with the ball. Disappointing. There’s going to be a lot of reflection on this one.”
Jones brought off Owen Farrell in the 71st minute with the match entering a critical phase and the captain later admitted “we probably gifted them the momentum swing, me more than anyone”.
Farrell had gifted tries to Stuart McInally and Finn Russell and was also lucky to escape a card for a late shoulder-led tackle on Darcy Graham.
“We just needed a change and we needed someone to change the momentum of the game,” Jones said.
“Henry Slade and Manu Tuilagi both still had enough in them to stay on, so it then became a decision on whether to replace Owen and we thought it was the best decision for the team at that stage.
“Owen lost a bit of his edge. We know George is an excellent player who can bring something different to the table. We ended up getting a draw due to George’s brilliant play.
“It’s always a team loss. You never lose because of one player. Owen’s the hardest taskmaster in the world and he’ll be disappointed with his game.”
Hadleigh Parkes is ready to embrace the expectation that will surround Wales’ World Cup campaign after their Six Nations triple triumph.
Wales will head to Japan in September as Six Nations champions, Triple Crown and Grand Slam winners.
They were World Cup semi-finalists eight years ago, and Wales are already being backed in some quarters to at least replicate that achievement.
The last team to win a Six Nations Grand Slam in World Cup year were England in 2003 – and they ended up being crowned world champions.
“It’s nice to have a bit of expectation on you,” said Wales centre Parkes, whose second-minute try sent his team on the way to a title-clinching 25-7 victory over Ireland in Cardiff.
“There is a lot of rugby still to be played. It’s going to be an exciting time for those involved. Hopefully, it will be a good year for the Welsh people.”
Integral to Wales’s World Cup hopes will be captain Alun-Wyn Jones, who looks set to be named Six Nations player of the tournament later this week following an inspired contribution.
Despite hurting his knee early in the Ireland encounter, Jones picked himself up and led from the front as Wales ended a seven-year wait for Grand Slam glory.
Parkes added: “He has to be one of the greats. That’s pretty simple.
“What he does for the Ospreys, what he has done for Wales for a number of years, he has to go down as one of the greats.
“He is the leader, he is the one you look to, he’s the one who steps up week in, week out. Every game he puts in a performance.
“He is a very nice man as well, that must be said, a very humble man. But what a leader, what a captain. What a bloke.
“He is all about this team. He’s really enjoying his footy. I think he probably wishes he was 21 again – he is running around like he is 21 again!”
New Zealand-born Parkes only qualified for Wales on residency grounds 15 months ago, but he has established himself as a pivotal member of the team alongside Jonathan Davies in midfield.
“I am very grateful and humbled by the opportunity that I’ve been given by the managing team here, and also the people in west Wales at the Scarlets,” Parkes said.
“It’s been an amazing four-and-a half years so far. I have to pinch myself.
“You dream about these moments. The England Test was amazing, but this was just another step up again.”
Parkes, meanwhile, dedicated Wales’ win to victims of the New Zealand mosque shootings. Fifty people are known to have been killed in attacks at two mosques in Christchurch on Friday.
A minute’s silence was held before kick-off in Cardiff, and Parkes said: “I am really thankful for the minute’s silence.
“It’s terrible. You kind of think New Zealand is like a safe haven. You are so far away, you keep to yourselves.
“For the people of Christchurch, for the Muslim community, it’s shocking. It is heartbreaking to hear about that kind of thing.”
Wales stormed to the Six Nations title and Grand Slam by crushing Ireland 25-7 in Cardiff on Saturday.
It was also a 14th consecutive win, based around a granite-like defence and an ever-improving squad under head coach Warren Gatland and inspirational captain Alun Wyn Jones.
Here, we grade each teams’ performance with a view to the World Cup in September.
Won 5, Lost 0
A first Grand Slam since 2012. Wales took their chances at the right time and made better use of their possession and territorial advantage throughout the tournament. They played with a discipline, commitment and hunger that no team could match. Whether it was winning ugly or not, they were the most consistent team in the competition and boasted the best defence by some distance. Could be European rugby’s best hope at the World Cup later this year.
Won 3, Draw 1, Lost 1
A mixed campaign but definitely an improvement on their disastrous 2018 season. Their energy, chasing game, physicality, consistency and decision-making were strong in comprehensive wins over Ireland and France. But they struggled in the second half against Wales and Scotland – again raising questions about their inability to close out matches when in control. When Maro Itoje and Mako Vunipola return from injury, expect the Red Rose to strengthen further in time for Japan.
Won 3, Lost 2
The Men in Green were bullied in the physical stakes, inaccurate and limited in their attacking exploits against England and Wales. They struggled for large spells against Scotland and Italy, and showed minor improvements in round four against France. With a limited game plan, Joe Schmidt needs to go back to the drawing board and come up with something new, especially if Ireland are to finally break the glass ceiling and make a World Cup semi-final this autumn. Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray also need to step up.
Won 1, Draw 1, Lost 3
Failed to build on their potential from 2018 and lacked composure and detail during the tournament. Their stand-out performance was against England on Saturday, when they scored six second-half tries to seal a draw having trailed by 27 points at the break. The talent is there in Scotland, but confidence seemed low after injuries to key stars during the tournament. Still, despite the lack of consistency, Gregor Townsend’s side have the chance of making a World Cup quarter-final later this year. Their fortunes will turn eventually.
Won 2, Lost 3
One of the biggest enigmas in world sport. Les Bleus can look sensational at times and then utterly shambolic. Their lack of game plan and general organisation was highlighted in the way they failed to turn up for the first half against Wales and then nearly won the game. They ground out half-decent performances in wins over Scotland and Italy, but then were hopeless in commanding defeats to England and Ireland. Better player management between the French Rugby Federation and clubs is needed for this side to improve going forward.
Won 0, Lost 5
Their persistence was one of the big positives for Conor O’Shea. They kept with Ireland and Scotland for large spells of the game and pushed France hard in Rome – a match they really should have won. O’Shea is doing incredible work behind the scenes, but if there are no wins to show for their efforts – 22 successive defeats now in the Six Nations – then it is hard to pinpoint much improvement. More belief and more consistency in attack and defence is needed for the Azzurri players.