Eddie Jones has said he took the unusual decision to replace Owen Farrell at a key moment during an incredible 38-38 draw with Scotland at Twickenham because the England captain had “lost his “edge”.
Fly-half Farrell was in complete command as England surged into a 31-0 lead by the half hour mark of Saturday’s Calcutta Cup clash, converting all their four first-half tries and kicking a penalty.
But with just over 10 minutes left and the score deadlocked at 38-38, Jones decided to take Farrell off and bring on replacement George Ford even though the Saracens star was showing no sign of any physical injury.
By that stage, however, Farrell had gifted Scotland two of their six tries, with the visitors’ captain Stuart McInally charging down a kick to begin one of the all-time great comebacks before fly-half Finn Russell intercepted a loose pass for another score.
But with Scotland on the brink of one of the most remarkable wins since they played the very first rugby union international against England in 1871, Ford levelled the match in stoppage time with a try under the posts he converted — the last kick of the 2019 Six Nations.
– ‘Deep hole’ –
AFP / Ben STANSALL Kick in the teeth: Scotland captain Stuart McInally charges down an Owen Farrell punt to spark the visitors’ recovery with their first try
Farrell, fortunate to escape a yellow card for an apparent shoulder charge on Scotland wing Darcy Graham, admitted “we probably gifted them the momentum swing, me more than anyone” and England coach Jones told the BBC on Sunday: “Owen lost a bit of his edge. He was just a little bit off his best and George Ford has been in exceptional form this week.
“We know George is an excellent player who can bring something different to the table,” the Australian added. “We ended up getting a draw due to George’s brilliant play.”
England, belying their reputation for ‘dull’ forward-orientated rugby, topped this season’s Six Nations try-scoring charts with 24.
But they twice suffered second-half collapses, the first in a defeat by eventual Grand Slam champions Wales, with Saturday’s extraordinary implosion raising serious questions about England’s mental strength and game management ahead of this year’s World Cup in Japan.
Jones though said these problems could be solved before the global showpiece event starts in September.
– ‘Think under pressure’ –
Clive Woodward, in charge of the England side that beat a Jones-coached Australia in the 2003 World Cup final, made much of the mantra of TCUP – Thinking Correctly Under Pressure.
Jones, who plans to call in specialist advice, insisted it was an issue even a side as good as New Zealand, who’ve won the last two World Cups, had struggled with in the past.
“The All Blacks had this problem for eight years and it cost them two World Cups. It’s not an easy problem to fix. We’ve had four years, we’re getting there,” Jones said.
“We know what the issue is and we know how to fix it. We’ve got a very concrete plan in mind to fix it.
“It’s just about getting the right personnel and staff in who can engage the players in conversation and allow them to be honest in how they think under pressure,” he added.