England have been hit harder than many would have imagined by the loss of Ben Youngs
For the first time in his England tenure, Eddie Jones is under the microscope.
Up until a couple of weeks ago his record with the Red Rose stood at 25 tests, 24 wins and considering the state of things when he took over following a disastrous 2015 World Cup campaign that can’t be sniffed at.
However, two defeats on the spin and it’s being seen as a lot more than just a fly in the ointment. Questions over whether certain senior players deserved their place in the side, coupled with disastrous showings at the breakdown, and a backline failing to find its groove and all of a sudden, fine tuning in the run up to Japan 2019 is being replaced by calls for wholesale change.
Going into this weekend’s clash with Ireland, Dylan Hartley returns at hooker, while the more dynamic pairing of James Haskell and Sam Simmonds start in the back row.
There’s a reshuffle in the back line too, Owen Farrell switches to fly half with the struggling George Ford dropped, while Ben Teo moves to 12, and Jonathan Joseph comes in outside him.
One of the most telling changes however is Richard Wigglesworth starting at scrum half, England’s third different starter at nine in five matches.
At 34, he is no spring chicken and not a pick for the future by any means – but right now, he’s what England need.
They have been hit harder than many would have imagined by the loss of Ben Youngs. When the Leicester nine went down in a heap after rupturing his MCL against Italy, England lost a man who has been at the fulcrum of all things good about their game in the last couple of years.
He may not be the flashiest, or receive the global plaudits that perhaps he deserves but his impact on this side is immeasurable.
He marshalls the forwards well, has built a great rapport for both Ford and Farrell, times a pass beautifully, and has a very good kicking game. He’s never less than a seven out of ten.
Sadly, for England, Danny Care has not been able to replicate that and his buzzing style has not translated well into a starting berth in the international game. He has a field day against flagging defences with 15 minutes to go but fails to assert himself from the start.
This is where Wigglesworth fits in. Another consistent performer, the first thing he has on his side is the relationship with Farrell. Playing together week-in, week-out with Saracens has built up a bond of almost telepathic levels.
Wigglesworth will know exactly what the man outside him will want, when he wants it, and, given the right platform, the former Sales Sharks stalwart will deliver.
Another thing he has in the locker is an almost metromonic box kick. The story goes that when Chris Ashton was at Saracens, the backroom staff had worked out the perfect distance of a box kick to ensure a good chase was around 28 meters. Wigglesworth would drill and drill to find that length and come gameday would regularly drop the ball on a sixpence allowing Ashton to either challenge or immediately snuff out any hope of a counter attack.
And it is that point that’s crucial against Ireland. Rob Kearney, Keith Eales and Jacob Stockdale have counter attacked with real venom, but the equation to prevent this is pretty simple.
Don’t kick loosely to them, and ensure the chasing runners has something to go after. With Farrell at 10, the likelihood of kicking accuracy out of hand increases compared to Ford, and Wigglesworth likewise compared to Care, potentially nullifying one of Ireland’s most potent attacking weapons.
It may not be a move for the long term, but England would love nothing more than to be Grand Slam party-poopers, and get back in the win column as their focus sharpens on next year’s World Cup.