How far has England's attack come under Eddie Jones?

Eddie Jones is still tinkering with his attack after seeing traits of the 'Old England' in their second Test win v Australia

Six years of Eddie Jones as England's head coach has not been without its criticisms, but how far have they actually come since the Stuart Lancaster era?

Jones started his tenure with the national side in 2016 after a disappointing campaign saw England crash out of their own World Cup the year before.

Now in 2022, England find themselves just a year away from the second World Cup of Jones' reign, and after narrowly losing out in the final in 2019, they will look to right their wrongs in France.

With Jones coming under pressure once again, how have England changed since 2015?

Jones has never been unclear about his goals, highlighting his wishes to win the World Cup with the side that beat his Australia team in 2003.

He has been using each year of his tenancy to improve various aspects of England, but from 2016 to 2017, he was still trying to work out his best side, with parts of the playing and coaching team often chopped and changed.

However, the failed Six Nations of 2018 acted as a chance for Jones to experiment with his tactics, with Scott Wisemantal shaping and fine-tuning the attack for the 2019 World Cup. John Mitchell also attempted to mould the defence and it worked well for England as they reached just the final in Yokohama.

Out with the old and in with the new

During this World Cup cycle, though, we have seen sweeping changes in the coaching team. Wisemantal went home to Australia, Mitchell left to take up an assistant role at Wasps whilst scrum coach Neil Hatley went to Bath and forwards coach Steve Borthwick moved to Leicester to take the top job.

Only Eddie remains from 2019.

Coming in was a colourful selection of new CVs. South African forwards coach Matt Proudfoot was the first to arrive in 2020 as scrum coach after beating Jones’ side in the 2019 final, suggesting that the England boss wanted his forwards to be more like the Springboks pack.

Last summer, Martin Gleeson was appointed as attack coach from Wasps and Anthony Seibold came in for the defence whilst Richard Cockerill joined as forwards coach from Edinburgh in what was a completely new England set-up ahead of the autumn internationals.

2020 to 2022

In 2020, England focused on pursuing their kicking and defence game which led to some disappointing reviews from fans and pundits who felt the national side needed to attack more.

However, Jones had the last laugh as England managed to win the 2020 Six Nations, a feat he has since not been able to replicate. However, this was something he could hang his hat on as it showed his side were continuing to get results.

After a Covid disrupted year, the Six Nations returned in 2021 where England finished fifth, winning just two games which triggered a new look to Jones’ backroom team.

In attack, it was now the time for Gleeson to shine. England finally were allowed to develop their attack and he was the man for the job.

Under him, England looked to play a new version of rugby that was fluid in attack. Many teams in their attacking shape usually have a set formation for parts of the field describing where on the pitch you place your eight forwards.

For most sides, this is the 1-3-3-1 with the ‘1’s being out in the wide channels. These formations are set up to allow a team to have an idea of what they are doing whilst also keeping options open all the time.

In terms of England, though, they were adopting systems where formations would change on a play-by-play basis.

This new foundation was laid in the autumn of 2021 when at times, England’s attack flourished and with players in different positions to normal, the opposition didn't know what they would come up against.

They began to develop their attack more by introducing more strike plays to their arsenal. This could be seen in the Freddie Steward try against Australia where Farrell softened the defence well before pulling it back to Smith to deliver the killer blow and send the full-back through.

Then also in the South Africa game, with Henry Slade putting Joe Marchant through a hole who then passed to Raffi Quirke to score. 

This was a promising development, but in 2022, England have once again struggled to score tries with them being the joint fourth lowest scoring team with eight in the Six Nations. Wales also had eight with Italy scoring just five.

This has worried England fans who have not seen their side score many tries over the past few years, instead opting to go for the posts in scoring positions.

In the Six Nations, England trialled several different tactics against France as they could face them in the semi-finals of the upcoming World Cup, similar to their game against New Zealand in 2019. This approach only adds to Jones’ obsession with winning the big prize.

In the first Test against Australia, it continued to be the same with England's players relying on instinct in attack as they didn't know what was going to happen next.

However, in the second Test, we saw a change. England no longer looked confused and dazed in attack. A formation had been implemented. Although a very simple one which didn’t allow too much creativity, it did put all the players on the same page.

They looked like what is often described as old England, a game focused around a strong set-piece whilst kicking was used to force mistakes out of the back three.

They showed that they can perform if they keep things simple, but for that to cause change, it will be down to this weekend's final Test with the Wallabies and the Autumn internationals to see if Jones has really succeeded in adapting the way England want to attack.

One mainstay throughout Jones's era has been his kicking game, sticking with him through the best and the worst of his performances.

This has worked well when targeting weaknesses in the opposition’s back three, notably against France in 2019 and Australia in 2022 (2nd Test). However, when teams have a strong back three under the high ball, it has had very little return showing its limited potential and the need for a working Plan B.

If England are victorious at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Saturday in their deciding Test against Australia, it might not matter what style they adopt but what is clear is they still need to find their identity in attack if Jones is to achieve his goal of lifting the World Cup in 15 months time.