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Monday, October 18, 2021

Scrum-half is England’s problem position – Eddie Jones cannot put off finding a solution

Now, though, he might benefit from England’s backroom merry-go-round. Martin Gleeson, Wasps’ old backs coach, has joined Jones. Ed Robinson, who has spent time in the England set-up, is now at Wasps.

Co-hosting the BBC’s Rugby Union Weekly podcast this week, Danny Care called it “mad” that Robson had not yet started for England and said he would deploy the Wasp between his Harlequins buddies Alex Dombrandt and Marcus Smith in a new-look 8-9-10 combination.

Robinson says Robson is an “ambitious guy” who “thrives off quick ball” because “his skill-set suits a running game”. Interestingly, Robinson predicts the goal-line drop-out law will suit scrum-halves capable of striking chips and grubbers into space.

“All roles of the game evolve and nine is no different,” he added. “There have been a few 50-22s but I’m not sure how that will affect the game. I think there will be more development around the goal-line drop-out and how the nine can become an attacking kicker as well as a long kicker and a contestable kicker.”

Ironically, the most rounded young scrum-half in the country is probably Jack van Poortvliet. The former England Under-20 captain must be close to usurping Youngs at Tigers, even if Steve Borthwick’s rotation policy clouds the pecking order slightly. When Van Poortvliet replaced Youngs in the 47th minute against Saracens a fortnight ago, Tigers started clawing their way back into a game that looked lost and eventually snatched a 13-12 win.

Since super-sub Care was discarded in 2018, England’s deputy half-backs have seemed like afterthoughts because Youngs evidently fits Jones’ tactical template and is an important leader. A tally of 111 Tests brings rare know-how and, at its best, his kicking and running enhance England. But so much comes through a scrum-half that indecision and imprecise passing can significantly damage fluency. Should ruck-speed increase with officials policing the offside line more stringently, conviction and accuracy at the base of breakdowns will be more valuable.

Reacting to form, especially with England aiming to sharpen their attack, would seem more crucial. Look around the world. Antoine Dupont is firing France. The spark of 23-year-old Tate McDermott has helped reignite Australia. When De Klerk is on song, so are South Africa. When he is not, they stutter. New Zealand missed the lightning service of Aaron Smith in their last five games. 

Jones carried out a successful spinal operation on England in 2018. The frustration among supporters is that it has taken a second fifth-place finish in the Six Nations to bring about another – despite Jones publicly chastising himself for failing to act upon signs of decline in 2017. Even if changing England’s entire 8-9-10 axis at once is too disruptive, nurturing another scrum-half has to be a vital part of this procedure.

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