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No shortage of spirit but England still in search of cutting edge

LONDON

Eddie Jones said he wants an “old fashioned England pack and a new-fashioned England attack” and while there was uplifting evidence of the former in Saturday’s 32-15 defeat by Ireland, fans are still waiting for any real evidence of the latter.

Only Jones, looking at the game through his red rose-tinted spectacles, could announce “we’re moving in a really solid progression towards that,” after England delivered a magnificent display of guts and attitude but almost non-existent attack as they battled for 78 minutes with 14 men after Charlie Ewels’ red card.

Of course, the numerical disadvantage had a huge impact on England’s ability to build momentum but their backline – entirely changed from when they were well beaten in Dublin a year ago – has struggled throughout the championship to turn promising positions into clear try-scoring opportunities.

On Saturday, all England’s points came from the boot of Marcus Smith after penalties usually earned at the scrum and ruck.

In contrast, Ireland scored four tries and even in the opening exchanges before Ewels’ red card they got the ball wide and behind England’s defence with the type of fast passing and excellent running lines that are becoming distant memories for the home fans.

Two weeks ago England managed one try in a victory over Wales – gifted to Number Eight Alex Dombrandt by an overthrown Welsh lineout – and rarely looked like creating another, while Wales scored three. They also managed only one, by Smith, in their opening defeat by Scotland – who scored two.

England did score five tries against Italy, but that cannot be used as any sort of useful yardstick as everyone helps themselves to a bonus point against the hapless Italians.

It is a worrying aspect of England’s play and has contributed to a second successive disappointing championship as they look set for a probable lower half finish after last year’s shocking fifth place.

Jones knows it will take time for the likes of Smith, scrumhalf Harry Randall and fullback Freddie Steward to build their on-field relationships but it is the ever-problematic centre area that should be of most concern.

The continuing faith in Manu Tuilagi, despite his wretched injury record, means no other partnership has been able to really bed down. The latest combinations of Henry Slade alongside Elliot Daly or Joe Marchant has shown glimpses of promise without ever really developing a sustained attacking threat.

Out wide England are also starting to look toothless after years of having jet-heeled Jonny May as an almost-guaranteed source of points. The versatile Max Malins is still awaiting his first try after 14 appearances while Jack Nowell, who spent most of Saturday’s match as a stand-in flanker, is a prodigious and popular workhorse but another who doesn’t offer the razor-finishing that the likes of Ireland and France possess.

England sign off their campaign in Paris next week, motivated not only to end another frustrating campaign on a high but with the extra incentive of denying France a grand slam.

They showed on Saturday that they have the heart and soul to make France work for every point but, against the Shaun Edwards-inspired defence that kept Wales at bay with such discipline on Friday, it looks unlikely that this will be the day when Jones’s “new-fashioned attack” takes off.

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