England was far from their best in this World Cup final, but it could have been much worse. They were in complete control for long stretches, but their inability to create chances in attack and poor defending on the backline allowed South Africa to steal the game. Then, when they did have the chance to win it – with Owen Farrell’s 53rd-minute drop goal putting them 15-6 ahead – they let it slip away from them.
It was the second time in a week that the visitors have failed to convert a good start into a good finish, but there were signs that things might be improving at the back. England’s kicking improved in the second half, and the defense looked more organized.
But the problem still lies with a need for more creativity in attack. Until this is addressed, England will continue to be one of the most predictable teams in international rugby.
They have several talented players at their disposal, but they must be used differently. They are not allowed to be on the automatic side at home, which is a real shame.
The big worry for Jones is the scrum turnaround. The England coach had a clear plan of changing the shape and technique of his scrum at the beginning of the tournament, and he stuck to that throughout the warm-up games. But the four-day turnaround is always a tricky proposition, and England have found it challenging to maintain their set-piece dominance against Wales and Scotland.
England started well in Cardiff, with Dan Cole’s inclusion at prop bringing some consistency to the front row and Joe Marler’s solid work around the breakdown helping to keep things under control. But that all changed after the break, and despite defending tight drives well, they were punished in the scrum when the replacements came on.
Cole’s replacement, Ellis Genge, was sin-binned with his first act of the match, and that set the tone for a second-half meltdown. Three scrum penalties led to Owen Williams’s kick and a penalty try for Wales.
England’s defense held firm until the end, but with a fit Marcus Smith in the lineout, they might have been able to exploit holes further out.
It will be interesting to see how the four-day turnaround goes in the second game against Australia on Saturday. But, whatever the result of that fixture and where England finishes in the tournament, it is clear that the shackles must be removed from this group of players. The players have the ability, but they need more freedom to play the way they instinctively are. Only then can England be the side they are capable of being.