5 things England must do to rebuild for 2023 Rugby World Cup
We look at the steps England must take to put their Rugby World Cup final loss behind them and rebuild towards the 2023 tournament in France.
Work out Jones’ future
The first item on the agenda must be the future of head coach Eddie Jones.
The Australian has taken this England side from a pool-stage exit at a home World Cup to the final of the next one four years later. That, alone, deserves a shot at the 2023 tournament.
Jones’ current contract ends in 2021, but rumour has it that the 59-year-old is open to a two-year extension to take him through to France.
Finalising his future swiftly is key – if Jones commits, then he can get cracking with the job in hand. If not, then RFU bosses must look elsewhere.
Leaving Jones in charge until 2021 would be both pointless and harmful. It should either be four more years, or the door.
Farrell or Ford?
The most glaring on-pitch issue for Jones, or his successor, to address is the Owen Farrell/George Ford conundrum.
Having two of your best players most comfortable in the same position must be frustrating for a coach, but England cannot go another four years without nailing down their best system.
Jones has preferred to play them together, with Ford at 10 and Farrell at 12 and, for the most part, that has been a success.
But the World Cup final illustrated the shortcomings that brings in the centres, with Farrell’s attacking limitations at 12 exposed by a relentless Springboks defence.
If England are to become world champions again, then the evidence would suggest they need to choose between the two, freeing up the centre spots for Manu Tuilagi, Henry Slade and perhaps even Joe Marchant (more on him later) to make their own.
Commit to the Kamikaze Kids
It is no surprise that England’s barren years between 2008 and 2015, in which they won just one Six Nations title and endured two poor World Cups, coincided with a lack of a natural No. 7.
Now, in Tom Curry and Sam Underhill, not only do they have two, but they also have two of the best young flankers in the world.
Curry is just 21 years old, Underhill is 23. Together they are the future of England’s back row, meaning the pack must be built around them (and Maro Itoje) over the next four years.
With players like Lewis Ludlam and Matt Kvesic waiting for their chance, such faith is unlikely to breed complacency.
England finally have some world-class flankers and, in the modern game, they are an incredibly valuable commodity.
Dump the deadwood
If they are to rebuild, then England will have to start the painful process of leaving certain players behind.
The 31-man squad that Jones took to Japan was actually quite a young one, with an average age of around 27.
There are, however, still a few players in the fold who need to make way for a new wave of international stars.
Dan Cole is one, with the 32-year-old badly exposed in the final, while Willi Heinz’s international career ought to be ended after just nine caps.
Fellow scrum-half Ben Youngs is another nearing the end, while the likes of Courtney Lawes and Joe Marler are unlikely to survive another four-year cycle.
Blood youngsters early
Once those players past their peak have been moved on, then it’s time to bed in the new generation.
The rise of players like Curry and Underhill prove that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.
There has been a tendency among England coaches in the past to stick with the old guard and play it safe with the players they know.
Jones, however, has proven that he’s not scared to give youngsters a chance, and that must continue into the Six Nations, whether he is in charge or not.
Ellis Genge, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Ben Spencer have been on the fringes for a while. Players like Marchant, Zach Mercer and Alex Dombrandt are already catching the eye in the Premiership.
The earlier they are blooded, the more at home they will feel when 2023 finally rolls around and England get the chance to go one better.
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