England 19 France 16: England will embrace the hostility awaiting in Cardiff once Eddie Jones has examined the psychology behind Wales’ control of a fixture he claims has left previous Red Rose teams “petrified”.
France were edged 19-16 at Twickenham on Saturday to keep the champions’ Grand Slam hopes intact, but a study of the record books tells Jones that a different challenge lies at the Principality Stadium. The Australian views England’s failure-to-win rate of 62.3% in 61 visits to the Welsh capital as an anomaly that has its origins in the fearful minds of sides crossing the Severn Bridge and is to seek advice over its source.
A 21-16 triumph in 2015 remains vivid in the memory, but that was the highlight of a spell of just two England wins in their last seven visits to Cardiff, a run that includes a traumatising collapse when the Grand Slam beckoned four years ago.
Adding a personal element to Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations showdown for Jones is that it will be his first visit to Cardiff since Australia’s 24-22 loss there in 2005, a result that instigated his sacking as head coach of the Wallabies.
“I can’t work out why our record in Wales is so poor. I’m sure they have had good teams down the years, but they are a country of three million people,” Jones said.
“I think psychologically you have got to get it right when you are playing Wales in Wales. There seems to be some sort of thing there because no-one can tell me why the English are petrified of playing Wales in Wales.
“I will talk to a few blokes who have played there to figure out what the problem is and why the record is so horrendous — because it is horrendous.
“We have got to find a way to overcome it, but it’s not going to be overcome by repeating history.
“So we will work out what has been done in the past and make sure that we don’t do it because you know what the definition of insanity is.....
“It’s an amazing atmosphere, how could you not want to play rugby there? It is one of the greatest rugby countries in the world to play in.
“Obviously it has been difficult for the English to cope with, so we need to find a way whereby they see it as being delightful.”
As visiting head coach, Jones will determine whether the stadium roof is closed or kept open, but it is a decision he will leave to fate.
“I don’t care which way it is — we’ll toss a coin and see what happens. They can have fireworks going off. It doesn’t matter, it’s the same for both teams,” Jones said.
“The louder and more rowdy it is, the better it is. You have got to be able to cope with that. What happens in a World Cup final if you don’t like the atmosphere? You have to be able to cope with that. That is what Test rugby is about and that is the fun part of it.”
Only when England summoned the cavalry from the bench were they able to break France, replacements James Haskell, Jack Nowell and Ben Te’o charging across the gainline until Te’o’s running angle swept him over for the decisive try.
It was the worst performance of Jones’ 14 matches in charge, described by the 57-year-old as “awful”, and he has accepted responsibility as he looks inwards for explanations.
“I have obviously got it wrong because the team didn’t play well, so I need to go back and look at what we did and what we didn’t do and what we need to do to get it right. We just stood off — it was quite strange. Again I have to look at my preparation because if the players aren’t doing what we set out to do then the preparation hasn’t been right.
“As I’ve always said, expectation creates a different environment — you have to be prepared, you have to be good enough to cope with that. Maybe at the moment we are struggling with it, I’m not sure.”
Despite the energy and power supplied by the bench, Jones is unlikely to make many changes with the rampaging Te’o destined to miss out on a first start.
“That’s why they are there — to finish the game. We pick people specifically to finish the game for us. I think we’ve got a very good bench,” Jones said. “Te’o is excellent for the squad — he’s well-liked, he works hard and he brings something a little bit different.”
Brown; May, Joseph, Farrell, Daly; Ford, Youngs; Marler, Hartley, Cole, Launchbury, Lawes, Itoje, Wood, Hughes.
Te’o for Ford (69), Care for Youngs (66), Mullan for Marler (66), George for Hartley (55), Haskell for Launchbury (64), Nowell for Joseph (69) Not Used: Sinckler, Harrison Sin Bin: May (13).
Spedding; Nakaitaci, Lamerat, Fickou, Vakatawa; Lopez, Serin; Baille, Guirado, Atonio, Vahaamahina, Maestri, Chouly, Gourdon, Picamoles.
Huget for Lamerat (72), Doussain for Lopez (72), Machenaud for Serin (57), Slimani for Baille (46), Maynadier for Guirado (72), Chiocci for Atonio (46), Iturria for Vahaamahina (72), Goujon for Chouly (64).
Angus Gardner (Australia)
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved