England must play clever to pin down Six Nations grand slam, says Eddie Jones after Wales scare
England coach Eddie Jones said his side needed to demonstrate greater tactical awareness if they were to mark the Australian’s first season in charge with a Six Nations grand slam.
Jones saw the team maintain his perfect record as England boss with a 25-21 win over Wales at Twickenham on Saturday – their fourth victory in as many games under the former Australia and Japan coach.
For the best part of an hour, England were in complete command against Wales thanks to Anthony Watson’s converted try and a flawless seven-out-of-seven goal kicks from Owen Farrell.
But at 25-7 up, they saw prop Dan Cole sin-binned and Wales then scored two converted tries inside the final seven minutes through George North and Taulupe Faletau.
However, England clung on to keep their slam bid alive.
England, who last won the Six Nations in 2011, will be crowned champions with a round to spare if Scotland beat France at Murrayfield on Sunday after finishing runners-up on four successive occasions under Stuart Lancaster, whose post World Cup sacking paved the way for Jones’ appointment.
Regardless, England will take the title and a first grand slam since their World Cup-winning year of 2003 – when Jones was coaching beaten finalists Australia – with victory away to France on March 19.
Jones said the team’s slump in the final quarter stemmed from trying to hold on to what they had, rather than trying to extend their lead.
“In the last 20 [minutes] we stopped attacking and when we attacked them they really struggled to keep up with us. When we sat back and kicked ball back to them we struggled, so it is a really good lesson.”
Wales eventually scored through Dan Biggar’s charge-down try early in the second half and Jones said: “Rugby is a funny game. One kick gets charged down, they get a few referee decisions.
“You have to increase your intensity and it was only in the last three minutes of the game we increased the intensity and we had to.”
Looking ahead to next weekend’s finale in Paris, Jones said: “There is nothing massively there we have to change, we just have to more awareness tactically of what we want to do.”
Maro Itoje, given his England debut by Jones this season, was outstanding in just his second start at test level.
The Saracens lock made the initial break for Watson’s try as well as stealing a couple of Welsh line-out throws.
Itoje may be a 21-year-old international novice but he was well aware that England could not rest on their laurels.
“We will need to put things right in Paris that went wrong at the end here,” he said. “France have an aggressive forward pack with some pretty big boys.
“We know we haven’t achieved our goal yet, and if we don’t prepare well we won’t achieve that goal.”
Wales coach Warren Gatland was at a loss to explain his side’s slow start.
“I have said to the players, only they can answer that question why they were so flat or lethargic in that first half,” Gatland said.
But the New Zealander praised England by adding: “They were accurate and strong on the ball and put us under some pressure.”
Wales replacement prop Tomas Francis, who escaped on-field censure, could find himself cited after his fingers appeared to make contact with the face of Cole late on.
“To be honest, my initial reaction was I didn’t think it looked great” said Gatland. “I haven’t had a look at it since then.”
Wales conclude their Six Nations against bottom-of-the-table Italy in Cardiff but Gatland, whose side finished third last season, was wary of making wholesale changes.
“I was going to make some changes after 25 minutes [against England}.
“It may be a case of making a few changes, but we’ve also got to be smart in the way we do things because if England beat France to win the grand slam, then we are playing for second and that’s pretty important too.”