Ollie Phillips: England need to find their attacking bite

Particularly in tight games, such as Saturday’s 12-6 victory over Wales at Twickenham, England are lacking some real attacking finesse currently and without Owen Farrell they would be lost.

Farrell was unbelievable against the Welsh and more or less every decision he made was the correct one. He and former skipper Chris Robshaw, whose work-rate is out of this world, are heroic for England at the minute and the driving heartbeat of the side.

I would love to see Danny Care, George Ford and Jonathan Joseph liberate themselves and play the attractive, free-flowing, creative and dangerous attacking rugby we know they can. Unless they do, I can’t see England winning a third successive Six Nations title.

My old fitness coach at Newcastle Falcons, Steve Black, always used to say: “Defence keeps you in games and attack wins you games.” And it’s true.

Largely thanks to defence guru Paul Gustard and forwards coach Steve Borthwick, England are guaranteed to be dogged, determined, difficult to break down defensively and, as a consequence, always in the game.

But at the moment Eddie Jones’s team are devoid of an attacking spark, which is so crucial in the big games; it will be pivotal against Ireland, for instance, in the potential championship and grand slam decider on 17 March.

England have born finishers in the likes of Anthony Watson and Jonny May and the latter scored two expertly taken opportunistic tries against Wales that his raw pace helped finish off. Farrell aside, nobody else is sparking those finishers into life.

Compare that with Ireland and Conor Murray, Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw, prior to his shoulder injury, and Bundee Aki are so dangerous in attack; they threaten and break down opponents, which in turn frees wingers Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale.

The three England players I mentioned are all capable of attacking potency but it boils down to them not being in top form. Care is usually absolutely prolific for club side Harlequins but he’s not reaching those levels just yet.

The same applies to Ford and Joseph, who have not been lighting up the Premiership of late in the way they normally do and that has translated into their England performances so far in the Six Nations.

All three are top quality international players who are struggling slightly, so instead of them producing world-class performances for England, those showings are merely solid.

As a consequence, England are winning but winning ugly, although two games into the championship they are joint-top of the leaderboard with two victories from as many games.

I said before the tournament that England had the best squad in terms of names, but form and fitness concerns meant Ireland were my favourites and, if I was writing a mid-term report, they would still be my frontrunners.

England’s next match is against Scotland at Murrayfield on 24 February. Had Scotland not beaten France on Sunday and recovered from their mauling against Wales then I would be backing the visitors all the way.

But you don’t typically see Scotland prevailing from close games and it could be a major turning point for them. If England can relocate their attacking thrust, it is likely to prove telling north of the border.

Original Article

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