December 4, 2020 10:00:56 PM
England’s approach to the Autumn Nations Cup final has been shaped by the soul-searching that has consumed Eddie Jones since losing to South Africa at the same stage of last year’s World Cup.
The crushing 32-12 defeat by the Springboks in Yokohama continues to leave its mark on Jones, who consequently resolved to “attack” the build-up to Sunday’s clash with France at Twickenham.
Although the Autumn Nations Cup is a makeshift competition hastily put together to replace the cancelled end-of-year-tours by the southern hemisphere giants, it offers the only opportunity to play a final outside of rugby’s global showpiece.
And Jones is keen to use it to prove that England have grown from the experience of 12 months ago when South Africa made a mockery of their status as favourites.
“I probably reflected on that World Cup final week every day. When you lose a big final like that it stays with you for a long time,” Jones said.
“You never put it to bed. The result is what it is. We weren’t good enough in that World Cup final. Even if you win the next World Cup it never puts to bed that final, it stays with you.
“It doesn’t go away and you reflect and you think, ‘I should have done that, would that have made a difference?’
“And then you consistently hear criticism of what you have done which drives you a little bit more and you have got to learn from it.
“If you don’t learn from it you don’t get another opportunity to play in a final, so we have got a great opportunity to show that we have learned from that World Cup final.
“What we’ve noticed is that, in retrospect, we probably didn’t attack the week like we normally do.
“In the week of the World Cup final, we were probably more content about getting through the week.
“This week, we’ve had a real focus on attacking the game and where we can improve. It’s been a bit of a mindset change. It’s been a great learning week for us.
“We are absolutely blessed that within 13 months we have the opportunity to play in a final again.”
If England clinch the inaugural Autumn Nations Cup by toppling a shadow France team, it will secure a second piece of silverware in five weeks having claimed the Six Nations title in Rome at the end of October.
“What winning a trophy does is reinforce that what you are doing is right. It also reinforces the fact that you are going to keep moving forward because every time you win a trophy, everything about your game gets dissected,” Jones said.
“You get bits of information about how people are analysing from as afar afoot as South Africa and Australia – how they are looking at your game, taking it apart and seeing what works for you and trying to copy you.
“You have got to keep moving forward. Every time you win something it just exacerbates the need for you to keep moving forward.”
England’s attack has failed to ignite this autumn as part of a wider trend that sees the game dominated by defence, set-piece and kicking. Lethal wing Jonny May hopes to finish the tournament with a flourish.
“We want to win but we do want to attack a bit better and feel we can. The nature of the game at the moment, it is hard to attack,” May said.
“The breakdown is tough, there are long stoppages in play which means there is less fatigue out there. Defences are getting smarter and players are more athletic.
“It’s a difficult challenge at the moment. But there are opportunities there. We are working on it and feel we can attack better.”