Analysis: England hit the heights but must find consistency

It was a Guinness Six Nations full of contrasts for Eddie Jones and England.

It was a Guinness Six Nations full of contrasts for Eddie Jones and England.

Fast starts gave way to sluggish finishes, physical dominance turned to instability and ultimately, Grand Slam dreams proved a mirage.

But the fact remains that there aren’t many better sights in world rugby than the Red Rose in full bloom.

Think of the way England performed in Dublin, their excellence against France and Italy at Twickenham.

In total, Jones’ side scored 24 tries in five games – only once in the history of Rugby’s Greatest Championship has a team managed more (England in 2001).

It’s a far cry from last year’s fifth-place Championship finish and for some, a sign that England are on the rise again.

But those second half displays in Cardiff and in the Calcutta Cup have slowed the chariot’s momentum and left some questions still to be answered as England’s players turn their attention towards Japan and Guinness Six Nations 2020.

Their Championship could not have started any better than with victory in Dublin against defending Grand Slam champions Ireland.

After that, they went into overdrive against France in Round Two.

Jonny May had a hat-trick before half time as Les Bleus were powerless to prevent England’s total dominance.

A Grand Slam looked on the cards, as long as they could negotiate a trip to Cardiff in Round Three.

And for the first three quarters of the clash, England were on top. Tom Curry’s early try and the boot of Owen Farrell keeping Wales at bay for a while.

But in the end the dam burst and Cory Hill and Josh Adams both went over to end Jones’ unbeaten record against Wales at England’s helm.

England bounced back in fine style in Round Four back at home, Italy undone by the power of Manu Tuilagi and Joe Cokanasiga in particular.

And it looked like more of the same in the final clash of the Championship as England cruised into a 31-0 lead inside half an hour at home to Scotland.

But the wheels came off the chariot in the second half, Finn Russell inspiring Scotland to a six-try salvo that turned the game on its head.

And yet, still England had the wherewithal to reload and regroup, George Ford going over at the death to rescue his side a dramatic draw.

Mako Vunipola produced one of the individual performances of the Championship in the victory – his injury in Round Two preceded a drop in both results and performance for England.

But to beat Ireland, the presumptive No.1 team in the world at the time, in eyes of Steve Hansen anyway, in their own backyard is a serious result and arguably the best of Jones’ entire reign.

And if England can touch those heights again over the next 12 months, then they will be a force to be reckoned with.

Any individual review of England’s 2019 Championship has to begin with May.

The England winger is making a habit of scoring early tries for England and his hat-trick against France was a joy to behold.

He finished as the Championship’s top try scorer with six, but his game is about so much more than getting over the whitewash these days.

Solid as a rock under the high ball and disciplined in his kick chase, the Leicester Tiger even put a delicate chip through for Slade’s pivotal first score in Dublin.

Elsewhere, the return of Manu Tuilagi was a welcome boost.

Against Italy, Tuilagi scored his first tries in an England jersey for five years, and for the first time ever he started all five games of a Championship.

His injury issues look to be behind him and his budding centre partnership with Henry Slade looks the best bet yet to solve England’s midfield conundrum.

The return of Billy Vunipola to form and fitness is another boost, and Jones will be hoping both the No.8 and his brother stay on the pitch as much as possible over the next year.

Of course, we must too mention Owen Farrell. When he was good, England were brilliant. When his form dipped, so too did his team’s.

Their captain is the key, and Jones will need to work out how to keep his main man flowing in fifth gear consistently.

Nominated for Guinness Six Nations Player of the Championship, Tom Curry made it look like he has been a fixture in England’s back row for years.

And yet, the openside had never before appeared in Rugby’s Greatest Championship and is still only 20.

But the Sale Shark made the most tackles of any player in the entire Championship, turned over ball tirelessly at the breakdown and chipped in with two tries.

With Sam Underhill also soon to be back fit, England’s future at No.7 looks secure to say the least.

On the other side of the back row, Mark Wilson was also appearing in the Championship for the first time and the blindside was indefatigable in his work ethic.

Brad Shields and Chris Robshaw are serious threats for the blindside role, but Wilson is holding them at bay the moment.

In the back line, Joe Cokanasiga made an absurdly big impact on his sole start against Italy and Elliot Daly’s transition to full-back is gathering momentum.

Slade – another never to have started in the Guinness Six Nations before this year – is finally fulfilling his vast potential in the No.13 jersey.

He made more line breaks than any other Englishman, scored three tries of his own, led England’s defensive press picking off passes for fun and also showcased a clever kicking game off either foot.

These were the sort of performances Jones has been waiting for.

Eddie Jones: “If you look at our tournament, apart from a poor 30 against Wales and a poor 40 against Scotland, we have had a pretty good one.

“We have played with power and precision, we have scored tries in a variety of ways, either through attacking kicks, or set-piece or some phase play.

“Apart from (the second half against Scotland) our defence has been on the improve.  So overall it is relatively positive.”

England’s star winger Jonny May: “I think what we need to look at is our discipline – and I’m not talking about giving penalties away.

“It’s keeping your discipline as carrying on doing the right thing and sticking to what we’re good at, even when the scoreboard shows you’re 31 points up. That’s something we can look at.

“We also need to be more adaptable in terms of when things aren’t going well, to ask how we can get back on track quicker or change what we do so it doesn’t cost us.”

This summer, England warm up for the World Cup with clashes against three of their Guinness Six Nations rivals.

They kick things off in August with a home and away double header looking for revenge against Grand Slam champions Wales.

Then they welcome Ireland to Twickenham before finishing off their fine-tuning at St James’ Park against Italy.

Then the real business begins in Japan as England open up with back-to-back clashes with Tonga and USA.

Then they take on Argentina before their crucial final pool game against their Le Crunch rivals France.

Navigate that tough pool, and the knockout stages await…