Analysis: Jones shifts focus to bigger picture in Championship quest

“The Championship is about the Championship. Grand Slams are like you go and buy a car and you get tinted windows.”

“The Championship is about the Championship. Grand Slams are like you go and buy a car and you get tinted windows.”

Thus spoke Eddie Jones after England’s Guinness Six Nations defeat to Wales in Round Three on Saturday.

After a loss like that, the head coach is always going to try and put a positive spin on things.

But the fact remains, despite their loss in Cardiff, England are still well in contention for the Championship this year.

And a loss at Principality Stadium against a Wales side on a 12-Test winning run does not immediately annul everything that came before it.

Eddie Jones’ side are undoubtedly back on an upward curve this year.

After losses to both Ireland and France in last year’s Championship, the way they brutally dispatched both of them in the opening two rounds of this year is evidence enough of that.

And their last three clashes with Wales have all been decided by very fine margins so it was probably about time Wales got a win after heart-breaking defeats in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

The real test is how Jones’ side can deal with adversity now that they have tasted defeat. A Championship is still theirs for the taking, as long as Scotland or Ireland do them a favour.

Last year England won their first two rounds, slipped to defeat to Scotland in Round Three and imploded thereafter.

Fast forward 12 months, and with Italy and Scotland to come to Twickenham in rounds four and five, Jones and England have to ensure that history does not repeat itself.

Think back to the start of the Jones reign, their Grand Slam in 2016 and subsequent Wallaby whitewash that summer.

One of their key advantages back then was the strength they could introduce off the bench.

The likes of Jamie George, Ben Te’o and Jack Nowell were all changing games for the better in the crucial final quarter.

But in Cardiff on Saturday, it was interesting to note that George Ford, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Dan Robson all remained sitting on the England bench until full-time.

Indeed Ellis Genge, Joe Cokanasiga and Brad Shields barely got a touch in their brief cameos as Jones trusted his starters to go the full 80.

Clearly his bench can still have an impact, just ask Harry Williams who made a whopping 15 tackles in his 25 minutes on the pitch.

But with the likes of Dylan Hartley, Mako Vunipola and Courtney Lawes all ruled out of the Championship and Maro Itoje facing a race against time to return in the last two rounds, England’s much-vaunted depth appears to have sprung a leak.

“We have got to keep developing. The world hasn’t ended today. I guarantee you that. The world is still out there.”

Jones and his side are still a work in progress, and Round Four against Italy is the perfect chance for his side to bounce back.

Italy have never beaten England in their history, but they gave them a real fright in 2017 at Rugby HQ – and are hitting their stride this year after running Ireland close last weekend.

If Jones wants to improve his strength in depth, to look at some other options for next time a game is close, then now is the time to do it.

Cokanasiga got only a sliver of game time in Cardiff, will the Fijian-born wrecking ball get his chance in Round Four?

Robson is still awaiting his first England start at No.9, and Ford has a combined 23 minutes from the first three games.

Jones’ reliance on Youngs and Farrell in the half-backs is understandable, both have impressed this year.

But does he give them a chance to right the wrongs of Cardiff or reward others who might be able to press their claims?

Last year, England’s Championship bid hit a roadblock after Round Two and this time around they looked fit and fresh in Dublin and again in Le Crunch in the opening rounds.

But there is no doubt that it was Wales who finished the stronger in Cardiff in Round Three.

Fitness has always been a priority for Jones and it will need to be once again, as the Azzurri finished strongly in Round One against Scotland and Wales in Round Two, before a fast start in Rome against Ireland.

Jones knows his side are chasing a Championship. If it is to be like buying a car, then it goes without saying that his side cannot afford to take their foot off the gas.