End of year review: England

Freddie Steward scores their second try and celebrates with Henry Slade and Max Malins 20/11/2021
It was very much a year of two halves for England in 2021, with a disappointing Guinness Six Nations campaign coming in the first half of the year, before a turnaround in fortunes as England went unbeaten during a successful summer and Autumn Nations Series.

It was very much a year of two halves for England in 2021, with a disappointing Guinness Six Nations campaign coming in the first half of the year, before a turnaround in fortunes as England went unbeaten during a successful summer and Autumn Nations Series.

England won just two Championship matches, finishing fifth overall as they lost all three matches against home nations opposition.

The standout moment was the victory over France, but from the summer onwards, England were able to turn things around.

The likes of Marcus Smith and Freddie Steward were given their debuts, and took to Test rugby with aplomb as England carried their momentum into three wins in the Autumn Nations Series, including back to back wins over Australia and South Africa.


Defeat in the Calcutta Cup was not the way that Eddie Jones or his England side would have wanted to begin the campaign, but Scotland got the better of them on the day, running out 11-6 winners.

A 41-18 win over Italy the week after was more what the English support were hoping for, although none were in attendance due to the pandemic.

The first venture away from Twickenham came with a trip across the River Severn to take on Wales, with England beaten 40-24, their heaviest defeat to their neighbours since 1979 and the most they had ever conceded to Wales.

England bounced back with their best performance of the Championship, Maro Itoje’s late try helping them see off France, who were unbeaten to that point.

But the positives from that win were soon forgotten after a 32-18 defeat away to Ireland to round off the campaign.


With many of the big names away in South Africa playing for the British and Irish Lions, Jones had no choice but to blood in new talent for the summer series with two Test matches against the USA and Canada respectively.

Several first caps were handed out, including the captain for the USA Test, Lewis Ludlow becoming the answer to a quiz question as he led the side on debut. Meanwhile the likes of Smith, Steward and Jamie Blamire all made their cases for future inclusion in the Autumn Nations Series.

A 43-29 win for England in an entertaining and open game saw Joe Cokanasiga scoring twice.

A week later England romped to a 70-5 over Canada, with another debut handed out to Alex Dombrandt. Newcastle duo Blamire and Adam Radwan scored a hat-trick of tries each on the day Smith got called up to the Lions squad.


A 69-3 win over Tonga was a great way to start the Autumn Nations Series, as Jamie George, Jonny May and Ben Youngs all scored braces, although the game will be best remembered for Courtney Lawes’ incredible covering tackle on Telusa Veainu.

A week later, Australia came to Twickenham, and it was a much tougher challenge, tries from Steward and Jamie Blamire’s sixth try in four matches led England to 32-15 victory, with just the world champion Springboks to come.

In one of the Tests of the Autumn, England pulled off a 27-26 win over South Africa, with the three tries coming from Manu Tuilagi, Steward and Raffi Quirke as Smith’s last-minute kick gave England the tightest of wins to end the year on a five-game win streak.


In such a topsy turvy year, you can imagine that the standout stars are a wide mix of experienced men and the new crop of talent that came in this year.

During the Guinness Six Nations campaign, without a doubt the two standout performers were Maro Itoje and Anthony Watson.

Both played pivotal roles as Itoje’s try against France handed England a much-needed win and Watson finished the tournament with four tries.

Jamie Blamire’s six tries in five Tests from hooker broke a record, becoming the first England forward ever to score in four consecutive matches, with that hat-trick against Canada at Twickenham a memorable moment.

In the Autumn Nations Series, Marcus Smith and Freddie Steward were among England’s best performers, Steward’s two tries in three matches and Smith’s all-round gameplay, putting players through holes with pinpoint accuracy from the tee showed the Twickenham faithful the future is very bright indeed.

Arguably England’s most consistent player across the whole year, however, was Henry Slade who started every test match in 2021 except for the Ireland match, where he missed out through a lower leg injury.

His general all-round attacking game was absolutely pivotal in the Autumn Nations Series as well as the summer series, winning the man of the match against Tonga and assisting for two tries against the Springboks.

And a word too for Courtney Lawes. He was injured for much of the Championship but impressed for the British & Irish Lions before some stellar displays in the autumn, where he also took over the captaincy in the absence of Owen Farrell for the South Africa win.


Things are a lot more positives now than they were at the end of March for England as Jones appears to have chopped and changed his squad looking ahead at the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

It all starts again in February, when England visit BT Murrayfield looking to avenge last year’s disappointment, the first defeat to Scotland at Twickenham since 1983.

It is set to be the most competitive Guinness Six Nations in a long time, with Ireland and France also unbeaten during the recent Autumn Nations Series while Wales are the holders and Scotland pack a serious punch.

That visit to Paris in round five is a mouth-watering tie, and one that could well decide the title.

A three-Test series in Australia follows, which will be a real test of this England side as the Wallabies themselves are in an upturn after a successful Rugby Championship.

Looking even further ahead to the World Cup in 2023, well, it’s less than two years till that title will be decided and England have recently shown that they are going to be very competitive indeed, the record of previous runners-up of the World Cup is poor, but Jones and Owen Farrell will be hoping to buck that trend.