We’ve all seen the headlines. Too many mistakes and too many penalties have cost England in a poor Six Nations campaign that could go from bad to worse as they face Grand Slam hopefuls France this weekend. Eddie Jones’ side by the end of the weekend could have potentially lost three out of their four games in the tournament, which in turn would see the England coach’s job on the line.
The main reason for this side having gone from World Cup finalists to Six Nations strugglers seems to be ill-discipline. Jones’ side were known for their ruggedness and functionality over the past two years, but in this side that lack of flair is only acceptable when the side is winning. When they are falling short by such small margins, attention is immediately drawn to the volume of penalties they are giving away, especially against Wales where the game was taken away from them in the second half thanks to the accurate boots of Dan Biggar and Callum Sheedy.
England have already taken steps to get the penalty count down. Attacking coach Simon Amor confirmed they had brought in two Test referees to training this week as the players learnt how to discuss issues with referees, while the players themselves were also forced to admit when they were in the wrong.
"There are certain questions from the players around how they ask a question of a referee in a game," explained Amor. "What is the way, what about the timing, when do I approach someone? There are also constant discussions between players and referees about where is the law, what can we do, what can't we do, so we looked for clarification on that.”
So how does England’s discipline stack up compared to previous years? Is it just a media perception or are they actually giving away penalties too frequently to the detriment of the team? Well, in this year’s Six Nations Championship, England have conceded the joint-highest number of penalties (44) along with a poor Italy side, who often don’t see much of the ball. That is two penalties short of their entire total in the 2020 edition (46), with two games left to be played. Going back a year further to the 2019 Six Nations, England conceded the fewest penalties, just 29, as Wales won the Grand Slam. It seems the ill-discipline under Jones wasn’t an issue at all in World Cup year, but now it is more pertinent than ever before.
Breaking down the penalties into specifics, this year Jones’ side have given away the second-most offside penalties (five), the same number they conceded in the whole of the 2020 edition, while they conceded six in total in 2019. The scrum is perhaps the area where the issue is the most glaring. This year they have given away five scrum penalties, more than the last two seasons (two in 2020, one in 2019) combined. They simply must clean up their act.
Away from the penalty calls, let’s look at how this side is faring with the ball. They’ve conceded 32 turnovers so far in three games, which puts them in line to match the 52 and 59 turnovers they have conceded in the past two editions. They are also likely to pass the figure for ‘metres made’ last season, while their average of 100 carries-per-game will take them past the 2020 figure (494) but will fall short of the 2019 total (596).
In truth, there isn’t too much that has changed between the England side we saw under Eddie Jones last year and this current iteration. It is just that ill-discipline, as we can see from the statistics, has gone through the roof, costing them points and wins. It isn’t pretty to watch, but then again it hasn’t been for a while, and ultimately it could be this inability to stay within the parameters that sees Jones pay the price.