England’s Autumn Tests Loom Large


The Business of Winning Rugby
Over the last number of months I have looked at qualities which cross over and compliment rugby and business (see link above). England approach the Old Mutual Wealth Series with justifiable confidence, developing their leadership, team skills and vital experience over the last 12 months. The only thing they haven’t had to deal with is defeat – although Maro Itoje finally lost his first game in 33 starts …. a mere blip in an upward curve for Saracens and England!

There is no doubt however that England is targeting 4 out of 4 and will hope that all the investment on and off the field will retain momentum. It takes time to build a sustainable and winning team in a world of instant gratification but the expectation is there and Eddie Jones has fueled it himself. No doubts over his objectives.

Building Momentum
However, if Eddie Jones’ unbeaten run as a coach comes to an end soon I would not see it as a negative. Only because you need to taste defeat from time to time to keep you in focus and it is healthy. For example, I suspect that the All Blacks will take great strength from their Chicago defeat against Ireland in what was one of the best Internationals I have seen for years, full of pace and skill.

If England do lose this Autumn, it will probably be largely due to injuries to the squad, but Eddie will retain momentum because he has to try new players and is already embracing the opportunity. No need to panic!

Passion and skill combine
England dug deep in Australia to get their wins, touring spirit and never say die defence were vital. Ireland did the same in Chicago , having taken their chances superbly they then mounted a furious defence to protect their lead. Make no mistake this was no fluke, and they drew on the memory of Anthony Foley to drive their inspiration. Properly channeled emotions can make such a difference in sport and produce as much as 20% extra performance. It was also the match where centre Robbie Henshaw came of age, he has Lions written all over him. What England would give for such a player.

Nor should business just be a process, it should combine ability with a passion for the job, and sport is a perfect example of how that plays out.

Facing up to the challenge
Three of England’s opponents were in action over last weekend, while the home squad was preparing itself in sunny Portugal. It was fascinating. Argentina stuffed Japan and remain one of the top teams in World Rugby – very powerful in set play and possessing a potent and chaotic attack. Difficult to construct a plan for that, and you have to be right on top of your game.

Australia did to Wales exactly what they did to England in the summer but this time finished the job. Remember , they were irresistible for an hour of the first two tests down under but somehow England not only won those matches against the odds but finished off a 3-0 whitewash. That’s why Eddie isn’t crowing about it, he knows they were fortunate and current Aussie form is a real threat.

What to make of South Africa – indeed a wounded beast and only pride to play for after a terrible season and major problems in their domestic game, with a string of top players unavailable. I don’t buy the possibility of an upset. In todays world of planning and process, England should be 20 points better and no one would demur. The Springboks will be back but for the moment they have some work to do, and they know that too.

In sport these days, it is business analysis which plays an increasing part and Eddie and his team will have watched all the video rugby necessary to pick up weaknesses and exploit them. England ought leave nothing to chance.

My Predictions
A comprehensive win SHOULD be on the cards against SA, while the Fijians will entertain and do present the sternest threat. However it is their sevens prowess which we love and admire and that alone cannot stop a focussed England. Argentina will really fancy their chances and that will bring out the best in the Red Rose who should acknowledge that behind the All Blacks the Pumas have the best attacking rugby attitude in world rugby (and amazing fans!!) with Ireland also now putting their hand up. Anything can happen against the Wallabies who make no mistake have the skill to unravel England and have uncovered a gem of a centre in Reece Hodge. Eddie Jones has young players to blood but he already expects them to step up and perform. It is a big ask and their response could be the swing factor.

The Old Mutual Wealth Series should be a cracker and I cannot wait.