Following their Six Nations draw – or collapse – against Scotland, England coach Eddie Jones has set his sights on improvement ahead of the World Cup – mental improvement.
It’s not so much that result itself that raised questions about England’s ability to stay in control in big matches, but rather the way they went about settling for the draw. They threw the game away. How else do you describe a 31-0 halftime lead ending in a 38-all deadlock?
They also lost to Wales – who went on to win the grand slam in stunning fashion – after an impressive start to their Six Nations campaign.
Since then, the master of mind games has made it clear that he wants to tackle the apparent mental frailty shown by his charges by getting a sports psychologist in.
And given the fact that it’s a World Cup year, it’s certainly something that should sometimes be done. Matches aren’t won with physical prowess alone.
But is it really an needed?
Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter doesn’t seem to think so.
“It was a step forward from last year,’ Baxter was quoted as saying on www.dailymail.co.uk
“They had pretty much two halves of rugby they would be unhappy with over the course of that competition. Some people seem to think that takes masses of changes, it doesn’t.
“It doesn’t take that massive amount of work.
“Three or four crushing defeats, where you are not at the races, is a bit different.
“The Scottish second half was a combination of an awful lot of things - almost a one-off scenario. I don’t think it has anything to do with mental weakness. There’s probably a bit more concern with the Wales game where England were in a very strong position in a crucial game, and just a couple of moments went against them.
“They weren’t things that aren’t reversible though. In the bigger picture things are okay and they’re on an upward curve.
“That’s the picture I have taken out of England’s Six Nations.”
While Baxter raises some valid points, it’s not only the team’s two disappointing results that may warrant some questioning, but also individual performances. Or, rather, individual demeanour.
Red Rose skipper Owen Farrell might have more to worry about than just the fact that he might not be able to wear his favourite socks in Japan later this year.
While no one player should ever have to carry the burden of disappointment alone, England’s seeming reliance on their captain makes the call for a head assessment more understandable.
Farrell wasn’t at his best in England’s two major let-downs this season, and the fact that Jones took him off the field with 10 minutes to go at Twickenham spoke volumes.
The Australian coach later said that Farrell “lost a bit of his edge” - and the fact that he took him off when things got hot should raise questions.
The pivot was directly responsible for tries scored by Stuart McInally and Finn Russell, and how he escaped yellow for what has become his signature shoulder charge was bizarre. He was lucky.
The ref? Not so much, he had to deal with Farrell losing his cool... again.
So, while star lock and Farrell’s teammate Mark Itoje has spent his time on the sidelines being exemplary and listening to Finding Mastery (delving into the psychology of elite performance and the art of pushing boundaries), Jones is quite right in wanting to seek help before they head to Japan.
Again, do England really need a sports psychologist?
Maybe not. Maybe everybody – including Jones – is reading too much into two isolated cases.
But good on Eddie for seeking that help, for seeking maximum performance and effort. Mental and physical effort and performance.
It can only do Farrell, and the team, well.@WynonaLouw