Eddie Jones’ struggling England rugby team are paying the price for avoiding the All Blacks.
That’s the theory of Ben Ryan, the English brains behind Fiji’s stunning Olympic gold medal effort.
Shopping his new book around the British media, the respected Ryan was willing to discuss all things rugby and the alarming slump of the English 15s team didn’t take long to surface.
England have now lost four matches in a row against Scotland, France, Ireland and the British Barbarians to dent their World Cup aspirations a little over a year out from the next tournament in Japan.
Incredibly, England haven’t played New Zealand at all under Jones’ reign with the Australian taking on the Twickenham job after the 2015 World Cup disaster.
They are due to finally clash in London in November but that may come too late, according to Ryan who highlighted the dangers of the fixtures anomaly.
Ryan believes an earlier clash against the All Blacks might have given the English outfit the litmus test check they needed as they cruised through the first two years under Jones, winning consecutive Six Nations titles, only dropping one game to Ireland. The third season with Jones has been a disaster.
“They are very one-dimensional in attack and could have done with playing the All Blacks to have a reality check and stop the plaudits without looking at the performances,” Ryan told The Times.
Ryan believes Jones is “obviously world-class” but conceded that England “don’t seem to play with enough joy” under him, though he did emphasise it was easy for external coaches to criticise.
Ironically England played the All Blacks four times in 2014, the last time they confronted New Zealand. They lost all three tests in New Zealand and then got pipped 24-21 in London when Steve Hansen’s side toured north at the end of the season.
Ryan’s dedicated work allowed him to oversee a rejuvenation of the famously flamboyant Fijian sevens game and get the better of New Zealand when it mattered most – by claiming the sport’s first Olympic medal in Rio in 2016.
He stepped away from Fiji after that stunning success and has been doing consultancy work though he harbours a desire to get into a top job in the 15s game and went close to securing the coaching appointment at glamour London club Harlequins.
He believes he could make a difference to the general English approach in the right situation.
“If I was director of rugby at the right club and had control to put the right people in place, there’d be a real opportunity to put skill back at the top of the agenda and play the game differently to how everyone else is playing at the moment,” he said.
“The pod systems they play at the moment drive me insane, five phases and exits, it’s all got too attritional.
“Plenty of teams have created a very good environment, like Exeter and Saracens, but watch Exeter and they’re playing 40 phases. I want players to be looking to make a break and score off the first phase.”
Ryan resisted calls for his skills to be utilised to help the English team in the role of an attack coach and appears content with that.
“The one thing my time in Fiji gave me was a reset button,” he said.
“I had not become a very good version of me in my last year in England. Fiji gave me that, off the field as much as on it. Look at something like the skills coach [job] with England and it’s not necessarily going to help your career if you’re just putting cones out and being told how to run back play without any proper creative input.”
England have dropped to third on the world rankings. Ireland are now No 2 behind perennial leaders New Zealand.
England are about to tour South Africa for three tests against the Springboks.