England's recent form may not suggest they are about to improve on four consecutive second-place finishes in the Six Nations, but World Cup-winner Ben Kay sees no reason why it cannot click into place this year.
Kay believes that before a dismal autumn in which they suffered humiliation as World Cup hosts, England had been making strides with their attacking game which new coach Eddie Jones can build upon over the coming weeks.
“I think England were trying to get to that anyway and maybe the World Cup came too early,” the former England lock told City A.M.
“Look at how England played in the last game of last year’s Six Nations [55-35 vs France]. That’s the level they want to get to. And while they probably wouldn’t have played like that had they not been forced to win by a certain number of points, it proved they could.
“It might be that Jones benefits a lot from the stuff [his predecessor] Stuart Lancaster did and then just adds the confidence to the players who can execute it. If England get it right in the first game, the way the fixtures pan out, I think it’s easier for England than some of the others.”
Despite naming a squad featuring just 12 players from the 23-man World Cup squad for England’s opener against Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday, Kay does not foresee a total revolution in England’s playing style. Instead, the former Leicester player believes Jones’s biggest adjustment may be re-shaping perception of the side.
“He will demand discipline behind closed doors but also that they play on the edge, that they’re horrible and streetwise,” said Kay, who is monitoring England’s Six Nations progress as part of the Accenture Analysis Team.
“Appointing [Dylan] Hartley as captain is saying: ‘No-one is going to push us around and if we lose someone to the sin-bin for 10 minutes, we lose someone to the bin.’ Eddie Jones is a brand man. All this talk about how ‘they’re never going to have trained as hard as they do with me’ – that’s rubbish. He’s telling the players that, and they’ll start believing it, and then it gives them confidence.
“It’s those trimmings that Jones brings which could bring out the best in England. The players are fit, playing good rugby at their clubs and he gels it all together and everyone goes ‘what a genius, they’re playing so different to how they did under Lancaster’. That’s how Stuart Lancaster was trying to get them to play – he just couldn’t get the final finishing touches. So there’s no reason why England can’t win it.”
Ben Kay is part of the Accenture Analysis Team during the RBS 6 Nations, providing fans with insight and analysis to #Seebeyond standard match data. Follow @AccentureRugby or visit accenture-rugby.com. Download the Official RBS 6 Nations app