England to conduct 'brutally honest' Six Nations review but won't rush decision on Jones future

By Sports Desk March 23, 2021

England will conduct a "brutally honest" internal review of their Six Nations performance but will not rush the decision on the future of Eddie Jones.

The 2019 World Cup finalists finished fifth in this year's Six Nations tournament, losing all three games against Scotland, Wales and Ireland for the first time since 1976.

A spirited victory over France had restored some credibility to the side after a shock 11-6 home defeat to Scotland and a resounding 40-24 loss in Cardiff, but their campaign concluded last weekend with a 32-18 reverse in Dublin.

England conceded 121 points in their five games, more than in any previous Five or Six Nations championship, leaving Jones' position as head coach under serious scrutiny.

Bill Sweeney, CEO of the Rugby Football Union (RFU), accepted there was huge disappointment around their performance and that tough questions must be asked as they attempt to build a squad capable of winning the World Cup in two years' time.

However, he insisted on Tuesday that any possible changes to the team will be given great consideration.

Asked to summarise England's Six Nations campaign, Sweeney replied: "How long have you got?

"It's a tough question. We're all incredibly disappointed. England don't go into a Six Nations to come fifth, which is why we'll have a thorough debrief.

"We had a debrief scheduled for May and we'll probably bring it forward to April. It needs to be a thorough, brutally honest analysis of what went wrong and why.

"Since Japan, our focus is on going and winning a World Cup in France.

"You'd expect us to do an absolute and full debrief. You have to recognise and respect Eddie's achievements since he's been here: three Six Nations championships, a grand slam, a World Cup final - that's a tremendous performance.

"But he wants to understand this as much as anybody and we want to let him talk to us about what happened in the Six Nations and are we on track to where we want to get to in 2023.

"It's really important at this stage to apply good old English calm. We have to react, we won't do nothing, but it's important not to overreact. We won't leave any stone unturned in trying to understand it.

"It's a young squad, it was the youngest ever team in a World Cup final, and yet we're in a period of transition. It's unusual. When you're in transition, you want to make sure you're heading in the right direction.

"I don't think I can honestly answer [if he will be sacked]. He's as disappointed as we are, and we'll do this debriefing session together."

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    Phil Salt is "grateful for the backing" he has received after starring for England in their eight-wicket victory over Pakistan.

    Having struggled in his previous five innings in England's seven-match T20I series, when managing just 59 runs, Salt hit a blistering 88 not out from 41 deliveries on Friday.

    Salt reached a half-century in 19 balls – the third-fastest by an England player in the format – as the tourists levelled up the series at 3-3 in Lahore.

    That set up a decider on Sunday, when Salt will have another chance to underline his credentials to retain his spot at the top of the order at the upcoming T20 World Cup.

    "I'm very grateful for the backing I've got from my team-mates and the management. It's very clear the way they want me to play," the 26-year-old said.

    "The way I play is aggressive and I want to win as many games as possible while I'm in an England shirt. 

    "The first few games haven't gone to plan – I've been finding ways to get out, hitting fielders or whatever – but it's nice to come up with a performance like that in a big game.

    “It's always a challenge at the top of the order when you feel like you're playing well but you're picking out fielders and finding ways to get out.

    "It was definitely [my best T20 innings] and it was nice to do it with the series in the balance."

    With Jos Buttler due to return from injury in time for the World Cup, Salt is realistically in competition with Alex Hales over partnering the white-ball skipper.

    "You need competition. The best sides in the world have competition and you can't get away from that – it's the same in any sport," Salt added.

    "Everyone is trying to put their best foot forwards and show the coaching team and the team-mates how good they are.

    "I'm not looking too far into the future; I'm just focused on the next game in a couple of days' time."

    Salt's destruction of the Pakistan attack came after home captain Babar Azam had hit an unbeaten 87 to set England a target of 170 for victory.

    Babar became the first Pakistan batter to reach 3,000 T20I runs during his half-century, doing so in the absence of the rested Mohammad Rizwan.

    He is the fifth men's player to reach that milestone in the format and the joint-quickest to do so alongside India great Virat Kohli.

    Reflecting on what was ultimately a disappointing day for his side, however, Babar said: "After losing a couple of early wickets, we thought 170 was a good score. 

    "Maybe we were 10 runs or so short, but the way Salt batted in the first four or five overs, they took the game away from us. 

    "The way they used the powerplay was the turnaround today. I think the middle-order needs to step up, they need to take responsibility."

  • Salt stars as England canter to eight-wicket victory over Pakistan and set up series decider Salt stars as England canter to eight-wicket victory over Pakistan and set up series decider

    Phil Salt hit a blistering 88 as England beat Pakistan by eight wickets on Friday to level up their seven-match T20I series at 3-3 in Lahore.

    Pakistan recovered from a slow start that saw them 15-2 at one point to post 169-6 at the Gaddafi Stadium, thanks in large to the brilliant Babar Azam (87 not out).

    But England made easy work of the chase as they reached 100 from seven overs to set up a decider on Sunday.

    Without in-form Mohammad Rizwan, Pakistan initially struggled as Mohammad Haris (7) and Shan Masood (0) fell early on, leaving Babar to do much of the leg work.

    Haider Ali (18), Iftikhar Ahmed (31) and Asif Ali took their side to 136-4, but the latter upper cut to Reece Topley for nine runs and Mohammad Nawaz (12) followed soon after.

    Babar's 87 did at least give England something to think about, but Salt and Alex Hales put on an opening partnership of 55 off 23 balls, before the latter was removed for 27.

    Salt reached his half-century off just 19 balls en route to an unbeaten 88, including the decisive shot as England posted 170-2 to level things up.

    Babar brilliance not enough

    Pakistan were without run machine Rizwan but Babar stepped up with 87 runs off 59 balls, which included three sixes and seven fours.

    Babar surpassed a milestone 3,000 T20I runs in the process, yet it was not enough to steer the hosts to an unassailable series lead.

    England ease to victory

    The tourists were set 170 to avoid a third successive T20I defeat to Pakistan for the first time ever and had no trouble in reaching that target.

    Only once before – against New Zealand in November 2019 (6.4 overs in a game reduced by rain to 11 overs) – have England previously reached 100 from seven overs.

    Salt played a key part in that as he underlined his credentials to partner Jos Buttler at the upcoming T20 World Cup.

  • Heskey backs under-fire England boss Southgate ahead of World Cup Heskey backs under-fire England boss Southgate ahead of World Cup

    Emile Heskey believes Gareth Southgate should be given the chance to turn England's fortunes around after relegation from League A in the Nations League.

    The Three Lions' manager has come in for criticism after his team finished bottom of Group 3, failing to win any of their six outings against Italy, Hungary and Germany (D3 L3).

    With the World Cup in Qatar kicking off in less than two months, the pressure is on Southgate to deliver, though he did guide England to the semi-finals in Russia in 2018 before reaching the final of the rescheduled Euro 2020 tournament last year.

    Heskey – who made 62 appearances for England – thinks Southgate and his players can turn it around and can take positives from their 3-3 draw with Germany at Wembley on Monday.

    Speaking to Stats Perform, the former Liverpool and Aston Villa striker said: "I think the draw against Germany did redeem [England] in some cases.

    "I thought the fight they showed was fantastic to get it back to 3-2 because they could easily have given up at 2-0 [down]. But they fought back to make it 3-2 and then 3-3, obviously.

    "Football has always fascinated me [because] we put no pressure on them, and [then] they get to a semi-final and a final, then we suddenly heap a load of pressure on them and you can see what's happening."

    Prior to the six-goal thriller with Germany, England had failed to score with any of their previous 62 non-penalty shots, a run of seven hours and 30 minutes without a non-penalty goal.

    Southgate's men are also winless in their last six games in all competitions, their longest run since April to June 1993 (also six). It is their longest ever winless run going into a major tournament.

    "When you're not doing well, they're going to justify criticism, and you've got to accept that criticism. It's how you bounce back from that," Heskey added.

    "None of these have turned into bad players overnight, and the manager isn't a bad manager overnight. I think you've got to give him the opportunity to turn it around and turn the fortune of the players around as well."

    One of the concerns widely discussed has been whether Southgate knows his best team before they take on Iran, the United States and Wales in Group B at the World Cup, but Heskey pointed out selection headaches mean the manager has a number of credible options available to him.

    "You could put it either way," he said. "It could be alarming, or it could be a good thing that we don't know the best 11 because players are coming in.

    "You've even got Ivan Toney coming into the [last] squad... [Mason] Mount's played a lot of games and then come back in and scored.

    "So it's always good to keep the manager on his toes. But you really should know who your starting 11 is coming up to a major tournament."

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