LONDON (Reuters) - For decades sniffy southern hemisphere rugby fans have belittled England’s achievements for being merely “biff and boot” as if penalties and drop goals were not worthy ways of winning when set alongside the supposedly superior quest for tries.
Now the boot is still doing the damage, but it is no longer off the tee and instead kicks out of hand that are wreaking havoc and getting the fans out of their seats, as their two hugely impressive opening Six Nations wins have shown.
Sunday’s 44-8 demolition of France took their try count to 10 in two matches following the opening win in Dublin, and the majority of those scores have been created by the deft kicking of England’s backs, led as always by Owen Farrell.
England kicked out of hand 49 times on Sunday but there was none of the aimless “aerial tennis” that fans find so frustrating.
Instead, there were a series of weighted grubbers and chips, usually designed for hat-trick winger Jonny May to scuttle after, and a fusillade of testing up-and-unders and touch-finders from Farrell and Ben Youngs.
In comparison, in last year’s defeat to France in Paris England kicked from hand 17 times.
France, with non-specialists filling all the back-three places, were overwhelmed by the onslaught, which started in the first minute when Elliot Daly sent May clear to score.
Jones said the tactic had evolved as a way to find space as teams put more players into a pressing defensive line but seeing the opportunity is one thing, making linking kick and chase so perfectly another.
“I think that’s the way the game is going a bit,” said May. “Not just France, but every team wants to have an aggressive defence with 14 men in the frontline. It seems to be that there’s a bit of space in the backfield at the moment.
“We kept putting the ball through because the space was still there and we did not want to get bored by doing the right thing.”
Farrell, as ever, was at the heart of the plan and even Jones allowed himself to describe his captain’s display as “pretty good, pretty useful.”
Others were happier to laud the man who looks to be back secure at flyhalf having spent much of Jones’s early days at centre outside George Ford.
“The bloke’s a genius,” said Farrell’s Saracens team mate Jamie George. “I never see him have a bad game and that’s why he’s one of the best players in the world, if not the best.
“It’s amazing to be playing with a flyhalf and captain who is as dominant as he is and who leads from the front in the way that he does.”
As always, however, while the backs take the glory, it is the forwards who enable them to weave their magic. A year ago England were being destroyed in the breakdown and the halfbacks were working on the retreat but now their new-look back row is aggressive and productive.
Tom Curry, still only 20, made 17 tackles on Sunday while Mark Wilson made 18 as they bossed the contact areas. Thunderous hits by the likes of Courtney Lawes and Mako Vunipola, whose return has been a huge lift, kept England in the ascendancy.
“The kicks have to be spot on and they were, but it is a team effort,” said May.
“The set piece needs to be accurate and it is the forwards who got us on the front foot and then all of a sudden the playmakers have a decision to make about where the space is and then the outside backs have to read it and get on the end of it.”
Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Christian Radnedge