Why Max Malins could be the player to turn England chances into tries | Ugo Monye
If England’s biggest weakness without the ball this Six Nations has been their ill-discipline, then the problem with it has been an inability to complete attacking moves. That is where Max Malins comes in and precisely why I believe Eddie Jones has decided now is the time to give him a first start.
Malins’ biggest strength is his ability to turn scenarios where England are three-on-three or two-on-two into tries. The problem has been finishing off moves on the edges, in the and around the 15-metre channels. We know that if they can get the ball to their wingers in space, they will score tries so Malins has in effect been picked to join the dots.
Unfortunately, Elliot Daly is struggling for form. He hasn’t suddenly become a bad player, he’s still got 50 England caps, he’ll still be on a British & Irish Lions tour, but he’s just a bit off colour so when he has been in the positions that I hope Malins finds himself in, he has either made the wrong decision or failed to execute. For someone as gifted as Malins it is second nature and you only have to look at the people he’s had to learn from: Alex Goode has been so good at that for years, and Charles Piutau who is a supreme rugby player to watch, with counterattacking ability and again connecting the dots in the back line, putting people into space. So Malins’ last two mentors have significantly helped him and moulded him.
This may be his first start but he has shown his ability in big moments in matches. He did it in the Challenge Cup semi-final for Bristol against Bordeaux and he effectively sealed the final with a bit of individual brilliance. And from what I hear in the camp, he has been training like a madman these past few weeks.
This notion of England not firing on all cylinders in attack isn’t new, we saw it in the autumn, against Georgia but to take what we have seen this Six Nations, there are two ways of looking at the problem. On the plus side, England are creating a lot of opportunities, that’s a real positive. But they are not finishing as much as they should be, given the number of chances they are creating. Until the defeat by Wales, every Six Nations fixture had been decided by less than a score – Italy matches notwithstanding – so you have to take your chances. England have the quality but they need to twin it with that finishing prowess because we know they can finish – Anthony Watson is joint top try-scorer after all. I’m hoping Malins might be that missing piece and we get to see it at Twickenham on Saturday.
England have also got to focus on discipline because in international rugby it is very easy to get a reputation, much harder to shake one off. I don’t want Maro Itoje to lose his edge, I just want him to be a bit more considered and realise there are times when you can’t chase everything because the referee is watching you. England had great discipline in 2020 because they were in control of their matches, they lost only once, but their ill-discipline has come as a consequence of losing control of the scoreline. Understandably you want to chase the game a little bit more when you are behind and you try to fix it.
Sometimes they are working too hard, you have players who want to do more to have an impact but in doing so may be having a negative impact. Looking at England’s campaign so far, they have lost two of their three matches and that tells me it’s likely they have lost control. On top of that, you always concede more penalties in defence than in attack, and so when England had only 25% possession in the first half against Scotland discipline inevitably became a problem.
When you’re trying to wrestle back momentum, as was the case against Wales, discipline is also a problem. Charlie Ewels trying to nick a lineout – silly penalty; Dan Robson trying to protect Jonny May – the same. They have to realise that they have a reputation for being ill-disciplined so in the first 10-20 minutes they have to be whiter than white. They have to paint the right pictures and they have to get on the right side of the referee. You don’t want to make the referee a factor in deciding the outcome of the game and they allowed that to happen against Wales.
I know there’s been a certain amount of negativity around England and rightly so, because when you pull on the national jersey there are no excuses for not performing. It’s the richest union in the world: England have six times the number of players to pick from than Scotland, four times more than Ireland and Wales. That all comes with wearing a rose on your chest, that comes with the package of playing for England. But if they can keep the referee on side and show a more clinical edge in attack, then I’m backing England to come good.