England have vowed to continue playing on the edge despite the disciplinary problems that have ruined their Guinness Six Nations title defence.
Defence coach John Mitchell believes it is crucial Eddie Jones’ team retain the physicality that is their greatest strength, while addressing the key shortcoming that has sent them spinning to defeats by Scotland and Wales.
Across the first three rounds of the Championship, they have conceded an average of 13.6 penalties per game. To aid preparations for Saturday’s clash with France at Twickenham, two referees have been brought in to offer guidance.
And while avoiding the official’s whistle is their overwhelming priority, Mitchell insists they must not lose sight of what makes England tick.
“We need to sort out our discipline. We need more care around that area. It’s important that we’re a lot cleverer and smarter in certain situations,” Mitchell said.
“It’s a feeling thing. It comes through connection and togetherness. We’re working hard and it will come. There’s doubt about it – the timing will come.
“But not for one minute do we want to stop playing on the edge and stop being physical. It’s something we enjoy and something we pride ourselves on.
“We’re not going to throw away something that’s really important to us and that’s ultimately a strength which we can bring week-in week-out.”
Although England have surrendered their title to favourites France or Wales with two rounds left to go, Mitchell insists their Championship remains meaningful.
“We’ve got a huge amount to play for because we want to find our best performance,” the former New Zealand head coach said.
“This is the great situation that we’re currently in – we’ve got a great opportunity to find our best, which is exciting. You learn more in these situations and your ability to find a way. We haven’t found our best yet.”
England must stop Antoine Dupont if they are to inflict a first defeat on France, whose round three appointment with Scotland was postponed due to an outbreak of coronavirus in their squad.
Dupont was the first of 12 players to test positive but with the irrepressible Toulouse magician restored to full health, Jones’ fallen champions are on red alert for a scrum-half who would be the first name on a world XV team-sheet.
“You stop him from running, I reckon! He can run!” said Mitchell when asked how England can contain Dupont.
“He’s a really good player who likes to influence the game and he backs his strengths. He’s got good vision and has good awareness of defenders either side of the ruck.
“He also tends not to be pre-meditated, so he makes a lot of decisions based on what’s in front of him. He’s got a good skill-set.
“Physically he’s really well put together. He’s powerful and has got a good fend. And he can go around defenders rather than on their inside.
“His support play is second to none in the way he anticipates beyond the ball. We’re looking forward to taking away what he has.”