Sunday, 7 November 2010

Optimism Despite Defeat: Some brief thoughts on an ever-improving England team

I rarely delve into the world of rugby but do follow the England team and as I have not written a post about rugby in a very long time I thought I would share my opinion, albeit briefly, on the team after their opening Autumn Test.

England fought back to within ten point of the All Blacks at Twickenham yesterday and it probably should have been less. With New Zealand a man down and all the momentum with England in the final ten minutes, it was right to think England could find at least one extra score.

Despite the loss, there has been an overarching sense of optimism surrounding the performance. Following a breath-taking 21-20 victory over Australia back in June, England seem to be heading in the right direction.

I have always been quite forthright with my disapproval of the choice of Martin Johnson as England coach. I feel that his first two years in charge of the team largely justified this too. Now, however, there are signs that he is growing into the role.

There have been numerous changes made, both tactically and in personnel, that have given England a new look. The aimless kicking and slow ball is on its way to being eradicated and in its place there are new, young and exciting players coming in and looking to play more expansive and positive rugby. If nothing else then this makes an England match slightly less arduous to watch.

Foden, Ashton, Lawes and Youngs all promise to be stars of the future. The balance between experience and youth seems to be almost right.

My main concern with the England team is at Fly Half. Is Toby Flood good enough to lead this new England side to a period of sustained success? I have my doubts. At the heart of any great team is a Fly Half pulling the strings. Flood seems to lack the quality required to act as the lynch-pin of this ever-improving England team.

Flood failed to impose himself on the match and dictate the play, especially in New Zealand's 22, in which England had good possession which they failed to convert into points. Dan Carter's clinical leading of the All Black attack served only to exaggerate Flood's own failings. Perhaps I am being overly critical but he does not fill me with the calming confidence that a world class No.10 should.

Nevertheless, England performed admirably. New Zealand came to Twickenham on the back of a busy Autumn schedule. Not surprisingly therefore, they looked sharper and made by far the brighter start. England warmed to their task and in the second half though and had given good cause for optimism by the final whistle.

Martin Johnson's men now face Australia, Samoa and South Africa on consecutive Saturdays at Twickenham and how well they perform will be an ideal parameter of just how far the team have come and how far they have left to go ahead of the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...


  1. It does feel like there is a long term plan for the current England side, something which was absent in last years Autumn series.

    As for Toby Flood, I agree that he will never have the prowess of the elite fly halves of the international game, but to his credit, he has only played 3 games this season. Saying that I am not confident with him at 10, Olly Barkley may well be the better option.

    I was impressed with Youngs at 9 and Easter and Croft in the back row. The two props can build a solid scrum for the future and the back three have quality. For me, we need to address the centre partnership. Tindall is past it and has been for a while - but where is the depth?

    In all, a good performance though against an unusually subdued All Black outfit.

  2. Flood isn't good enough but remember he's not first choice, Wilkinson is injured for all the autumn internationals and he adds creativity in attack and is much more solid in defence which adds to security in midfield. I don't think there is any argument about how the forwards played but comparing our backs to those of other top international sides isn't good viewing.

  3. Well I am glad that I am not alone then. I would question if Wilkinson is the right choice either. He often stands too deep and favours the boot when it seems Johnson wants quick and flat ball. With the new look team that, as you say Dan, does seem to have been created with a long term plan in mind. We need a No.10 who can be heart of this team as it progresses. Barkley may work. Wilkinson could always work. Cipriani??

    Lsmithson, you are also right that our backs have generally been our problem of late. This is where the transition from the glory days of 2003 has been at its most difficult. However, I think that with Youngs, Ashton and Foden, we have a solid core that could grow into world beaters themselves.

  4. Wilkinson is tried and tested, and if in doubt, resorts to a long punt down field. Johno did say that he wouldnt pick Cipriani if he moved to Melbourne, so it will be interesting to see how that pans out. I vote for Barkley.

    Must also add that I'm fully appreciating some attention on ruggers!

  5. My Dad having been to Twickenham yesterday says, that untill the team reduces number of basic errors, particularly when they are in the oppositions 22, it doesn't matter who is at fly half. Were it not for a large number of errors during attacking moves, i feel that England could well have nicked it.
    Lsmithson back, I disagree with my father because he was drinking on the train since 820am and clearly had no idea. Also, if Wilkinson was at 10 for England then during the last 10 minutes of the game, which was when England had the most pressure on the All Blacks, then we would have been within one score of winning the game rather than 2.

  6. I think it was in the final 10 minutes that Flood's weakness really showed. He failed to dictate the attack or make the decisive pass, kick or break. Wilkinson may have done better but I still think the days of relying on Johnny, and his left boot in particular, have passed.

    You must always try and eradicate errors but they are almost unavoidable. Our problem is converting dangerous possession into points and thus the No.10 was essential, with or without errors at other times in the game.

    It will be interesting to see if or when Cipriani is brought out of the International wilderness. I doubt Flood will be dropped for this series of Tests unless he gets injured or has a truly woeful performance. I would like to see us experiment in that position but, having said that, Fly Half is not a position in which you can easily try new players. A No.10 always needs time to gel with both his backs and forwards so Johnson will need to give a new man an extended run in the team and I can't see him doing that, for now at least.

    Dan, I struggle to keep up with Rugby all year round unless England are playing I am afraid so posts are always rare. But with these four Tests, the Six Nations and the World Cup, I am sure there will be plenty more over the next year. You are more than welcome to contribute any pieces on rugby if there is a story or issue of particular interest at any point though.


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