Sunday, 14 August 2011

What we learnt about England - Part 2 v Wales

1. The training camp and warm up games are all about development, progression and preparation in readiness for the World Cup, but yesterday we saw England's campaign certainly come off the rails and in doing so hit a very big wall. Where was the high tempo, intuitive rugby of the Autumn internationals, the subtlety and guile in attack necessary to win games at the highest level. I have watched the game a couple of times now and I am left wondering where on earth did that performance come from. Johnson and Tindall can talk about not taking points when penalty kicks were on offer, but a win would have been a very hollow victory after such a very worrying performance. I am starting to think that Poland might have been a better bet than Pennyhill.

2. Once again we witnessed the bluntness of England's attacking options - there were some incredible possession and territory statistics in favour of England certainly in the first half and you only have to look at the fact that Wales made double the number of tackles to England to understand the level of dominance. England missed Ashton terribly and it was only Foden and also Armitage who looked to have the ability to unlock Wales' tenacious defence.

3. Where are England's strike moves? Surely something more creative and ambitious could come from dominant first phase ball. Foden needs to used and not just seen as a counter attacking option. Obviously this has to be seen in the context of the problems in the centre, where Hape had a poor game posing no threat at all. We are probably not going to find the fluency necessary to unleash the outside backs , but surely more options around Ashton and Foden can be manufactured.

4. After yesterday do England come back to Flutey and Tuilagi. Last week I was advocating that the partnership is given time to develop and I think it was an opportunity missed that Tuilagi was not on the bench in order to get more experience at this level. Basically where does Johnson go next with his centre partnership?

5. England were taken apart at the breakdown with two main problems emerging - intensity and numbers. As the support for the ball carrier was limited and lacking dynamism, it was inevitable that there would be a numbers problem at the breakdown. In contrast Wales committed numbers and played at a different level of intensity with the once again impressive Warburton and Lydiate dominating. Fourie seemed to miss his opportunity and Johnson will have to think carefully about how he goes forward with the No.7 shirt.

6. There must be now big questions about Nick Easter at Number 8. We could say that this was typical Easter performance but frankly it is not good enough for top level international back row play - see Pierre Spies for South Africa yesterday to see the level of performance required - he regularly smashed over the gain line and made significant distance with his strong running. He was also a threat from the base of the scrum. Sounds like someone we know - oh yes James Haskell!

7. The tempo has well and truly gone out of England's game. the writing was on the wall last week and everything came to fruition in this area yesterday. England played their best rugby in the Autumn with a fully fit and in-form Ben Youngs at scrum half and if he can get back to that level of form during the World Cup then maybe we can look forward with some optimism. Chris Ashton's support play is also vital in creating a varied and high tempo attacking style.

8. Jonny Wilkinson's secure performance last week has not done Toby Flood any good at all. He was a shadow of his himself from earlier in the season and by the latter stages of the game his confidence had ebbed away. Flood indicated in the week that Wilkinson's example drives him to greater heights but yesterday we saw a man under immense pressure and fighting for his place.

9. The big question is will Johnson go for Wilkinson and play a limited game built around the dominance of the pack and points accumulation through penalties. While this will get England so far it is a long way removed from the tactical blueprint of the major nations as they prepare for the World Cup.

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