In the context of the performances this season I might venture to suggest that a new dawn is fast becoming a fledgling era and that we have more than a few reasons to be cheerful as England's Grand Slam aspirations continue on track. Yesterday's performance against a determined French side was a good old slug fest which ultimately went the full fifteen rounds but once again, there were many positives to reflect upon.
In no particular order my "Reasons to be Cheerful" with three matches played include:
- High Tempo: England have shown over this season that they can play a high tempo ambitious game which has to be the blueprint for success in the modern game. There have been times when England have played with the necessary pace and precision to suggest that they can live with, and potentially out perform their Southern Hemisphere counterparts.
- Plan B: Yesterday also showed that England do have another type of game in their locker and the tactical changes made at half time ensured that they could control the game and apply the necessary sustained pressure. There is no doubt that England tried to play too much rugby in the first half and came unstuck against the very aggressive defence of the French. The second half saw England commit players to the break down, with the intensity and work rate in this area being outstanding.
- Set Piece: The set piece has been secure and in particular it has been good to see the line out going so well. The loss of Tom Crofts and to an extent Courtney Lawes was a potential nightmare in terms of securing top quality ball form the line out, but England have proved to be very secure in this area. I have been disappointed in recent years with how passive England have been on the opposition ball but this has now been rectified and Tom Woods has been a real threat in this area.
- Tom Woods: This leads very nicely in to the excellent performance of Woods. He has looked very much at home at this level and has contributed a great deal to the England forward effort. He has an outstanding work rate not least at the breakdown and any doubts about the balance of a back row of Woods, Haskell and Easter have long been forgotten. It is going to be almighty scrap for the number 6 and 7 jersey when Moody and Crofts are back to full fitness.
- Second Rows: One of England's top performers so far has been Tom Palmer and yesterday he thoroughly deserved his man of the match award. While Deacon had done a great job alongside Palmer, the return of Courtney Lawes to partner the 31 year old Stade Francais man is a mouth watering prospect for the World Cup. Bring on Matfield et al.
- Young Front Row: My last mention of the forwards has to include Alex Corbisiero. He is another player who just seems very much at home at test level and his hour on the pitch after Sheridan's injury was once again very successful. The front row competed strongly in the scrum and their all-round contribution was significant. You get the sense that this trio could feature for England for a good number of years.
- The Oldies: Yesterday also showed that the stalwarts from the 2003 World Cup team still have a huge role to play for England. In particular the form of the 32 year old Mike Tindall has been excellent, and yesterday he had another impressive all action game. His running has been strong and straight while in defence he seems as robust as ever. It was also a day when Jonny Wilkinson reaffirmed why he continues to be a vital element of the squad. He introduced himself with a 46 metre penalty to move onto 1,190 points, one ahead of New Zealand's Dan Carter, and in doing so regained his position as the leading Test points-scorer. The leadership and experience of Tindall and Wilkinson along with Thompson will be invaluable come the World Cup.
- Half backs: Although it was a little more of a challenging day for Ben Youngs and Toby Flood, as a partnership they are really starting to look the real deal at Test level. Youngs struggled under the attention of the French forwards but still turned in a good performance, while Flood who has been a revelation recently, had little chance to show his skills, he never shirked from his defensive responsibilities. England can now surely build their team round the Leicester duo for the foreseeable future.
- Potent Attacking Force: It is not always been possible to combine the phrase "potent attacking force" and England in the same sentence, but we do seem to be getting there. Through their high tempo game, off loading and outstanding support running, England are genuinely looking a real threat and creating try scoring opportunities in every game. The "Ashton Factor" is significant and along with Cueto and Foden there is so much potential to exploit.
Summer, Buddy Holly, the working folly
Good golly Miss Molly and boats
Hammersmith Palais, the Bolshoi Ballet
Jump back in the alley and nanny goats