Tom Wood and Chris Robshaw continue to lead England both on and off the pitch. Robshaw put in another heroic shift against France, for which he earned the man of the match, but I suspect that England’s captain will concede that Wood was his team’s leading performer on Saturday.
What a contrast with Louis Picamoles. The French number eight did all those things that make passing observers drool. He crunched through tackles and he made some big hits that would make the highlights reel. It was eye catching and physical.
Wood is never going to star in a Rambo movie, but he is a magnificent rugby player. England made over 100 tackles in the match and it seemed like Wood made half of them. They weren’t the sort to knock the door off the hinges, but they were mighty effective. Wood played a big part in shutting down Bastareaud.
It was Wood who set up England’s try. It should have been disallowed for offside, but sometimes you make your own luck in the game. Wood pushed and shoved his way through a fractured French ruck, until he could get his foot at the ball and kick it on. The ricochet fell to Manu Tuilagi who took the bloodied tabloid headlines.
Wood is becoming the complete player. He was England’s second most frequent ball carrier. He has terrific hands and a good step and good body position like Robshaw (something Joe Launchbury could work on a little more). He would love a dash more pace and power, but that’s just greedy. He reads the game very, very well and he is a fine lineout forward.
At one point, before an unfortunately timed injury, Wood was thought to be Stuart Lancaster’s choice of captain. At the end of the match against France you could see why. While other England players scrapped or congratulated each other, Wood was the first man to follow in behind his captain and shake the French team’s hands.
It was an important moment, because Lancaster will need to call on Wood in years to come. There were the first signs on Saturday of the wretched arrogance, ill discipline and chippiness that ruined England’s World Cup campaign.
Owen Farrell’s behaviour left a lot to be desired and seemed to affect his own play. He got in Huget’s face early on with some very unattractive words. He put a cheap hit on Morgan Parra. There was far too much petulance from England’s playmaker and it needs to stop, for him and the team.
At the end Chris Ashton became involved in a shoving match that went on for far too long, well past the final whistle. Needless to say Danny Care got himself involved in it all. When the spat finally died down Ashton and Care went about congratulating each other rather than walking over to the beaten French team. It was very poor and in marked contrast to the behaviour of Robshaw and Wood.
Lancaster has already taken action against the serial penalty conceders, Tom Youngs, and the daft yellow card recipients, James Haskell, by dropping them to the bench for the France game. Hopefully he will be having words with Farrell, Ashton and Care, because England do not need this sort of thing.
New Zealand won the World Cup in part because the management’s handling of discipline was so astute. That created the environment in which the All Blacks could hang tough together and play out the final ten minutes of the final without giving away daft penalties. It was the classic example of the culture off the pitch affecting the culture on the pitch.
Robshaw and Wood lead that culture for England. Lancaster has to make absolutely sure that all the England players continue to respect it and follow the lead of their captain and his first lieutenant.
Has the culture of the England team shifted or are the discrepancies of the World Cup just around the corner? Comments below…