Disciplined England now need better teamwork to challenge the big three Posted about 12 years ago

Stuart Lancaster has gone about things in exactly the right way since he was made the interim head coach and the victory over Scotland at Murrayfield was reward for the team spirit he has forged very quickly.

Team spirit was something that was absent during the World Cup but England had it in Edinburgh and it showed in their discipline and hard work. With all that had gone before, and I had never known an upheaval like it in England in the professional era with a major clear-out of coaches and players, they had to go back to the beginning.

If little was seen of England as an attacking force, they will worry about that later. It did not matter at the weekend: Stuart had to make sure the players had the right attitude and, under enormous pressure, they won. I think Italy will ask more searching questions of them than Scotland managed, but another victory would leave England in good shape with two of their final three matches at home.

They will know that they will need to show more in terms of teamwork in those games because France, Wales and Ireland are operating at a level above the other three teams in the tournament.

The match in Dublin was the highlight of the weekend. It is quite a while since I have seen a back division as big as Wales’s, but they showed skill as well as power. I liked the way Rhys Priestland created Jonathan Davies’s try down the short-side and Davies’s second followed a rampage by the powerful George North and a deft off-load.

It was interesting to look at the outside-halves at the weekend. Wales are a better side when Priestland plays: he is a big man who attacks the line and he has great awareness. I have always liked Francois Trinh-Duc and could not understand why France opted to go for a scrum-half at 10 during the World Cup.

Trinh-Duc does make mistakes but he has a great skill-set. France looked good when they moved the ball: Wesley Fofana was a threat when he came to terms with the demands of international rugby on his debut and Julien Malzieu is a wing who excites me.

The concern about Philippe Saint-Andre when he took over from Marc Lievremont was that while he was a romantic player, he is a pragmatic coach who likes building a game around the set-pieces. But France showed a willingness to counter-attack against Italy. Whether the players took that upon themselves will become apparent as the Six Nations progresses.

If Priestland and Trinh-Duc stood at outside-half, little went right for Dan Parks whose poor tactical kicking took the pressure off England. Ben Foden must have thought it was his birthday because so much possession was presented to him. As Parks is not a 10 who attacks the line, his kicking needs to be accurate.

Charlie Hodgson had a successful return for England in that he scored the winning try, but he saw so little possession that he was on the back foot for the most part. You could see that joining Saracens had made a difference: he made some important contributions in defence, but the task for England going forward is to provide the outside-half with not just more possession but quick ball.

Jonathan Sexton had a mixed game at outside-half for Ireland. He is a player I have a lot of time for, but when Wales were down to 14 men in the last quarter, he kicked the ball to them when Ireland needed to keep it in hand. It was then that they really missed Brian O’Driscoll: he would had more influence on Sexton from the centre than Paul O’Connell had in the second row.

Wales rallied when Bradley Davies returned from the sin-bin, but why he had not been shown a red card for dropping Donnacha Ryan was mystifying. It was one of the worst examples of that offence I have ever seen and it was not as if it was a tackle. Stephen Ferris received a yellow card in the last minute for a tip tackle, but I am not sure it was even worth the penalty that presented Wales with the chance to win the match.

And that is one of the things about rugby. You can talk about playing styles, whether to play it open or tight, but there is nothing you can do about the idiosyncrasies of referees. Ireland should not have been in the position where Wales were within a penalty of winning the game, but one decision cost them.

That game showed that form in the Heineken Cup counts for little in the Six Nations. Leinster and Munster did not lose a group game between them in Europe this season while Cardiff Blues were the only Welsh region to qualify for the quarter-finals, but international rugby is a different beast and Wales have created a very good environment.

They and France look the likely contenders after the opening weekend, but I would not write off Ireland: they should learn from their mistakes. England will be confident, but not overly so, going to Rome. Stuart Lancaster says he is going to apply for the permanent position of head coach, although I cannot see why the Rugby Football Union has to hire headhunters to help find suitable candidates: is there no one at Twickenham with any rugby expertise?

Stuart has certainly set the right values and culture for his players. Seven players made their Test debuts at Murrayfield, four from the bench, and that is a big turnover. England supporters will have to be patient, but a first win at Murrayfield for eight years is a healthy start.

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Brian Ashton has credentials as both player and coach. He started playing rugby at Lancaster Royal Grammar School and progressed through age and club grades. While Brian played representative rugby for Lancashire, England North, and the Barbarians it is as a coach that he has made the more significant impact. He has coached at club and international level since 1980, including 2 years as England head coach. Brian is currently Technical Director of Rugby at Fylde RFC in Lancashire and is widely regarded as one of the most visionary coaches in the global game.

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