England let their standards slip Posted almost 3 years ago


Photo: The Telegraph UK

England boss Stuart Lancaster doesn’t strike you as the kind of coach that lets his rage get the better of him, a character trait perhaps honed during his days as a teacher, but Saturday’s 36-13 defeat to New Zealand revealed that he is not averse to delivering a verbal barrage.

At half-time in Hamilton, with his players standing on the precipice of a potential hammering that would have undone much of the good work they had produced on tour, served as a body blow to their World Cup aspirations and seen the respect they had earned from the host nation evaporate, Lancaster opted for a few ‘home truths’.

Lancaster’s frustration with his team’s first half implosion was probably matched by his irritation at the fact that such ‘sharp’ words, as he also called them, were required at all. His side’s failure to acknowledge and rectify the shortcomings in their own performance in the midst of a battering from the All Blacks will have been alarming.

A team boasting such leaders as skipper Chris Robshaw and flanker Tom Wood up front, looked desperately short of a steadying hand within the backs and specifically at the heart of the their defence. The injury-enforced absence of fly-half Owen Farrell may well have had some impact on organisational and marshalling duties and what England would do for a player of the experience and intelligence of New Zealand’s Conrad Smith in that part of their game.

Learn tackling and defensive structures from Graham Henry and other top coaches and players

Admittedly England were under intense pressure from an All Blacks side in full flow for the first time this year with little time to breathe let alone think at a premium, but it should not need Lancaster and co to reinforce the message and stop the rot.

As in many aspects of the game, the All Blacks are the perfect example of a side able to think on their feet, slow and disrupt the game and adjust their approach to nullify their opponents. It is an ability that appears to come so easy to them, almost naturally, and requires no input from a coach or even a messenger masquerading as a waterboy.

This was the last game of a long season for England’s leading players and at time it was painfully obvious. Gone was the intensity that they had summoned in Auckland and Dunedin and their focus faded with their failure to convert territory and possession into points.

Switching off for a few seconds against the All Black can be dangerous, for forty minutes it can be disastrous as England found out to their cost. A game that promised so much was effectively over before half-time.

The biggest concern for England and Lancaster was the All Blacks’ ability to blow what has been a solid England defence apart. The game stats underlined their proficiency with ball in hand with a total of 10 linebreaks and 28 defenders beaten set to ensure a painful review for the likes of England midfield duo of Manu Tuilagi and Kyle Eastmond. In the words of defence coach Andy Farrell, a side that has been all about being ‘proactive’ suddenly slipped into being ‘reactive’.

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen was quick to praise assistant Ian Foster’s input and specifically the plays he devised to exploit areas of England’s game they perceived as possible weaknesses and together they can revel in having ‘out-coached’ their rivals.

Creating the opportunities is one thing, executing the move is another, but it makes things a lot easier when you have players such as winger Julian Savea in your ranks. The winger’s first half brace showcased his fine finishing skills and took the wind out of England’s sails.

His hat-trick try in the dying moments of the game not only took his Test tally to 23 tries in 22 games but also means he has eight against England – a return that draws him level with their Kiwi tormentor-in-chief Jonah Lomu.

“If we want to be the best in the world we need to be there for 80 minutes,” insisted Lancaster after the game having seen his side steady the ship in the second half, but it clearly requires more than that.

And when it comes to consistency they need look no further than the All Blacks for a blueprint. Their victory at Waikato Stadium extended their current winning run to 17 games to equal the mark of their predecessors between 1965 and 1969 and South Africa between 1997 and 1998. Cyprus may well insist they hold the world record having won their last 23 games but with all due respect to the Moufflons, they cannot really claim to have played sides of a similar calibre as New Zealand who have lost just one of their last 38 Test outings.

They remain the team to beat and that ‘home truth’ will echo throughout the summer until England’s next meeting with the All Blacks at Twickenham in November.

Should Lancaster have expected more from his players? Did the All Black’s game plan exploit England’s defence weaknesses?

Start a free 3-day trial now to learn from the best coaches and players in the world

Enter your email address to continue reading

We frequently post interesting articles and comment from our world class content providers so please provide us with your email address and we will notify you when new articles are available.

We'll also get in touch with various news and updates that we think will interest you. We promise to not spam, sell, or otherwise abuse your address (you can unsubscribe at any time).


comments powered by Disqus

Graham Jenkins is a freelance sports journalist and former editor of the leading rugby union website He has been reporting on sport for over 20 years for various media outlets including the BBC and ESPN with the majority dedicated to the game they play in heaven. A veteran of four World Cups, England's 2003 triumph remains the most memorable moment of his professional career closely followed by a night out with Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal

Topic News & Opinions
Applicable to Coaches  

Related articles

Is the sport really putting players first?

World Rugby and the rugby union’s key stakeholders announced the latest long-term calendar for the game with great fanfare last month highlighting the ‘harmony’ it had brought to the sport.

Leading writer Graham Jenkins looks at claims it appears to have promoted disharmony with many concerned that the international schedule and the changes it has subsequently triggered actually jeopardise player welfare.

Should England get excited by a defeat?

Such a high-profile failure to perform and complete a clean sweep may well be cause for muted celebration. Rugby writer Graham Jenkins assesses the potential effect of England’s loss to Ireland at the weekend.

There is no substitute for hard work

England have successfully clinched the 6 nations and equalled the All Black’s 18 match winning streak. Graham Jenkins reflects on where Eddie Jones and the team are at.

England's growing belief will have All Blacks on high alert

This England side just refuses to accept defeat. Leading writer Graham Jenkins considers whether England’s growing unrelenting self belief will be causing the All Blacks any concern.

Farrell is a captain in everything but name

England flyhalf, Colin Farrell appears to have taken another step forward in his game development under Eddie Jones. Leading writer Graham Jenkins highlights Farrell’s progress and growing leadership influence within the national side.