England’s Midfield Must Stay Close and Run Straight Posted over 11 years ago

I am going to continue my increasingly desperate mission to persuade somebody, anybody, that the midfield matters in English Rugby. Having watched the Dan Carter masterclass at Murrayfield, I am now convinced that he can comfortably regard himself as not only the best 10 but probably the best 12 in the world as well.

Carter’s lines of running, timing of the pass and general vision were exemplary against Scotland and in sharp contrast to the ham-fisted efforts of the Northern hemisphere teams over the previous two weekends, with the honourable exception of France – but then we all know France can do it, it’s merely a question of whether they can be bothered!

No one thought that Australia would be a pushover, despite David Campese’s assertion that this is the worst Australian team ever. Without half a dozen critical players, Australia were certainly there for the taking, but England had to convert their PR offensive into a game strategy that bore some resemblance to a top International team.

For me, there is a serious problem with the way England line up in attack and until they change it you can forget this step up in quality that they want to achieve. Leave for a moment the obsession in the media whether we should have kicked the second half penalties (which we should).

Toby Flood stands too far from his scrum half, and his attempts to run were worthy but absolutely no one picked up his line of running. The addition of Alex Goode into his channel, which showed promise against Fiji, was rendered ineffectual by the Aussies. They could watch the video footage and plan accordingly!

It also meant that there was no outside running threat or anyone to feed the redundant English wingers. Meanwhile Tuilagi was pushed very wide and I guess that he was the anticipated link. But he either cannot or will not pass the ball. Even his try should have been scored by the free winger outside him, and it was criminal really to go it on his own.

What of Brad Barritt? Why didn’t he get early ball so he could shape the attack from inside centre where all the options exist. Instead he was anonymous, when he needs to show us he has the vision to bring others into the game. That for me is the KEY role of a No 12, to lay the ball off and provide direction for his outside backs, to exploit their pace.

All three midfield backs need to stand closer, pass quicker and run straighter. This will give space out wide and perhaps they can start looping a little which will make a difference.

I may seem to be going back to basics, but I would really like to know if the England backs (and coaches) can look at their performance with anything other than serious concern. I have said many times that they get their bad habits from playing in the Premiership and a complete lack of backs coaching.

Nonetheless there would be some merit in bringing in Freddie Burns at 10, Jonathon Joseph at 13 and put Tuilagi on the wing. Tell Barritt that this is his moment to show us he can create opportunities and declare himself as a runner.

Now that’s exciting and England can go out and score early points through wit and imagination, putting their marker down first. Somehow I don’t think England will bludgeon the Springboks into submission. They themselves are very one dimensional, so England can definitely win this match through being inventive.

It’s down to Mike Catt to drive the change as whatever he has put in place so far hasn’t worked and Lancaster looks a little bemused by everything. Come on Mike, it’s time to risk a little, just like you used to do on the field.

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Hallers played for Oxford University, Bath & Harlequins and represented England in 23 test matches, including the Rugby World Cup final against Australia in 1991. Simon, a former RFU Council member, is an investment banker in the City of London and also Executive Director of Esher RFC.

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