Playing for the shirt in England Sport has become conventional wisdom after England’s problems in NZ during the Rugby World Cup and following the heavy criticism England took for lack of commitment in the Football World Cup in SA. It seems remarkable that our International teams can have cared so little – anything to do with money?! Now we have to cut through the language and work out how England’s South African Rugby “Journey” is shaping up.
Making big tackles and hanging on in games is worthy, and has characterised Lancaster’s England to date. I have also recognized the counter-attacking ability of the likes of Foden and Ashton but have been waiting for them to get some proper useable ball. The crux of the matter is I have no idea how the midfield attacking strategy is being coached, as there hasn’t been any on show. I was never convinced by Farrell and Barritt as game breakers – their form and approach to the game at Saracens has fed into the International arena. Does Manu Tuilagi ever pass the ball I wonder? He won’t run over the South Africans that’s for sure.
Is it any surprise that when Farrell played a call off the 12 position that we scored a try? The inside centre is the pivotal figure, notice that Francois Steyn’s ham-fisted performance in the Springbok midfield ensured that the only good ball Habana received was courtesy of England’s poor kicking from halfback.
Assuming that England has hours and hours of prep time, it can only be that the central strategy is highly conservative, or perhaps reflects the inexperience of the coaching team. There is still a major problem in the English Premiership , where the midfield play is crude and uncoached, with the primary aim to cross the gain line and the secondary aim to bore us all to tears (Harlequins, Leicester and Gloucester the honourable exceptions).
So, the weekend approaches and Flood, Joseph and Tuilagi will start as the Midfield trio. Now that’s starting to look more promising, with Tuilagi hopefully instructed to pass rather than run. Joseph looks the part from the limited amount I have seen, and can explore the Springbok outside shoulders where the space exists. Let us hope that Mike Catt has been able to develop his crash course in top level coaching. If we can get the ball into the hands of the classiest back on both sides, Ben Foden, then we are in business.
Dylan Hartley may be proud of fronting up to the physical South Africans, but I am left unimpressed. Hit men like Brian Moore and Peter Winterbottom used to provide the grunt in my day, but it doesn’t win you games. England needs to respect the wild Springbok beasts, but that’s where it ends. Take them out wide I say. I remember the South Africa comeback game against England in 1992 when the Apartheid regime ended – huge men up front and the likes of Naas Botha at 10 and the great centre Danie Gerber. In the face of all that, Jeremy Guscott, Will Carling and Rory Underwood showed them how to play through space and England won comfortably – time for a replay!