Time to put the lab coats away? Posted over 9 years ago

Any good dictionary will tell you that an ‘experiment’ is a test or investigation that is devised to provide evidence for or against a hypothesis. It will also tell you that to ‘fail’ is to try and do something but be unable to do it. England coach Stuart Lancaster’s decision to select Manu Tuilagi on the wing for the their 28-27 second Test defeat to New Zealand in Dunedin ticks both of these boxes.

It is some way from Italy coach Nick Mallett’s eyebrow-raising call to select flanker Mauro Bergamasco at scrum-half for their Six Nations clash with England at Twickenham in 2009, but Lancaster must accept that Tuilagi was frustratingly ineffective.

It was a bold call from Lancaster as he juggled a wealth of midfield options and a desire to maintain the momentum from a strong showing in Auckland in their first encounter that also ended in a narrow defeat. Why shift your most destructive weapon, and arguably your freshest player, to a position where his contribution would be limited and demand of him a role he is not familiar with? Lancaster insisted he wanted to have a look at Tuilagi in that position, sensing he had the attributes to excel but we are unlikely to see a repeat.

Tuilagi saw precious little ball and as a result was denied the opportunity to wreak as much havoc in the New Zealand’s defence as he has done on more than one occasion previously. This may have been largely due to the All Blacks’ second half dominance but even when England were controlling the contest in the first half they were unable to utilise Tuilagi’s enviable skill set or maybe the player was just not accustomed to running the lines that would have allowed him to have had more of a say in the contest.

A superb offload, having drawn two All Blacks, in the closing stages of the game in the lead up to Chris Ashton’s try emphasised what could have been had Tuilagi been able to play a more central role and a return to the No.13 shirt surely awaits for the third Test in Hamilton. Tuilagi is a headline act and deserve such billing. He is not a bit-part player by any means. The identity of his midfield partner remains up for debate with the favoured ball-playing Billy Twelvetrees and Kyle Eastmond set to be lead the chase.

After drawing a blank last weekend, the gauntlet was thrown down to England with many insisting that they could not expect to beat the All Blacks or conquer the world without scoring tries against the best sides. They responded with a three-try haul that is certainly worthy of praise but that will only get you so far if you fail to shackle the All Blacks and perhaps more importantly let other golden opportunities pass you by.

England’s blistering start had New Zealand reeling with penalties outpacing the clock at one stage but the lack of a clinical edge once again let them down. The usually reliable England lineout faltered at one point but lock Joe Launchbury pounced with a charge down that had New Zealand scrambling inside their own 22. But some ferocious counter-rucking from the All Blacks rescued the situation and the chance was gone.

Another scoring opportunity came and went late in the first half after an interception from winger Manu Tuilagi led to a surge downfield only for some Ben Smith heroics to snuff out any hope of a score. The All Blacks rarely spurn such opportunities and their ability to turn up the heat and strike when their opponents are stretched remains the benchmark.

Much was made of England’s bench and the decisive contribution the likes of Courtney Lawes, Billy Vunipola and Chris Ashton could make but it simply did not materialise. Vunipola may have made a significant impression on the All Blacks’ defence and Ashton may have crossed for a late try but in truth it was too little, too late.

Learn from Courtney Lawes and 18 more of the world’s greatest coaches and players

They struggled to adjust to the pace of what was a largely thrilling game and were unable to have the desired impact. Lancaster may well be blessed with a fair amount of depth but, as with Tuilagi’s deployment in this game, can he afford to waste the world-class talent at his disposal?

Sadly, the game hinged on a debatable call from referee Jaco Peyper in the early stages of the second half. England fly-half Owen Farrell was sin-binned for killing the ball in the shadow of his own posts but replays suggested the ball never went to ground and so the No.10 was under no obligation to release it. In Farrell’s absence, Beauden Barrett slotted the resulting penalty and he would also convert a try from Ma’a Nonu that all-but took the game away from the tourists.

But to be fair, the try was due reward for an All Blacks side that, like so many times before, had already found a couple of extra gears just when they needed them most. England had once again rattled the hosts in the first half and had taken a deserved lead into the break following a pulsating and lung-busting opening 40 minutes.

But New Zealand are the world’s best side for a reason and simply took their game to another level at which England could not live with fullback and Man of the Match Ben Smith delivering a superb display incorporating both outstanding defence and attacking flair.

The stats made for uncomfortable reading for the All Blacks last time out but this week was a different story altogether with 61% of possession and 60% of territory telling much of the story. Continuity was also there with 95 rucks/mauls won to England’s 54 while 32 tackle busts to their rival’s hammer home their dominance.

Another great chance to bloody the nose of the All Blacks has gone and instead England are left with more questions than answers.

Subscribe now to learn directly from the best coaches and players in the word.

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).

See all News & Opinions videos


comments powered by Disqus

Graham Jenkins is a freelance sports journalist who has been reporting around the rugby globe for over 20 years. A former editor of the leading rugby union website, he is a veteran of five World Cups and cites England’s 2003 triumph as 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

Can Japan shock the world again?

Countries have finalised their RWC squads and now finalise their preparations for the tournament. Writer Graham Jenkins in his latest article looks at Japan’s prospects as host nation and make another indelible mark on sporting history.

Coaching to inspire in your own orbit

As the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon landing, writer Graham Jenkins reflects on how coaches should be looking to inspire, and positively influence, their players within their own orbit.

Innovate or die? Rugby's continued quest to stay relevant.

The pressure on English rugby, and the game in general, to adapt and ensure the long-term success of the sport is evident in two innovations that are set to debut next season. Writer Graham Jenkins looks at these innovations and their possible positive effect on the game and its continued evolution.

Coaches should embrace ‘half game rule’ challenge

From the start of next season, all match day squad players at every level of youth, junior and minis rugby, from ages 6 to 18, must play at least half a game. A policy that has been in place in NZ and Wales for some years. Graham backgrounds the rationale behind the move and the impact on coaches.

Is it time the Six Nations packed down behind the Nations Championship concept?

World Rugby’s plan for a ground-breaking annual Nations Championship uniting both hemispheres appeared to have little support when revealed last month but is it actually a concept we should all be embracing? Writer Graham Jenkins looks at the merits of the plan.