Best of the Weekend: So close but so far for England

England Rugby

Call me biased or a sore loser, but in my opinion that is one of the worst decisions ever made by a television match official. I have nothing personally against Marius Jonker, everyone makes a mistake but in perhaps one of the biggest refereeing calls of the season it was pretty obvious Courtney Lawes was not offside unless you were were wearing black-tinted spectacles. He was level to the ruck until the ball was out. It could be argued it wasn’t even a ruck in the 1st place. It robbed Sam Underhill of potentially one of the best tries ever scored by an openside flanker… but did it rob England of victory?

It can be argued that England could have still won the game had they have gone for the drop goal in the last minute as Courtney Lawes went for an offload, Slade knocked on and New Zealand worked through the phases before kicking the ball into touch and the All Blacks sealed a 15-16 victory. England will still be proud of their solid defence and their 1st half performance particularly but Brodie Retallick obliterated England at lineout, making me think once again that Jamie George is overrated and is still living off that one line break during the 2nd test on the Lions tour.

Wales finally beat Australia

A hugely significant – but at the same time hugely dire – performance from the Welsh as Warren Gatland finally gets the monkey off his back with a first win over Australia in ten years. Both teams really went at each other with the breakdown becoming a scrap and that meant neither side really threatened each other and both were as bad at their setpieces as the other. However, Wales’ discipline was much better and they won a tight but crucial game 9-6.

Argentina fought hard and had really rattled Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, with the men in green struggling with discipline, which allowed Sanchez to keep the heat on the home side. However the 2nd placed side in World Rugby eventually prevailed and won 28-17, but they’ll need to be more convincing against the All Blacks next week.

Scotland overcame a terrific Fijian start to beat them 54-17 with the home side being both the more dominant and more intelligent of the two teams, Lions tourist Tommy Seymour bagging a hatrick and Exeter Chiefs’ lock-forward Sam Skinner getting the man of the match award on his Scottish debut. However, the Scots face a more stern test against the Springboks next week, the two sides have not met since the World Cup in 2015.

Italy delivered under huge pressure to beat Georgia, who a lot of pundits called to replace the Azzurri, including me. However they eased this heat by beating a spirited Les Lelos side in Florence, Italy, 28-17. The stardust in the backline of Michele Campagnaro and Tommaso Allan being the difference between the two sides.

South Africa grabbed a stoppage time winner to deny France a home victory at the Stade de France. Having had two consecutive matches where they lost at the death, the Springboks’ fortune has changed and Handre Pollard’s boot proved the difference between the sides ultimately.

A US Eagles side bolstered by the arrival of overseas players such as captain Blaine Scully, Paul Lasike and Joe Taufete’e converted a penalty in the last penalty to beat Samoa 30-29, their first victory over the Pacific Nation and achieving their highest place in the World Rankings since 2007.

What happened elsewhere?
In the Premiership Rugby Cup, Newcastle continue their good form and domination of the cup with a victory over Bath and a late try from Gerbrandt Grobler stole the game for Gloucester against Northampton Saints at the death. Sale also won their game versus Leicester in the last minute getting a penalty try; Leicester have had a torrid time in the development competition with lack of planning in preseason and the widely welcomed departure of Matt O’Connor affecting their season plans. Exeter beat Harlequins at Sandy Park. Bristol earned their first away win of the season over Wasps at the Ricoh Arena 19-30 and Saracens convincingly beat in-form Worcester 34-22 with the away side getting a bonus point consolation.

Key Talking Points:
– Wass Courtney Lawes offside?
– Do you think that the fact the TMO was South African played a part in the final decision? Is is Karma?
– When both are fit who is England’s seven? Curry or Underhill?
– Can Ireland beat the All Blacks?
– Should the John Player Cup format be brought back?

By Jacob Bassford (add me on Twitter @jacob_bassford and subscribe to my Youtube channel @FlyingG_Sports)

37 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: So close but so far for England

  1. Positives
    That first 25 minutes. Great intensity and execution in difficult conditions.
    Rush defence looked much better than it has in the last 12 months
    Backrow performances from Wilson and Underhill were fantastic and when Billy is back I would like to see a Wilson, Underhill, Vunipola backrow given a shot

    Compounding errors – Conceed a try and follow up by kicking out on the full. Get called offside and follow up by trying to force an offload and knocking on.
    Decision making. In a one point game you get a very kickable pen and you opt for the corner. When the drop is on we try and over strech ourselves
    Predictability at the lineout. George’s throws getting picked off twice in a row by constantly calling it to Itoje

    1. I would also add that those complaining about the offside should remember that we should have lost last week when Farrell got a complete let off for that no arms tackle

  2. Having watched the game, this really is one of those very rare occasions where you can feel quite positive after a loss. Ultimately it was a win that went begging, but the performance overall was one to get excited about – a few errors and the lineout woes at the end notwithstanding.

    To push the number one side so close and have them kept to such a low score and looking rattled with some key players missing is very encouraging.

    Underhill was fantastic, and we now have 2 genuine options at 7 which is a great position to be in. Wilson has really emerged on this campaign, and Shields is improving. If we beat Aus and Japan, it will be a successful autumn.

    Going to be some interesting WC calls. Most of the approx. 31 Man squad a nailed down – third hooker, third scrum half are up for grabs (possibly Cowan Dickie and Robson, who will need some 6 nations minutes). Presume Genge will return to the fold as will Cole for the WC, along with Vunipola, Sinkler and Williams. Itoje, Kruis, Launchbury and Lawes will be the locks. Ford and Farrell the flyhalves, and Tuilagi, Te’o, Slade and Joseph the centres.

    Back row and back three are now interesting: Vunipola, Curry and Underhill are nailed on. I would say Wilson should also be nailed on, which leaves room for one of Shields, Robshaw or Hughes. Clifford and Simmons probably don’t have time on their hands to make the squad now.

    With the re-emergence of Ashton, and experiments with Daly and Watson at FB, will the back three be Nowell, May, Daly, Watson, Ashton with no place for Brown?

    1. Robbo, intetesting comments, especially as England were held scoreless after about 1/2 an hour. So, not too bad for a rattled side whom actually won the game.

  3. I’ve spoken a lot with people who watched the game and read some articles this morning – although split, the general opinion seems to be sway towards the ref and TMO getting it right on the offside. Surprised with your wording of ‘it was pretty obvious Courtney Lawes was not offside unless you were were wearing black-tinted spectacles’! I thought it was offside and still do.

    Not to dwell on that one moment however – positives are the performances of the back row so far in the AI, given how weak many of us thought it could prove to be after the squad announcement. I thought the centres performed okay and with Ford upping the attacking gameplan when he came on, it is nice to see that England may have some options now, as opposed to the one dimensional play which I think was the cause of our losing streak.

    Hope he doesn’t make too many changes for Japan – would still like the partnerships to get more minutes, but I think it could be a large overhaul of the XV. Look forward to the Aus game, must say I think England should be winning it based on what we’ve seen so far.

  4. I think the point about Jamie George bears some weight. He’s not been convincing in any of his appearances imo. Yes, Retallick was superb but george has shown shakiness against less esteemed opposition.
    Im’ not going to get embroiled in the offside debate. It’s gone, move on.
    re the back row, right now i’d say ; Underhill. Wilson, BV,Ewers,Curry, Robshaw. I’m not down on Shields and if he can repeat the intensity he showed on saturday consistently, i’d take him over Ewers.
    i’m surprised the poor decisions that may have cost us a win are being glossed over so easily. Small margins make huge differences.

    1. Acee. The poor decision making (assuming you mean the line out over the pens & the potential squandering of a drop?) is retro in respect of the former. If England had scored from the drive as previously, then this criticism would have been irrelevant. Never a gr8 fan of Farrell, I, nevertheless, admired his guts to go for what had worked before, especially as it would likely had a telling effect on the result. Regards the drop, if that’s what was intended, then, yes, England ought to have driven alternatively L&R of the posts to have set this up. Therefore, responsibility was down to Farrell on failure to do so, as was his lack of nous to dictate & alternate the line out calls. The latter 2 were obvious, but ignored, options.

  5. Interesting thoughts from Jacob. I think the Lawes offside was tight but agree I think he was onside and Underhill’s excellent try should’ve stood. Interestingly, “England legend” Jeremy Guscott, as the BBC call him in his article on their website, says that Lawes was “at least half a metre offside”. That aside, I think England should’ve kicked for sticks when they had the option in the 2nd half and should feed the ball back to Farrell or Ford for a drop-goal attempt early in the 2nd half and earlier than the DG attempt Jacob refers to them giving up. That would’ve probably won the game if they’d got it. Hindsight is a wonderful thing though and it wasn’t to be. Maybe a lesson for England better learned in defeat than if Underhill’s try had stood. Speaking of which though, I’m most disappointed for Sam. He was immense on the day, although Guscott again went down the contrary route and said he needs to be more than a tackler and work on his rucking. It was a shame it didn’t stand though, if only for the way he turned the current best player in world rugby inside and out to score it. You don’t see that from a flanker very often, if at all.

    1. Guscott said he should work on his rucking???
      Did everyone in the studio collapse in laughter at the idea of Guscott criticising a flanker’s rucking?

      1. apparently Sir Jezza thinks that Underhill is predominantly a tackle machine with little else to his game……………

  6. Must admit, for all the ref talk I thought they got both right in the past two weeks. Farrell’s no arms tackle was obviously nothing in my book. Great hit, and his left arm definitely swipes around his back – the law only says “attempt” to wrap.

    Also, Lawes was offside… not my much. The only contention for me is that the ref gave it, and therefore the TMO should really only be overturning obvious errors, which this clearly was not. Either way – it ended up being correct, although marginal.

    It’s good to see England pushing these teams though, after the 6 nations there was a fear that Jones was losing it a little and we appear to be back on track. Beat Japan and Aus, have a good 6 nations (at least 4 wins) and I’ll head into the WC next year confident England will do well.

    1. Agree with J Bassford
      Wrong last week and SA would have kicked the penalty over and won.
      Last Saturday was a try (based on my view of the footage) but we should still not gripe about the loss. NZ played well and out-performed England in some glaring areas e.g line-out and tactical kicking on the hoof and from the tee from BB – still a sublime fly-half.
      It was a pride-restoring performance and I’m content with that. Ready Eddie is back on track as I seem to remember saying 6 months ago in the doom-and-gloom post 6Ns period that he would be (based on the reasoning it was all on the back of a Lions tour!
      My personal opinion the future looks good with Eddie, Wisemantell, Borthwick and Hill – a good blend! Eddie has even taken the selectorial blinkers off and is at last considering serious new talent (or perhaps not so new depending on your perspective!)

      1. AlexD, you contradict yrself by stating that the previous Saturday was ‘wrong’ (Farrell’s ‘tackle’), when agreeing with JB. In the ‘Video’ blog on 5/11, you stated that Farrell’s ‘tackle’ was ‘legal’. Therefore yr opinion on Underhill’s ‘try’ is equally spurious. The TMO, over ruled you. You state opposite opinions about the same incident. Which is it? Can’t have it both ways. Credibility problem.

  7. In my opinion, a marginal decision such as the offside call are being backed by English journalists for the very reason they don’t want to be seen as biased or as sore losers.

    1. JB, IYO, doesn’t make it fact though does it? Take S jones of the ST e.g.; who gave Retellick (MotM), less points out of 10 (6 I think), than Itoje’s 7 (again, as I recall) when the former clearly skinned the latter @ the line out! Think he cares that he’s writing biased bunkum? Doubt it.

      1. The only problem with your point is “Take S Jones”. Never pay any attention to what S Jones writes or says. It is always rubbish.

        1. Mike L, likely v true, but my point was that this ‘influential’ journo, for 1, doesn’t give a shite as to whether he’s seen as ‘biased’ or a ‘sore loser’.

  8. Lawes was fractionally offside. He was offside in a way players are at virtually every breakdown but are almost never penalised. Tough to get singled out on this occasion, but with close calls you win some, you lose some.
    Overall we did well, but not well enough to win. The possession and territory stats tell a story, and our failure to not score for 50 odd minutes was disappointing.
    The line out became an issue. I wouldnt single out George as the sole culprit, as its more than just the throw that has to be right. NZ worked out that Itoje was the principal target and marked him accordingly. Some variety of targets is really essential and we werent quick witted or flexible enough to change things.

  9. Alright JB, you’re biased or a sore loser. From the views, replays, angles I saw of Lawes’s being off side, there wasn’t a sufficiently side on one to make a difinitiate judgement call. However, do you think that, will all the technology @ his disposal, you were in a better position than the TMO to make this call? Are you stating that the official was incompetent, or worse? From what I understand, Lawes’s front foot was forward (by whatever margin) of the last foot (or body part) of an English ruck player. Therefore, Lawes was offside when he moved on Perenara & before the latter had played the ball & that’s it.

          1. JB, that you even mention the ref’s nationality, surely has to be either prejudice based or implies his competence is questionable. What other motive is there? The ref’s nationality is irrelevant.

            1. “The ref’s nationality is irrelevant.”

              If that were true then we’d see Nigel Owens officiating Wales internationals, Wayne Barnes reffing England etc. Sadly, despite their mandate demanding that they be impartial, the governing bodies still believe that bias can take a part of the game, otherwise they would not prevent an individual from refereeing a game of their own nation.

              It’s therefore reasonable to suggest that a South African TMO deliberating a game winning/losing decision in connection with a side that had previously beaten his own team by an equally speculative decision the previous week, may be somewhat biased. It shouldn’t happen, I completely agree with you DP, but then neither should doping, bloodgate etc, either.

              For the record, I thought it was offside, and I’m English.

              1. EC, in the specific context of this article, the author’s ? about the TMOs (actually, not ref’s, my error) nationality implied that the TMO WAS biased. He should know better. I was once accused here by a TRB writer here of being ‘border line racist’ when defending NZ’s situition during a so called ‘rape of the Pacific’ type post by another punter here. Therefore, it seemed hypocritical of TRB’s JB to infer similar racial connotations in respect of the TMO’s country of origin when the latter made his offside call. Although some here disagreed with this decision, it seems that, in the end, it was a correct call. I couldn’t really tell from the TV angle. However, Geoff’s law based precise post here backs the offside call. Lawes was apparently never onside. The other stuff about refs not officiating @ their own country’s games, presumably due to crowd pressure affecting refs’ decision making, is separate. They may endure constant pressure for 80. A TMO is only infrequentyl called upon & also makes his call, in seclusion, so he’s less subject to pressure. If he gets calls ‘wrong’, then it could be argued that the constant post match replays in the media actually press them into making their calls correctly. Pity that the TMO in this instance hadn’t come from Timbuktu. Then the ? of bias may not have arisen?

  10. Jacob I enjoy your comments but despair when I realise that along with Austin Healey a week later in todays Telegraph report, you guys write in ignorance of the rules of the game:

    Lawes joined in forward of the offside line for a tackle situation – the line created by the English players head/shoulders on the ground – see Law 14, point 10 on the World Rugby website. Lawes never retired to behind that line thereby staying offside Law 10, point 8 and contrary to some saying Perenara put Lawes onside because he had his hands on the ball, you and others need to be reminded that the law was recently changed to read “The tackle ends when: the ball leaves the tackle area”, to stop scrumhalves getting “sacked” as soon as they touch the ball

    Rule 14 The Tackle
    10. Offside lines are created at a tackle when at least one player is on their feet and over the ball, which is on the ground. Each team’s offside line runs parallel to the goal line through the hindmost point of any player in the tackle or on their feet over the ball.

    Rule 10 Offside and onside in open play

    8 • A player who is offside at a ruck, maul, scrum or lineout remains offside, even after the ruck, maul, scrum or lineout has ended.
    • The player can be put onside only if:
    1. That player immediately retires behind the applicable offside line; or
    2. An opposition player carries the ball five metres in any direction; or
    3. An opposition player kicks the ball.


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