Look out! I might be about to be positive about England…
Nick Heath, our weekly podcast presenter, on his belief that he might dare to have seen something different at Twickenham.
“It’s just what you come to expect, isnt it?”
“What a surprise, we lost. I dont know why I keep paying to come here.”
“What’s to say? We were rubbish. Just not good enough.”
“Terry deserves all he gets.” “Dirty Ashley!” “That Alex Reid is a mug.”
“England are hopeless.”
Sound familiar? I’d hope that members of the rugby fraternity might be capable of deciphering which of those are the Heat magazine style headlines and which are not. I am worried that the lines are becoming too blurred. At least allow me to explain my reasoning.
From the kick-off, England won ball and put it through the hands for at least ten minutes. Immediately I felt that there might be some new headlines being written around the rugby world. “International team runs ball.” “Ireland bemused by lack of aerial attack.” “Fans at last given a semblance of the ambition they’ve demanded from Johnson.”
Now I dont mean to be glib about a disappointing loss. I agree that we came up short, we didnt win and that Ireland took their chances when we didnt. But for all the criticism of the last four months particularly, those first 10-15 minutes showed a side that was prepared to trust every member of the team to take the ball into contact, to be supported by its teammates and to try and recycle the ball in the aim of another ball-in-hand attack. Promising.
Turnover. England steep, Ireland flat. A short England attacking line outnumbered by a wider and fuller Irish turnover defensive line. If it wasnt for that moment of early England intent, Ireland would not have had the opportunity to gain the security they knew they so desperately needed by being the first try scorer, let alone points scorer, of the match.
By no means am I championing England’s performance, but contrary to what I fear is becoming an irreversible tide of negativity towards Johnson and the team, I do think there were fifteen players out there (initially, why oh why Louise Deacon – misspelling intentional) who were prepared to give whatever it took to not only win, but to try and convince a cynical England support that they were trying to negate the prevalent existing view that they are stagnant and without drive.
The referee had a part to play. As a trained ref myself, I’m eager to trust the man in charge and support what he must have seen. In the closing moments, England created a driving maul that sent shivers down the Irish spine. As it was brought to ground, or if you would prefer ‘collapsed’, the Irish were awarded the put-in.
In post-match interview with Steve Borthwick, I found myself having to cope with a bizarre emotion where the current captain is concerned – that of empathy. “I was actually on the floor when it was blown up for a scrum, so I presumed the scrum was for us having gone forward so far. The scrum was then awarded to them…and I need to see on the video as to exactly why.” For a man who opts for diplomacy and mediocrity as standard in terms of media comment, this was Borthwick at full tilt.
Earlier on, Care had a go at O’Leary – okay, as an ex scrum half perhaps now I’m guilty of bias, but it was a niggle over the ball and the manner in which he tried to get it caused O’Leary to end up A-oh-T as the Greens would have it. It spilled over by the rushing in of other players, but no harm was done and Care should have been entitled to the ball. Cue the reversed penalty. Cue the Keith Earls Irish try.
Martin Johnson was the most crest-fallen and frustrated I have had the pleasure of seeing him, if you call it that, since I have been reporting on post-match reaction for The Rugby Blog going back past the autumn internationals. Ugo Monye, the normally talkative James Haskell, the new boy Ben Foden – each and every one of them spoke like a four year old child who had just had their balloon burst.
Yes, this is an England team that knows they are beginning to perform but that they have ground to make up. Yes, this is a side that knows they could have beaten last years Grand Slam champions but they did only finish four points short. This is an England team that might have kicked endless ball away but didnt. This is an England team that started only its second consecutive game under Johnson with the same starting XV. This was a loss – but for the first time in the last 18 months, I am reluctant to believe it was a failure.