Change can no longer be delayed as England sink without trace

 

“Well it started badly, it tailed off a little in the middle, and the less said about the end the better, but apart from that, excellent”. Thus spoke Captain Edmund Blackadder in response to Baldrick’s rather pathetic attempt at war poetry. The words could just as easily be applied to England’s efforts against Scotland, although in fact they contrived to show even less wit and invention than Baldrick.

I would probably have rather have spent an evening in the company of Baldrick than in the North stand of a sodden Murrayfield on Saturday. Watching England produce one of the most insipid performances I have ever seen on a rugby pitch was one thing. Having to endure it sitting next to an Aussie who was supporting Scotland was quite another. He may have bought me a beer at half time, but I am not sure I will ever forgive Brian Ashton and his boys for putting me through that.

A few of us tried to raise our spirits by striking up a chorus of Swing Low at half time as it was clear by that point that this may be the only time we got to do it. And it was almost certain that the 10 minutes England spent absent from the pitch could not possibly have been less productive and entertaining than the 80 minutes they spent on it.

The step backwards England took on Saturday was staggering. It was a truly awful game all round but one team came with a plan, however limited, and carried it out. There was little evidence of England having any sort of plan whatsoever, and if they had one they mislaid it somewhere on the M1 on the trip up.

Each of the previous 3 games had shown a degree of progress. Before the shocking mental collapse against Wales, England had played some of their best rugby for some time. Against Italy, while largely poor, they still strung together some encouraging passages, although the mental flaws were still very much in evidence in a decidedly shaky second half. Against France, it seemed the mental weaknesses had been eliminated and further progress was in evidence as England rediscovered their core values of power and physicality.

In a world of kneejerk reaction, where media and public search hungrily for the sensational headline, we have a tendency to lose patience too quickly and don’t let coaches establish their own structures and develop their team. That England were making progress, albeit painfully slow progress, was sufficient grounds for a degree of cautious optimism.

Those flickering flames of hope were extinguished in the rain, wind and hail of Edinburgh. The period of advance is over and England have regressed to the state they were in after the 36-0 loss to South Africa in the World Cup. They showed no bite, no invention, little physicality and no hope. They kicked incessantly and poorly, were driven back around the fringes, were lumbering and one-paced and showed no appetite to alter their approach and try to change the course of the game. All the best teams have the ability to switch to a plan B in reaction to how the game is unfolding. At no stage did England look remotely capable of doing this.

Ireland should now be treated as a one-off game. England have gone nowhere in this championship and no result against Ireland can change that. They must pick a big, mobile pack built around the exuberant aggression of Sheridan, Stevens and Haskell and must introduce some of the exciting young backs whom Ashton has seemed so reluctant to trust thus far. The current crop have had their chance and failed. There must be no more hesitation before he unleashes Cipriani, Simpson-Daniel and Tait to play a quick game with quick ball, or at least show the ambition to do so. If they do well then at least something positive will have come out of the tournament.

What of Scotland? I asked the chaps behind me if they did not feel a little disappointed and cheated by the fact that Scotland have produced 3 such heartless performances when they are capable of playing with such impressive physical presence and power. Clearly 30 seconds after they had just beaten the old enemy was not quite the right time to ask this and they looked at me as though they had just trodden in me. The point stands though, and Frank Hadden must strive to find out how he can harness that passion more regularly and not just when the English hordes hove into view. It will be disastrous if they lose to Italy but still regard the championship as a success just because they defeated England.

There is no doubt that the sight of the red rose does something to the likes of Scotland and Wales but that is no excuse for England. They should be used to it by now and should deal with it. But the non-performance they produced on Saturday beggared belief. Any advance has been shattered by the knowledge that on any given day the team can play as badly as that. Many of the current team will be haunted by that and fresh blood must be brought into the side to inject some life into proceedings before they too are infected beyond repair by the atmosphere of failure.

by Stuart Peel

3 thoughts on “Change can no longer be delayed as England sink without trace

  1. Funny you should mention Baldrick Stuart because Scotland’s game plan was about as astute as one of Baldrick’s ‘cunning plans’. And that’s what makes the manner of our defeat so galling. I’m not meaning the above to sound like Jock-bashing – I’m sure that few of their fans believe that this result, albeit sweet, spells the end of their problems. They at least found a gameplan that worked and stuck to it for as long as we continued to fail to overcome it (ie 80 minutes).

    In recent times on this site there have been some detailed posts about how to beat the All Blacks, then another before the England v Oz RWC quarter final about how we should beat the Wallabies. It doesn’t need a lengthy post to tell you how to beat England on days like Saturday: “kick for territory” ought to do it. We can think our way out of our 22 most of the time, but that’s about it.

    Another galling aspect of the game was that Brian Moore kept making the same points ad nauseam throughout the whole game, but he was right! He stopped short of giving us another “For God’s sake!” moment, but he must have been close – Saturday’s performance nearly had me searching the Sky Plus box to check if I’d kept the Wales game to watch instead.

    We have to try Cipriani at 10, Tait/Lewsey/anyone but Balshaw at 15 and Sinbad on the wing (how the HELL can Vainikolo and Balshaw play for Glos and get picked ahead of Sinbad?) but the main problem on Saturday wasn’t our backline, it was just our complete reluctance to use them.

    Only when the Volcano took some initiative and got the backs moving with a quick tap, did we see them operate in any space. The result was a gain of about 40 yards and the Jocks giving away a penalty, but we learned nothing from this and went back to Plan A. When we got inside the 22 we just did the usual – slow ball, forward picks up from the base, go to ground, repeat until we knock on or get turned over. Boring and ineffective in equal measure. We may as well just pick 15 forwards.

    I wasn’t in favour of dropping Jonny after the Wales game when I felt that everyone leapt on one terrible pass, when his overall game wasn’t that bad, but on Saturday he was woeful. He still suffers from not having a 12 with a strong kicking game. Flood has other qualities and has had a good season, but he just doesn’t seem the right 12 for us. Olly Barkley may not have set the world alight for England, but he might be a better bet at 12 as the 10-12 combo is crucial and is not right at the moment.

    I think with nothing to play for at the weekend JW should make way for Cipriani (cue much smugness from Stuart Barnes if it happens). The competition will spur Jonny back to form I’m sure, and we’ll get to see what Cipriani has to offer. A word of caution though – let’s not forget that at Wasps he plays alongside Flutey and Waters in a strong backline, and he could well experience a lot of the same problems as JW in a disjointed England side. After Saturday though, change can only be a good thing.

  2. Yeah, astute was probably the wrong word Rory, you’re right they chose their tactics well. What I meant was that it wasn’t the most expansive, adventurous rugby and yet we rarely tried to do anything other than three phases and a kick to counter it.

    Admittedly much credit for that has to go to the Jock defence (that tackle statistic says it all) but surely to God we can do more than we did on Saturday to get out of our own half.

    Vainikolo’s quick tap showed that even in those conditions we could still have been more adventurous (not that we could have been much less).

    Sounds like Parks is your Balshaw then – hope you’re not saddled with him for as long as we’ve been with Balshaw. So what’s the fan’s view on Hadden these days then? Is it time for a change up there too?

    So don’t forget everyone, it’s Thursday night so if you don’t like Stuart Barnes in smug mood, avoid tonight’s Rugby Club at all costs, and if DC has a stormer on Saturday then definitely avoid next week’s!

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