New Zealand were simply too good for England’s new-look side, and it was a similar story to several other encounters between the two sides. We started strongly, but a few errors led to an abysmal fifteen-minute spell and the match was effectively over. We couldn’t seem to create much out wide, whereas the All Blacks looked dangerous just by running at pace.
However, always optimistic, there do seem to be a number of lessons to learn from the game that can be taken forward into the Martin Johnson era.
The first aspect of note was the quality of England’s rucking, particularly in the first half. It has been a while since our players have hit the breakdown with such conviction, and it was most enjoyable to see Richie McCaw regularly going backwards and generally kept quiet by James Haskell and Tom Rees.
It wasn’t just in defence that England looked sharp up front – the forwards carried well in attack, with Andrew Sheridan standing out in particular. Luke Narraway was slightly unconvincing in this area, and Joe Worsley carried well when he came on so perhaps this is a change to consider for next week?
The lineout was also functioning well against some fairly formidable opposition, with a number of stolen throws throughout the game.
In the backs, Mike Tindall had a reasonable game, but neither he nor Olly Barkley ever appear to be much of a threat. David Strettle and Mike Brown looked fairly lightweight and got thrown around by the bigger, stronger men in black. Topsy Ojo took his two tries brilliantly, but didn’t get much quality ball to attack with (how many times have we said that about England’s backs recently?).
As for Charlie Hodgson, he’s the sort of player that I’d really like to see perform well. He seems like a decent sort of chap, but he didn’t seem to bring much control to the game and that shambles of a tackle on Ma’a Nonu isn’t acceptable at this level. He wasn’t even kicking, so it’s difficult to see what he brings to the side – it’s sad to say that that could (and perhaps should?) be his last England cap.
Next week, I’d like to see Haskell at Number 8 with Worsley restored at 6; Ben Kay should partner Steve Borthwick, who offers more impact than Tom Palmer; Barkley should step into Number 10 with Jamie Noon taking the centre berth.
When Andy Robinson was finally sacked, I never thought I’d ever be advocating a Noon / Tindall partnership, but for some reason it seems appropriate in these circumstances – perhaps that’s how Andy felt for so long!
What else can England take from the game?