England must learn right lessons from their game of two halves

Elliot Daly

As the elation of England’s brave backs-to-the-wall victory over South Africa dims, thoughts turn to the sternest of tests facing them this weekend. One assumes that very few punches are pulled in any team debrief led by Eddie Jones and Owen Farrell and if England are to have any chance at all on Saturday, they will have to be extremely honest about the first 15 minutes against the Springboks.

This may seem hyper-critical after a win but a repeat this time will see the All Blacks over the hill and far away before some people have taken their seats. The first time England had field position, Maro Itoje climbed all over his opposite jumper for a soft penalty. In the first defensive set, Kyle Sinckler strayed offside at the back foot for another soft penalty. One minute after throwing in to a defensive lineout, South Africa had 3 points on the board without having had to do anything.

Several more penalties followed culminating in a yellow card for Itoje. Meanwhile, South Africa put up 3 high kicks and managed to reclaim them all in the air. The little possession England did have they kicked away to no positive effect. They invited pressure on to themselves repeatedly. That the score was 3-3 after half an hour was little short of miraculous.
New Zealand punish indiscipline ruthlessly, they have one of the best kick-to-retrieve games in the world, the best kick return game and they have the leadership to make the right calls at the right time to capitalise on their dominance. Therefore if England repeat the trick of giving away penalties, not dominating in the air, kicking aimlessly and conceding field position, they will struggle.

England can take credit for their defensive effort but the main reason for that scoreline was South Africa’s remarkable profligacy in attack. Three times Malcolm Marx overthrew, twice within 10 metres of the line. Whoever kept calling the ball to the back of the lineout deserves some blame but England were blessed to face one of the world’s best hookers on an off day. On several occasions South Africa lost the ball in contact or knocked on in open play. It was their own errors which checked their momentum more than England’s efforts.
It is a huge feather in the English cap to win a match in which they spent so much time without possession or territory. They raised their game significantly in the second half, but the point which Jones and Farrell must hammer home is that it will not matter a jot how they play after half time this weekend if they repeat their first half performance because the game will be long gone.

The greater intensity, discipline and skill which they showed in the second half, and the sheer grit to dog out a result, should form the blueprint for the weekend. Even then they will know that they are unlikely to beat the All Blacks without crossing the whitewash so must be more accurate when they do create opportunities. Elliot Daly seemed to inherit the aversion to passing of his predecessor in the 15 shirt and should have released Jonny May on a couple of occasions. They also conceded some silly penalties when in good positions.

Nobody outside the camp is expecting an England win, a sad state of affairs given how much this game was being hyped a couple of years ago, yet after such a disappointing year a strong and gutsy showing will allow the first semblances of positive momentum to build. To achieve this they must be honest enough to admit that the Springboks let them off the hook in the first half. The men in black are unlikely to be so charitable.

By Stuart Peel

7 thoughts on “England must learn right lessons from their game of two halves

  1. Lesson1-Get the right people on the pitch at the right time-Exeter use their props differently so presumably Rob Baxter has different ideas .Moon is the better tight player and should start along with Williams leaving Hepburn and Sinkler to come on second half.

    Secondly Inject pace at least 10 mins earlier which requires the fast tempo players,Care and Ford to come on earlier.

    Thirdly Start much quicker(stating the obvious) and improve discipline. Too many players are giving away needless penalties.

    As for the selection Obviously Underhill will replace Curry though I would have started with Underhill in any case as he will chop opponents down at source-The AB”s are not a side you allow to build momentum.As for the rest of the forwards Shields doesn’t convince me so I would move Wilson to 6 and start with Mercer,Hopefully Courtney will be good to go from the bench.
    AS for the backs start the same-Manu should only be considered for the bench.
    One thing I did notice is That Eliot doestnt get high enough when going for the ball when challenged.Unless EJ has a change of heart hopefully Eliot can improve at least until Watson is fit again.Quite frankly either Eliot or JJ should play at 13 not Slade.

    1. Agree with most of what you have said, though unfortunately it will be easier said than done.
      I don’t think Daly can be relied on to improve the necessary facets of his game before Saturday. He was exposed badly by Pollard and I can’t see the situation improving with Ioane, Smith and Naholo chasing the bombs. Brown needs to start at 15. Daly, as you have alluded to, should switch to 13.
      The only other change I would consider is subbing Teo out, though he grew into the game he does seem a bit off the pace. He struggled to contain De Allende, and I cant see the situation improving with Crotty/SBW/Goodhue.

    2. I agree 100% with your comments JS.Brown excluded again so our best 13 will continue at 15.Also re Chiefs props Jones knows more about how to use them than Baxter it appears.
      South Africa were very poor.Had they played even a half decent game we would have lost.I fear a heavy loss on Saturday

  2. Yes, it will help to get the right people on the pitch. Also, I don’t doubt that EJ & Farrell won’t pull any punches (or shoulders in the latter’s case) in ‘any team debrief’. However, Jones is unlikely to make many/any changes? Brown @ full back over Daly for example, with the latter @ 13? You never know, but I don’t think so. Also the props? Maybe. 1 @ most? Anyway, when England have the ball they must score TRIES! When they don’t, they have to stop NZ from doing so. With the best fly1/2 wasting away, Farrell has to produce the innovation to create these tries. Does he have it in him? Well, I guess we’ll find out on Saturday whether he’s worth an 8 or not. But, from what he’s produced so far…? Will the pack dominate NZ @ scrum? Line out ? In the loose? Dunno, but they’re going to have to, to have any chance I’d have thought. Mitchell has been credited with re-marshalling England’s defence, but will it shut NZ out? Maybe. The AB’s must be big favourites however, to do a number on England, but you never know what’ll happen on match day. We’ll have to wait & see. Who’s yr money on?

    1. I can’t see us being as lucky again. If we start like we did against the ‘boks then New Zealand could be out of sight by HT. Is there a team that hoovers up points better than they do? not IMO.
      I hope Daly gets a chance at centre. He looked awfully out of his depth last weekend.(He wasn’t on his own).
      I have said before that Sinckler is “half” a prop at the moment. It’s no good cantering around like a runaway bull if you can’t anchor your scrum.
      If Cole has been removed for good then ED has to try out another hefty 3 to cover for Williams.
      I’d keep Faz at ten to get Barretts face and draft in Kvesic (won’t happen) as replacement for Curry. Itoje. Now then, I just wonder if we are seeing the results of him having had a tad too much smoke blown up his rear end since his voice broke? I hope not. Nowt wrong with being a bit callow as long as you are humble enough to learn from it.
      AB’s By twenty.

  3. Think Sinckler improved in the scrum as the game went on. And it can’t have helped that Hepburn was getting hammered on the other side. He’ll improve but I’d prefer to see him on the bench with Williams starting

  4. So, the lessons are, according to this article: 1 Discipline; dont’t give away pens. 2 Don’t kick aimlessly, too long, 3 Compete aerially 4 Don’t concede field positiont. Fair enough, but as JS states, getting the right guys on the pitch, i.e., @ prop, centre, fullback & IMO, fly1/2, is foremost. Howevet, as the latter ain’t going to happen, forget that 1. & likely ditto for the others too. If England don’t shore up their scrum, though, or if Daly is (uncomfortably) @ the back, NZ will target these posi’s. IMO & that of others, they also need to have more creativity @ centre, so Daly should play here, with Brown replacing him @ full back. Again, unlikely to happen. That being the case, the next lesson, the ability to scorie tries, will go uheeded. Additionally, they need to treat possession like it’s gold dust. Youngs really mustn’t kick it away. Besides, he’s too inaccurate. If he boots it down Barrett’s or Ioane’s throats, England will likely get punished. May be better to start with Care. He can’t kick (as well as Youngs). Again unlikely. Next, England must keep their shape on defence. May went missing for SA’s try last Sat. Lastly, when in possession, they have to straighten their attack lines before offloading. IOW, step IN, just prior to passing to the wide men, so that the latter have more space. If England can get parity in possession, territory, then they’ll give themselves a chance. If not, then Eddie may have to wait a bit longer before being invited to Buckingham Palace for tea with the queen. But, you never know. Look what happened last week. Will history repeat twice? We’ll have to wait & see.


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