England progress but must make changes

As England trailed Scotland on Saturday morning there was initially an inkling that Martin Johnson’s men may pull through the mire of mediocrity to triumph. But by the time Chris Ashton went over in the corner the inkling had paled into little more than a desperate hope.

Yet the wing’s belief clearly contrasted with most.

Speaking afterwards he said: “I don’t think there was ever a point for me, during the game, where I felt we couldn’t get ourselves out of the hole.”

Top professionals will often have this unremitting confidence, in themselves if not their team, but whether Johnson shared his view will be another matter. As they have done in the two previous World Cups, England have now reached the stage where they know they must vastly improve if they are to achieve success in the tournament.

Johnson’s first priority will be to make decisions on personnel. He clearly believed the starting XV for the Scotland game was his strongest, and he will have been worried by some of the performances from men he has entrusted with responsibility. Ben Youngs, otherwise a rare shining light in this competition, was surprisingly inaccurate. He failed to provide the control that England badly needed while his service was slow and wayward.

Half-back partner Jonny Wilkinson failed to shine too. A heroic defensive performance was marred by erratic place kicking and poor decision making. Though his injury may necessitate the inclusion of Toby Flood anyway, the Leicester fly half will have quietly hoped that a combination of Wilkinson’s performance and his own late cameo justified selection.

Matt Stevens fared little better in the front row where Euan Murray showed just what the Scots missed in the Argentina match. Replacement Alex Corbisiero brought a marked improvement, as did second row Tom Palmer who also came to the field late on. Palmer greatly improves England’s line-out which, should Deacon and Lawes be on the field, looks decidedly limited.

Should Flood deputise for the injured Wilkinson then, despite his familiarity with Youngs, I would advocate selecting Richard Wigglesworth at scrum half. The Saracens nine had an immediate impact when arriving on the pitch, and it was his quick link-up play with Flood that put Ashton away for his try.

Youngs’ game naturally lends itself to playing Flood outside, as opposed to the deeper-lying Wilkinson, but Wigglesworth provides the leadership and control that Youngs’ game is lacking at the moment. England are built around strength at the set piece so I would also move Corbisierio and Palmer into the side, in place of Stevens and Courtney Lawes, to shore up the scrum and line-out respectively.

Armitage’s ban is unfortunate and will mean there is one change in a back-line that I would have otherwise restored. Mike Tindall disappointed again but, if Wilkinson is indeed out of the match, the selection of either Hape (remember him?) or Banahan is a step backwards.

As it stands the French could quite feasibly end this debate and mastermind their own downfall on Saturday. The relationship with coach Marc Lievremont seemingly having plummeted to new depths at the weekend. Though England cannot rely on this and must improve upon their recent performances if they are to progress.

by Tom James

11 thoughts on “England progress but must make changes

  1. I feel that Armitage has proved nothing with his performances on the wing. While he makes ground, he’s generally making poor decisions, poor support lines and poor defence. Cardinal sin for a winger, he doesn’t drift in defence when there is support there, it’s infuriating to watch. Cueto for me, although slower is a more complete package.

    I feel a little bit that Youngs’ game has been affected by having to play with Wilkinson. I think with Flood outside him the game will change and I think it was Wilkinson’s removal that changed the game for England in the back division. I think his decision making is better than Wigglesworth, (though Wiggles’ distribution is better) and his link play with Flood and Tuilagi is superb.

    The other game changer on Saturday, Corbisiero. I was impressed when he first stepped into Sheridan’s shoes and I’ve frankly been unimpressed by Stevens. Stevens looks good when he can cheat at the scrums, but when you’ve been pinged you stop. Not Stevens. He can get away with it in the Premiership, but he’s not been at the world cup and he’s really just a penalty machine. Corbs steps up, binds properly and gets his shove on legally. Do we want to bet on Steve Walsh not pinging Matt Stevens?

    1. Agree with your comments on front row and Steve Walsh.

      The French are no mugs up front and they will have been looking at England’s problems there and licking their lips in anticipation.

      Personally I think too many people are being too harsh on Cueto. Yes he’s probably not in his prime anymore but he’s still a good operator and he uses his head which is more than you can say for some of our players. Is it me or are they becoming more like footballers? (I think Cohen raised this one first so I won’t take the credit!)

      1. it’s not just that Walsh was banned that bothers me, but the fact that he was struck off altogether. Banned for abusing England staff, banned for abusing a Lions player then struck off for his 3rd strike (though I’m not sure what for). For him to referee again at international level is a shocker, but to cover an England or Ireland game would be an absolute travesty.

        Wouldn’t mind seeing Anthony Allen go out to New Zealand (except for the fact that Leicester are struggling enough!), but some cover at fly half would be nice.

        1. Are you making excuses already…dont you think steve Walsh knows hes under the spotlight and because of past indiscretions be likely to favour england !!!
          I Thought that once you had served your punishment you were allowed to get on with it……… was that not the case with matt stevens ?

  2. Tom,

    I think you are right that Corbs and Palmer have to start but I would not bring off Lawes, it has to be in place of Deacon surely?!

    Youngs is who you want on your side if we’re going forward, he has proved several times though now that he can’t play going backwards. With Flood in the side and knowing that we have to go after this game I would start with Youngs.

    Finally can Johnson please sort out Sheridans replacement! Issue is a little more complicated now thouh as if Wilko is out then we need a replacement kicker, personally would love to see Farrell coming out! Other than that he needs to pick another centre or wing, Fluety, sharples, Sinbad anyone other than Hape or Bananahan!

  3. The problem with Stevens is that although he can cover both sides of the scrum, he’s much better at tighthead. Corbisiero has to start and Stevens then offers good cover from the bench

    The French scrum does not seem to have gone well so far and we should be able to take advantage of that

    As for Walsh, it is a travesty that the man is still refereeing. I never thought he was any good but to have been suspended twice for abusing players and coaches and yet still to be allowed to referee top-class games is utter insanity.

    How on earth can they allocate him the England game when one of his bans came from abusing England?

    I spy a conspiracy against England!!

  4. Look out boys ….french backlash…you know they have one good game in them…and the way england are playing they are going to get humped….france by 8pts !

    1. I’m with you John, although it may be closer than 8. The French are in disarray, but just like us in 2007 the players will take control for this game. They may hate their coach, but nothing unites the French more than their hatred of the English. Both teams have under-performed so far this tournament, but I just can’t see England finding another gear. The French will overwhelm us in the opening exchanges and I don’t think we will have the resilience, leadership or resolution to fight back.

      So my predictions are – Tindall will be an embarrassment, we’ll get a couple of yellows, France will outscore us 3-1 on tries and will win by 5.

  5. Just read tweets from Cueto and Foden (posted a couple of hours ago). More embarrassment. Wouldn’t have bothered me in normal circumstances, but on top of everything else this is just pathetic.

Comments are closed.