The margin between England and Italy on Saturday was hugely flattering to Martin Johnson’s men, and if the opposition had had a specialist scrum-half, they may well have recorded their first win at Twickenham.
Thanks to some catastrophic errors by Mauro Bergamasco in the number 9 jersey, England were able to rack up some easy points and effectively kill the game before the end of the first half.
With a healthy lead, supporters were expecting one or two tactical substitutions, and for the game to be played with more width, for Andy Goode or Shane Geraghty to try out a few training-ground moves, and for the pace of attack to be lifted in practice for next weekend’s visit to Cardiff.
Instead, Twickenham was bemused by the lack of imagination and penetration, and ultimately the lack of confidence in the team.
On at least three different occasions, the ball was recycled (relatively) quickly from a ruck and there were backs lining up to attack the same side of the pitch – but instead of spinning the ball out where there was more than a metre of space, the play was switched and the ball handed to a crashing forward to take the ball back into Italy’s pack.
The forwards too appeared to lack self-belief, and the technique of flopping over the ball at a ruck is symptomatic of their plight. If they had confidence that support would not be far behind, they could drive through the ruck and provide much faster ball for the scrum-half. Instead, they secure the ball at the expense of pace, thinking (rightly so at times) that the rest of the pack are probably hanging out in the back line.
Picking Andy Goode was the first sign of Johnno’s confidence crisis, and the fact that he didn’t really deliver with his kicking game has certainly not helped matters. So how do England’s finest players lift themselves from this quagmire to pose any threat to Wales?
Most people would say by winning games, but the fact that they can ease to their opening victory in the Six Nations and the knives are still drawn suggest that the nature of winning is at least as important. I fear for the boys next week – a hiding in the inhospitatble Millennium Stadium will not do wonders for their confidence.