We meant to start this series last week, but with one thing and another, I forgot. Anyway, having had some time to reflect on England’s performance in Rome, here’s some thoughts on various aspects of the game.
This won’t take long, since contrary to what Steve Borthwick said after the game, I don’t think there were that many positives to take from the game. However…
This held up pretty well, and my concerns at sending in two youngsters and Tim Payne were unfounded. Dan Cole had a solid debut and will hopefully be around for years to come.
England performed a backs move for the first time in a couple of years…and it worked. But then they stopped doing that and kicked it instead. When England did run the ball, they looked effective, with Flutey and Tait creating space for each other, and Monye and Cueto making a couple of breaks. The frustration was not in England’s lack of ability: it was their lack of intent.
Let’s not forget that England won the game, and the Grand Slam is still on!
Whilst Borthwick and Shaw did pinch one or two of the Italian throws, the England lineout was pretty poor. Dylan Hartley was throwing badly and there didn’t seem to be much variety. This is going to need to improve dramatically before the Ireland game in a fortnight’s time, particularly after Paul O’Connell managed to dismantle the French lineout.
What happened Jonny? Even when the rest of his game is falling apart, his ability to slot penalties ensures that the nation forgives him, but he missed a couple of sitters and it might have cost the game.
When you look at the teamsheet, a few names stand out as leaders, such as Nick Easter, Simon Shaw, Riki Flutey, Jonny Wilkinson and Dylan Hartley. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be much evidence of it on the pitch, and there was nobody calling for a change of tactic when Plan A was ineffective, even though the millions watching it could see what needed to be done.
Kicking from hand
If this is the preferred option for 90% of the game, you’d think they’d practise it and do it well. As well as being an amusing word to say, ‘hoofing’ is also the best descriptor for most of what we see – it appears aimless, the kicks find a man more often than space, they rarely yield any territorial gains and it’s horrendous to watch.
The Italians generated more quick ball than England. Whenever England were looking for quick ball, the opposition slowed it down, which suggests the back row aren’t doing their job. But the worst thing is that they didn’t seem to want quick ball. On several occasions, we saw the ball lying at the back of a ruck with Danny Care standing over it having a casual chat with Jonny about what they might do with it. Against Wales, the game was played at a much better pace, and that was one of the most encouraging aspects of the win, but it disappeared against Italy.