England v Australia: 5 things we learned

1. All about balance in the back row
The talk of England needing a ‘genuine’ openside reached a bit of a crescendo last season, particularly following the Wales defeat, but, just as they did last autumn against New Zealand, the duo of ‘six-and-a-halves’ (Robshaw and Wood) proved they can more than do the job of a ‘fetcher’. When Wood does not have to worry about ball-carrying and can focus on making tackles and hitting rucks with Robshaw, England’s ball is quicker and the opposition’s is slower.

2. Twelvetrees’ time is fast running out
It is not time to drop him just yet, as he has probably still had more good performances than bad ones for England. That said, he has a torrid time of it at the weekend, and needs a huge game against Argentina. He looks low on confidence after an average start to the Premiership with Gloucester, and needs to be reminded that actually he does have all the qualities to make a top class international centre. Lancaster is not one for rash decisions, but if he does not play well against what will be England’s weakest opposition this autumn, it is time to look at other options. The temptation to throw Eastmond’s unpredictability into the mix must be tantalising…

3. You cannot win anything without a front five
Gloucester are proving it this season in the Premiership, and Australia showed it again at Twickenham. Their front five was bullied by England (quite how Ben Alexander continues to be picked as an international tighthead is baffling) and so despite having comfortably more top-class players in the backs, Australia were regularly on the back foot. In Genia, Cooper and Folau they have the kind of genuine genius that other teams can only dream of, but if they do not have a platform to play from they may as well have have seven Jason Leonards behind the pack. Australia are in a dark place at the moment, and their opponents on this tour know it.

4. Ashton can wing it no longer
He may have started the season well with Saracens, but how many more chances can Ashton reasonably be given at international level? He was embarrassingly out of position in defence on Saturday, and his decision to take a quick tap may have been the right one, but the dropped ball that followed was painful to watch. The worry is that Lancaster has invested so much time and effort in giving Ashton repeated chances that he feels like he has to keep backing him now. He must not be afraid to swallow his pride and finally give Ashton a break. Should someone, anyone, else be given a go, they must be given a proper chance to show they can do a better job than the incumbent, who looks clueless at the moment.

5. English backs urgently need some sort of coherence
England are not blessed with a Cooper, or a Cruden; the kind of player who can produce a moment of magic to spark a backline. As a result, the English backs – who are still highly talented players – need to gel as a unit, and with some urgency. South Africa are not blessed with the talent of New Zealand or Australia, either, but they know how to play together and look like a proper unit. At no point did you get that sense on Saturday – indeed, the English centres made a grand total of two passes between them. That is an unbelievable stat when you consider that these are the playmakers of the team. It has a knock-on effect on the rest of the side – it is little wonder Brown and Yarde, comfortably England’s two best backs, only looked dangerous when returning kick chases – they simply did not get the ball from the men inside them.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

43 thoughts on “England v Australia: 5 things we learned

  1. 5 basically boils down to the simple fact that Farrell is by no stretch of the imagination an international standard fly-half and seems incapable of getting the backs moving, always looking for short passes or offloads just before he goes into contact.

    1. Don’t agree with you at all here. How many times did Farrell get good ball from Dickson? Not very often. Farrell has proven he has what it takes, and seems to get an even less exciting Saracens back line moving well enough.

      1. Although it’s true that England transformed with Youngs on at scrum-half (he has to start this weekend), Farrell still struggled. Although he performed well in Australia he just isn’t translating that to England, and rarely has done.

        He may be great for Saracens, but doesn’t seem to be gelling well with the England set-up. Time to give someone else the starting 10 shirt.

    2. Liam, just do us all a favour and do one. If you can’t understand the basics of human conversation – I say something, then you get to say something back BEFORE I disagree with you, then you’re just wasting what tiny intellect you possess by even posting on here. You’d be better off working harder on those GCSEs.

    3. I don’t remember saying I knew of anyone better, just suggesting we need to find someone better, and fast! Farrell is a great kicker of the ball, has a great work ethic, and tackles well, but his vision and distribution are nowhere even close to good enough.

      (See, Liam? It is possible to have constructive debate without resorting to insults and aggression.)

  2. I’m a bit surprised Ashton is getting quite so much stick. For the try he was definitely out of position, but not by that much. Folau took a fantastic line and (as we teach our kids), defend on your mans inside shoulder. He was probably a yard out of position and it was made to look worse by Folau’s pace and line.

    I don’t think Ashton should be undroppable, but I don’t think Saturday he was that bad.

    Yarde was out of position on more occasions that Ashton was on Saturday – he was just lucky enough to get away with it.

    As I say that, I wouldn’t drop him either. I do think people are way too harsh on some of the England players.

    I thought Dickson and Twelvetrees were the only players that looked so bad they should be dropped. Saying that, I would give Twelvtrees one more go.

    1. Wise words Jacob. I actually feel sorry for Chris Ashton. Pretty sure that he is not alone in missing a tackle on Folau in an international. Several of the best Lions in the summer also fall into this category.

      That miss apart, I thought he defended pretty well on saturday, and it is not as if he had much else to do – for reasons discussed everywhere else.

      I too would give Twelvetrees another go, but there is a growing realisation that his best game was against Scotland, and with all due respect to them, they don’t have the most testing of backlines.

      Dickson was just disappointing. I feel he is a better player than that but perhaps he struggles with the step up. I would be tempted to give him a good run off the bench against Argentina, and give him the opportunity to redeem himself.

      1. Agree with you on Dickson, I’d keep him in the squad. Give him half hour against Argentina and see how he looks. Would start Youngs thought but then I would have started him for the Australia game as well.

    2. You could argue that he didn’t do that much wrong – but there are two very big counter-arguments.

      1 – This is the last in a litany of defensive failures over the last year and a half of his England career. You cannot call this an isolated failure.

      2 – Yarde made three times (!!!!) the metres that Ashton did.

      1. I like stats sometimes, but I must say I HATE the “meters made” stats. They are so misleading! If someone catches the ball from deep and runs it back 40 meters just to get isolated and lose the ball, that’s good is it? Or someone is on the end of an overlap and makes 40 odd meters that way, is that great rugby from them?

        Just to be clear I’m not arguing against the principle of Yarde attacking better than Ashton on Saturday, simply the use of that stat.

        1. Agree with your idea of the meter stat for a single or couple of games being meaningless. Stats over a season or at least 10 games perhaps says something. In one game it is a completely meaningless number.

            1. I would agree with you on the metres made being pretty useless on it’s own over the course of a single game – let’s be honest most people use that as the basis for judging the quality of a player in attack – so forgive me for assuming you would too!
              Jay – not all stats are useless when taken from a single game.

              The stat that I’m sure you’ll concede can be used for single games is the defenders beaten – in conjunction with meters made. Especially when you take into account Ashton only scoring 2 tries in 20 games.

              Ashton beat no-one, Yarde beat 4 players.

              My only point is that no-one can say that Ashton didn’t have the opportunity to make a difference in attack, if he wanted to he could have.

              1. My original comment should have remained as meters stats per game not stats in general. Agree that some stats are useful in single games. However still believe that across many games they say so much more. In single games certain players will get the benefit when the play takes place on their side and their opposition is weaker – specially so for wings. Then also players in weaker teams may have better relative numbers than their teammates but worse absolute numbers than their opposition, and yet on a relative basis be better than the opponent with better stats. It’s all really contextual and helps form an assessment but stats on their own are just …. stats.

                Perhaps Jamie can dig up stats for Ashton versus other premiership wings in premiership games who have played 10 games or more and replay those back to us. I am not yet in the lets lose Ashton camp but the stats may convince me if someone has them.

  3. I think you’re right Neil. Although Farrell did well to improve his performance in the second half (his first half was very poor), the fact that 12T received the ball only 4 times in the entire match is a pretty damning indictment of the players inside him

    Too often it seems that England try to run complicated patterns in the back. It looks very pretty but almost never works because the basic understanding needed does not seem to be present. Added to that is a tendency to throw miss-passes when just putting the ball through the hands would be more effective

    I’d love to see them just passing the ball along the line, with the pass in front of the receiving player and then each player fixing a defender and then passing. Can’t imagine it will happen though

    1. Absolutely Pablito! Let’s work on getting the basics right. The ABs don’t generally do anything other than play very good, basic rugby very well.

    2. Pablito
      I query Catt’s ability to prepare a backline to play rugby as a unit.He had them for 2 whole weeks-how many drills were held running/passing as a unit?I can’t believe it was nearly enough

  4. “Australia are in a dark place at the moment, and their opponents on this tour know it.” – Oh nuts, you’ve said it out loud. We’re doomed….

    1. I think that that was what everyone said after the Aussies got tonked by France in the first game last year! Wales have got the front five to hammer them into submission though. It’s Tonga that you need to be worried about!

      1. This stat that 12Ts got the ball passed to him 4 times, that really is shocking. Is this Farrel’s conservatism or are they playing some sort of other gameplan? No point having a relatively light 12Ts there if he’s not going to be used in offence, better off getting brick wall centres if you’re going to play it all though 6/7/9/10 anyway.

  5. Our attacking woes go beyond one player – Catt needs to go. No shape, no idea, basic skills lacking – what is he doing? Can anyone provide a defence of him?

    Defensive structure looks good. Farrell is OK. Scrum looks good. Rowntree is fine. Team selection, identity and general squad morale looks good. SL seems to be doing well.

    1. But who else would you have? I don’t think changing the coach will change things – you’ve had “messiahs” in to coach the backs before and the play always seems to be the same (recently I mean) – smash it up the middle, if that doesn’t work then go narrower. Without a Greenwood/Catt playing axis I don’t see this being fixed by a better backs coach? Swap 12Ts with Farrel and ironically you’ll have pretty much what everyone else does – ball players at 9/10 and a defensive wall at 12. England are to my mind still suffering from the Jonny hangover – a 10 is there to be an extra flanker and a brick wall in defence. Nobody else does this except England and it doesn’t work for England anymore (in terms of style) because they don’t have Greenwood/Catt outside the hard tackling kicking machine at 10.

      Of course it may not work in terms of style but it’s still 8 wins out of 9. Maybe this is the right way to play?

    2. We know what “Warrenball” is, Mayer comes in to coach the boks and they have a identifiable style of play (Blue Bulls) from game 1, which he’s then built on and improved. We know how Schmidt likes to play. The best coaches have a vision for how they want to play the game and then get that translated, through a coaching team, into something tangible on the pitch. The question is what is Lancaster rugby? Half way through our RWC cycle and I still have no idea.

      For all the talk of the intangibles off the pitch (which are all important foundations of success) someone has to say “this is my vision for how England play rugby on the pitch, coaches go execute it”. I see no evidence of this happening, so game plan seems to be more down to Farrell, who is a useful part of a coaching set up, but not the guy to be pulling the strings. It just looks like we’ve got a hole between Lancaster and the team where we are missing a real rugby intellect. Baxter looked to fill that gap nicely in the summer, now we seem to be missing his influence.

      1. For me this links back to another comment I made – why do England have so many novices and single digit caps this close to a WC? I understand that Tui is injured so will cut some slack here but to have two relatively new guys in the centres shows some poor planning. If Barrit is the answer then there’s no point subbing him with a playmaker as that just puts the whole thing off. So I agree with Matt – are England going for defense and power in the centres or do they want crafty hands? Chopping and changing between the two isn’t doing anyone any favours right now….

        And yet, and I keep saying this, they won. So what do I know really. I’d love Wales to be moaning about how crap we were when we beat the Aussies….

        1. Brighty. I’ll make the same point I made on another thread. We have had a settled centre partnership in Barritt and Tuilagi, hence why we haven’t got a wealth of players with multiple caps behind them. I’m not sure that Wales have many centre caps beyond Roberts and Davies. I guess Williams will have a few due to Roberts spending half his time on the physio table. Couple this with the spring clean that SL had to bring to the squad and we obviously have a fairly raw team.

          However totally agree that we don’t seem to have a game plan in attack and that not the players is what is really holding us back.

          I have also said this weekend, it may not be the performance that we wanted, but I would have taken the result 10 times out of 10 before we kicked off. I thought we could easily lose this game, particularly as the aussies had been starting to show some form in the last couple of games and we were coming in cold, with a very changed backline, and no Corbs! I’d happily take another two wins by whatever method! Food poisoning if we have to….! Just joking by the way!

        2. Good points here. England rugby has no real “feel” to it at the moment. It just seems to be a case of playing to the skills of whoever happens to be on the pitch at any given time. Without any real overall vision or gameplan the team will only ever be a collection of talented guys (and let’s be honest, with the vast player pool England boasts, it will never be without this collection) rather than a truly devastating team.

          Unless the England squad finds its style it will be stuck languishing in the mid-table of the top rugby teams for a long time and will struggle in 2015.

          1. Rucking – to be fair I thought our forwards came with a game plan and executed very well – it was just what happened behind the 8 that was painful and headless. I actually think SL also does a good job of half time adjustments, so am not necessarily convinced that we need a game day general as was suggested elsewhere but we do need an attacking plan and then pick the players to work with it, or do it the other way around and pick the best players and then adapt a plan to maximise their potential.

            On a separate note, I do sometimes think that our pool of players actually hinders us as we do chop and change too much as we always have the next wunderkind coming along, or we pick on form rather than reputation. Gats did the reverse and it didn’t work out too badly for him!

            1. I agree with you here Staggy (ouch) that the apparently large pool of up and comers could be turning the head of the England setup too easily here. Not sure Gats is that clever though – he’s had some luck but crucially for me the difference is in the coaching. Gats has himself and Edwards as the old hands, with Howley and McBryde (and Jenks for kicking) as the new guys learning their trade. So Wales have outside and experienced coaches alongside new ones. SL himself is new and has surrounded himself with new, inexperienced and all English coaches. He needs a Jake White or something in there.

              1. It’s OK 6 nations just around the corner! :-) I think that what you are saying is what we need is Edwards!

      2. The problem in my view with the English coaching position is identified in your opening statements. Meyer won a S12 with the Bulls before getting the Bulls job. Schmidt won the Heineken Cup. Coaches that start new have a major hurdle to clear unless they have a vision beyond pure experience. Jake White for SA was one of those. Lancaster has a very similar background to Whites but so far has not displayed any of Whites skill at knitting a cohesive team together. The fact that Robson’s reappointment as captain was only announced a few weeks back was an indication Lancaster may not have a very clear and definite vision. To my mind England missed a trick by not picking Jake White to coach England. That does not mean I don’t rate Lancaster, who is fairly calm and level headed. However he just seems to me to lack that something special which marks out the really good coaches.

      3. Matt
        In my view you have absolutely hit the nail on the head.You are absolutely right Lancaster has sorted out the culture but thats about all.No vision how we want to play the game.I also am not that sure about his selections eg Ashton Dickson.Dickson before Care?Weird

  6. Just read on the news that Anthony Watson has been called into the camp, something Woodward said he would do if still in charge…I think I know where Lancaster is getting his ideas! Mind you he also said he would play cipriani at 10 so the discussion on fly half may be about to take a twist!!!

  7. Also agree with a few posts here on Dickson thought a number of times his distribution was poor and it stalled decent attacking opportunities. I also agree that the criticism of Ashton is slightly unfair but concede he needs to improve. With the lack of width being played don’t know how the wingers will showcase themselves though, I would advocate a change at 12 for the Argentina game and bring in eastmond although I think it might be 13 that changes and trinder plays.

  8. Just watched the Legends game from Friday. Can we stick Jason Robinson on for Ashton… and Steve Thompson on for Yarde

  9. I don’t know, a backline full of Jason Leonards would be a huge amount of fun.
    Hell, 15 Fun Buses would be fantastic.

  10. Spot on Neil,

    12t1s is getting a lot of stick, but I wonder if he is the problem. Sure 12`s had a bad game but he is the future and we can`t drop people on knee jerk reactions, Eastmond and Burrell are being spoken about but they haven`t done it a international level.

    The fact are:

    1 – the forward didn`t get as much go forward as people are giving them credit for, although I liked the way the pack played.

    2 – Farrell had a mare, with the boot and without. Once he had a 3 on 2 and instead of going through the hands he looped a hospital pass to 12t`s who got nailed.

    Woodward says we need to look a Cippriani, I don`t know but I respect the man for knowing more about rugby than me. I still think Burns is the man, he is struggling at club level just like Cooper did Yesterday, no pack. The 2 fly halves used yesterday Farrell/Flood both play behind imposing packs. the other 10 i have heard mentioned in Myler but he plays behind the most powerful 8 in the PL.

    Burns should be given a chance.

    Without a 0 that can read the space our backline will never be fluent.

  11. As poor as aspects of Farrell’s performance were, he is very much still developing as an attacking player, his communication and game management are also sure to improve with more minutes at this level. If the likes of Burns or Ford had been selected I’m sure there woud be some more obvious frailties. For me he is the right man for 2015. I’m not surprised people question Catt but its not so easy to read whats happening behind the scenes.

    1. I would agree, but he’s 16 England caps and 1 Lions cap in and STILL showing no signs of improving that side of his game. He’s not a duffer by any means, but I genuinely believe he’s just not got the ability where attack is concerned. If we could find a lightning fast, deadly-accurate passing scrum half who can bypass him in attack we could afford him as a kicking/defending fly half. As it stands the attack will remain blunted when he plays.

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