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