Reaction: England v South Africa

I would like to qualify anything appearing in the following article with the comment that I have just emerged from a pub where I have watched England being humiliated by South Africa. Not only that, I had South Africans behind me and, even worse, Aussies next to me who knew nothing about rugby but were revelling in England’s incompetence.

OK, rant over, where to start? England hit a nadir today as low as when they were thrashed by France in Paris in the 2006 Six Nations. There are times when, despite a heavy defeat, you feel that a good performance may be just round the corner. This is not the case with the current England team. One almost hopes that they lose to Samoa to put them out of their misery and avoid the prospect of a similar beating from the Aussies in the quarter finals. This particular England fan is really not sure he could handle that.

One found oneself wondering what exactly England have been doing over the summer. It could be that they are all now very good at water skiing and poker but the rugby really does not seem to have progressed very much. The utter lack of penetration and coherence almost beggared belief and the skill level was lamentable. Clearly there were mitigating circumstances with the lack of a fly half and at times the admirable Mike Catt looked as uncomfortable in the role as he used to in the bad old days of the 1990s. But the lack of direction started long before the game reached him. Shaun Perry appeared to be rather confused in the first half about whether quick or slow ball was preferable. He concluded incorrectly – heaven knows how much time the ball spent at the back of the ruck waiting to be released but it probably stretched into minutes.

England played as though much of their training has been unopposed. They were completely outmuscled at the breakdown leading to a vast turnover count. The backs operated so far behind the gain line that the South Africans could let it all unfold in front of them before applying pressure in the necessary areas.

The South Africans by contrast knew how they wanted to play and carried out their plans with ruthless efficiency. Fourie Du Preez exploited space (an alien concept to England apparently) wherever it was to be found, and through Butch James and Percy Montgomerie South Africa’s kicking game kept England pinned on the back foot.

At present, England can not be looking past the huge potential banana skin that is Samoa next week. But whether they win or lose that game, the time for England to start looking forward will soon be upon us. Prior to the World Cup, it stood to reason that Brian Ashton should not be judged on the tournament as he had not been in the job for long enough to develop his own squad. Yet the lack of progress has been so abject that one wonders whether Ashton can move the side forward. His reputation at club level is second to none but there has been little evidence of any level of inspiration. One of the main criticisms of Andy Robinson surrounded his team selection, but this year alone Ashton has used no fewer than 9 different full backs, 6 fly halves, countless second rows and many more besides. Much of this was due to circumstance but one cannot argue that there has been any level of consistency.

Whether Ashton remains or not, the next four years cannot possibly be used as poorly as the previous four and England must start building immediately. Youth must be given its head and the squad must be allowed to develop and grow together. A World Cup debacle such as this must never be allowed to happen again.

By Stuart Peel

5 thoughts on “Reaction: England v South Africa

  1. Jason Robinson was the only good thing England had going on the night. To bad that he ended up limping off. We will miss him if that turns out to be his final last international game.

    The Springboks also played really well, granted the English didn’t do themselves any favors and looked confused when they had the ball. But the Boks are showing why they can win the World cup. Lets see if it is that bad for the English when they take on Samoa. I will be supporting the Samoans!!

  2. Is it just me, or did anyone else feel that, possibly most embarassing of all, the Boks rarely got out of about third gear?

    To my mind, they only really attacked when they needed to, but when they did they used pace and good support running to ensure continuity against an England defence which can’t organise itself with time on its hands, never mind without – case in point Smith’s try.

    I was amazed that the Boks kept kicking for goal as long as they did. I think the main thing for them was to keep us scoreless. I think the 2002 53-3 hammering at HQ still niggles at them and keeping us scoreless was a big psychological win for them, more valuable seemingly than the four try bonus point which could have been theirs on a plate.

    To change the subject slightly – what about the team for the Samoa game? More evidence of no selection strategy whatsoever. Tom Rees at open side is now seemingly behind Worsley (who’s not an open side) and Lewis “the walking penalty” Moody.

    Tait has never been a centre to my mind – he’s bulked up a bit but is still not big enough for an international centre. He’s got masses of potential as a winger, but why pick someone there who’s fast and lightweight when our centres never get time and space on the ball?

    I refuse to accept that we don’t have good young players – even with our foreign-dominated Premiership, we do! Just pick a young side and let them develop. It’ll take years but we have the patience, provided we don’t have to watch anything as bad as last Friday again.

    There is this received wisdom that picking a side with experience will stop you getting humiliated. What more evidence do you need than Friday’s game Brian? It doesn’t work any more.

  3. Slightly suprising selections for the Samoa game. But, the midfield of Wilko, Barkley and Tait is much more appealing than Farrell, Catt and Noon.

    Strange to see Rees not even in the 22 as the only specialist openside we’ve got, but can see the reasoning behind picking a massive pack against the Samoans.

    The good news is that whoever is playing, we can’t get much worse.

  4. ‘To my mind, they only really attacked when they needed to, but when they did they used pace and good support running to ensure continuity’.

    Rob, happily for South Africa, your description of their play on Saturday could also be used to describe New Zealand for the last 2 years.

    I think it was found last year that NZ now score over half their points off turnover ball and that is what South Africa did against England.

    They just backed their defence (not difficutl against such a lack of creativity) and struck quickly and accurately when they got the ball.

    Using turnover ball is the time when an appreciation of space comes to the fore and several times England had no idea where to go.

    It is almost as though we spend so much time working on set pieces that we are lost in open play.

    Re this weekend, quite a big fan of Tait although on his form at the end of the season I imagine Hipkiss is miffed not to have got a look in.

    We have some good outside centres but I think our inability to give the right kind of ball to them is one of our main problems in attack.

Comments are closed.