Reasons for England supporters to be wary


England’s strong start to the Six Nations has inevitably brought forth talk of Grand Slams and comparisons with teams past. The facts are that England have won three consecutive games, all of which offered very different challenges and during which they showed that they can not only play in different ways but that they can adapt to changing circumstances within an individual match. This is all great stuff and is a firm step forward. However, much of the hyperbole which has accompanied these encouraging developments seems to me to be somewhat premature. I am therefore going to strap on the Scrooge hat and suggest why England supporters should be a little circumspect before trumpeting too loudly their plans for European, global and ultimately intergalactic domination.

The dampening of the Irish
There was plenty of talk after the win in Dublin that England had beaten Ireland at their own game in their own conditions. It is true that England had the better of the breakdown battle, an area in which the Irish normally excel. But the conditions, while doing England no favours either, were far from what the Irish were looking for. Ireland have regularly beaten England in recent years playing a high intensity, shock and awe style of rugby which has left England wondering what hit them. The torrential rain in Dublin meant that the match was far too error-strewn and slow to give Ireland a chance of achieving such a thing. The English deserve great credit for playing the conditions so well but in their recent revival they are yet to face a high-tempo team with their tails up and a baying partisan crowd at their backs. That could well come in Cardiff (see below).

France: unpredictable, backs to the wall etc
I’ve never really subscribed to much of the mythology surrounding French rugby. Gallic flair seems to me to be a concept which is a good 20 years out of date (a quick watch of the Top 14 is testament to that), performances such as the 1999 World Cup semi final being very much the exception rather than the rule. Under Bernard Laporte they decided that English rugby was winning rugby and set out of ape their style. His successors have maintained this meaning that they have spent much of the past decade looking slightly confused, as though fighting their better instincts.

But one unoriginal cliché that is undeniable is the one about not knowing which French team will turn up. One would have thought that the advent of professionalism would have reduced this but if anything it has only been exacerbated. Their almost inexplicable arrival in the last four of the 2007 World Cup and the finals of the 1999 and 2011 tournaments speak volumes for this. And they are never more dangerous than when they have nothing to lose. The last time France seemed in a state such as now was at the conclusion of the group stages in New Zealand after a meek surrender to the hosts and a humiliating defeat to a Tonga side coming off the back of a defeat to Canada. They promptly blew England away in the first half hour of the quarter final. So England, beware the French, particularly when they are appear to be rubbish.

A resurgent Walesengwales
Wales are the ultimate momentum team. If they dog out a couple of early wins in the Six Nations, they are unstoppable. If they lose one or two, they fall apart. Wales ended their horrendous run of eight consecutive defeats with a victory at the most unlikely of venues, Paris. It was a dreadful game, the French were truly appalling and the Welsh only just won. But that is often all they need. This is a good Welsh team whose true level probably lies somewhere between their 2011 Grand Slam form and their subsequent slump. There is no doubt what they are capable of. They have two very winnable games coming up against Italy and Scotland, the latter of which could be very tough. If they win both of those, England will find themselves facing a dragon with momentum behind it and a patriotic crowd at their backs spurred on by the prospect of ruining English dreams. That is a strong cocktail, one that has proved too powerful to resist in the past. It will be a huge test.

The Weight of History
There’s often a tendency to attach too much weight to history but it can certainly add to the pressure on a team. England’s record of blowing Grand Slams is well known. Over the past 15 years they have gone into the final game of the Championship in search of a Grand Slam on no fewer than 5 occasions and have won only once (incidentally, why are England’s Grand Slam deciders always away from home? Conspiracy?). But even that may be getting ahead of ourselves. Since their last Grand Slam, England have won their first two games in the Championship on no fewer than six occasions. In 2004 and 2007, they managed only one further win, in 2006 and 2010 zero (including a draw in ’06), and in 2011 and 2012 they won a further two.

England have been impressive in this Championship and there is plenty of justifiable optimism around. It should also be noted that they have now only lost two of their last twelve Championship games. But by the same token it is only four games since they succumbed so disappointingly to the Springboks and five since they lost to a Wallaby side coming off the back of a record defeat to France. These may yet be heady days we are experiencing, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. There are plenty of obstacles to negotiate. And also be wary that if it all goes wrong, nobody will let them forget it.

by Stu Peel

40 thoughts on “Reasons for England supporters to be wary

  1. I usually like Rugby Blog articles, but this is pointless and negative. The media may be running off talking about grand slams and other nonsense, but proper England fans have their feet firmly on the ground, taking each game as it comes. We’re under no illusions about the challenges a wounded France and Wales in Cardiff pose. I can’t imagine a NZ blog ever writing such an article about the All Blacks.

    1. I’m pretty impressed that the author managed to get through this article without using the word “arrogant” ;-) Dallaglio is right, England have a fair shout of winning the championship but no-one is seriously talking about Grand Slams.

      1. Maybe not, but the headline could be “reasons why England aren’t as good as they think they are” – when it’s only the media themselves that are getting carried away.

        1. Disagree. The article says nothing about how good the Egnland team think they are. It is just a little antidote to a lot of the stuff appearing in the press. Given that this is a media outlet too it seems a decent medium for it. We had an article earlier in the week about the great state of Engladn rugby. All media outlets should have a bit of balance, if you’re just jingoistic the whole time it kind of loses its impact.

          As for the All Black comparison, if we’re ever as one-eyed about England as the New Zeland press is about the All Blacks just let us know and we’ll shut the whole thing down.

    2. I agree, a little positivity is a great thing, but personally I think that positivity comes from the fact the country has 30+ world class players (mostly youngsters) who are fighting for their places. They want to play under Lancaster and his new set up.

      This comes out in the way they are playing. I was at the Australia game last year with my Irish best mate. As you can imagine he never lets me forget when England play a bad game. Even he was gutted for England that day, it wasn’t a bad match, just a young developing team who weren’t quite good enough to beat a Wallabies side who had just lost France in France, and them came to London to ‘do a France’.

      Last year’s 6 Nations showed what potential this side has, losing out to a Wales team who were playing better than they have for as long as I can remember.

      There will be more losses, that’s inevitable – even the All Blacks lose (even to England)…

      If a team is playing well, best to get behind them rather than trying to bring them down. Or is Peel actually just a French name? :p

  2. Does the author believe the fixture committee can see into the future? Spa..

    Over the past 15 years they have gone into the final game of the Championship in search of a Grand Slam on no fewer than 5 occasions and have won only once ( incidentally, why are England’s Grand Slam deciders always away from home? Conspiracy?).

  3. They is no reason for the England supporters to be wary, says a Frenchman. This team is young, has nothing to lose, is playing well and most of all is building on its momentum.
    Owen”kicking Machine” Farrel reminds me of Monsieur Wilkinson. With him on the pitch you know that there is a potential of 12 to 18 points on the score board. It puts a lot of pressure on the opposite defense and on the opposite team as well.
    I can’t wait to be on Saturday. Big match, big tackles. One match to remember.

    1. That was Nike, not England. Wales probably had some promotional material ready before the France game last year, but that wasn’t leaked.

  4. As for the article, I think it makes sense. Yes, it’s only the media bigging up England as sure things but The Rugby Blog is part of the media so it’s good to see it distance itself from the part of the media that is clueless about rugby. Also think it’s a little funny to see all of the dismissals of the idea that France will bring much to Twickers when I was told for a week solid that a wounded France were going to batter Wales. Well, they’re much more wounded now.

    I found this tiresome – “This is a good Welsh team whose true level probably lies somewhere between their 2011 Grand Slam form and their subsequent slump. There is no doubt what they are capable of…” It seems that no matter what Wales achieve (3 Grand Slams in 7 years) they will always be objectively considered as a bit crap and any victories are “playing above their level” whereas when England do poorly it’s all a mystery as to why they are not one of the best teams in the world? England have been average or worse for ten years now so one could argue that it’s this idea that England’s true level is world beaters that is the wrong one given they’ve not tasted an ounce of the success that Wales have in the last decade.

    1. Depends what you want. If you’re happy winning the Six Nations and consider that beating the teams ranked somewhere from 4th-12th in the world is the pinnacle of what Wales can achieve, then fair play. England do have a better record against the SH “giants” since 2003 – several wins over Australia, including one in Australia which Wales haven’t managed since the 80s, a draw in South Africa which Wales have never done or bettered, a win over New Zealand which Wales haven’t done since the 50s – not to mention an (albeit VERY fluky) RWC final which Wales have never managed.

      1. What do I want? Winning things, tangible things. Not the odd win against SH teams outside of competitions. You’re not addressing the central point which is that despite Wales having more trophies than England in the last decade it is still England who are considered to be a deserved top-3 team but Wales are not. These were also trophies won in a comp that England play in so it would be interesting to turn around your record of better one-off performances against the SH giants and ask why didn’t England therefore dominate Wales/Ire/France up north?

        I will assume you’re not seriously even for a second suggesting that they’re more focused on beating the SH teams and therefore were not as bothered about the 6N….

        1. Who thinks that England should be a top 3 side? The media, which I’ve already said should be ignored, and the type of England “fans” who only watch the Six Nations because it’s on the BBC and never go to a game.

          I’m surprised as a rugby fan you devalue one-off tests. Unlike football, there’s not really such a thing as a “friendly”, that’s why the strongest possible teams play each other in the summer tours and AIs. If Wales had won the summer tests in Australia 3-0 would you have said “meh, not really bothered, there was no silverware”?

          1. Who thinks it? This article pointedly refers to Wales playing above their level when winning their slams yet no mention is made, in an article which is supposed to be about England, of any such thing in relation to England? I’ve also been on this blog enough to know that nobody has ever mentioned RWC 2003 as being way above England’s level and in fact it is expected that England should return there. So I think there is a wide perception of what I suggest – Wales are mediocre and can sometimes rise above it, England are great but mysteriously seem to have issues over the last 10 years.

            You misunderstand me about tests against SH teams – I am not devaluing one off tests, I am simply not elevating them above the 6 nations, which is what you were doing by dismissing winning the 6 nations as simply being “the pinnacle of what Wales can achieve” and contrasting that with England’s wins against SH teams, suggesting they are evidence of more quality.

            I would not have dismissed any win for Wales against SH teams. The AIs were poor for Wales and the summer tour to Aus was so disappointing but these are not really relevant to my initial point which was to query why it is considered that Wales’ true level is “below” the level they achieved in winning the slam and to do so in an article which was supposedly about England’s chances of winning the 6N. It felt like an odd dig at Wales in the middle and is an opinion I have heard expressed often so warranted mentioning as part of the ongoing thread about Wales level.

          2. I’ve got no problem in admitting the Wales have (largely) been the better team than England over the last 8 years. I think there will always be that superiority complex from a portion of England fans that think England have some sort of “right” to be better than Wales, but any supporter worth their salt will be able to be a bit more subjective.

            At the end of the day (when it’s all said and done) I think we’re too insular up here. Are England a top 3 team? No. Are Wales are top 3 team? No. Who are the top 3? New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. They almost ALWAYS are. Until NH sides start picking up regular wins against those teams, the Six Nations is basically to decide the title of “best of the rest”.

          3. I agree with you – neither team are at the level they or their fans want. You’re also right that there is a lot of noise generated by more casual fans with shorter memories. I suppose that’s why I took issue with the point in this block because I do not consider Rugby Blog writers as casual fans but there it is in black and white expounding the oft repeated view that Wales true level is to be a bit mediocre with the odd flash of quality.

            I think England are undoubtedly solid favourites for the six nations. I’m applying for my Wal v Eng tix right now so I hope to be there when we spoil the party… Should be a massive game if Eng can negotiate Sco and Fra – I can’t help dismissing Ita now they have lost Parisse and their outside half has lost his mind.

          4. England have to negotiate France first – 8 player changes and 1 positional change from the side that lost to Italy, it really isn’t going to be easy.

            If it helps, I’m going to the Wales game and it’s also my birthday on that very day – so a Wales win would ruin my day on two levels! Having said that, if we do beat France (and it’s by no means a given) I can see us losing to Wales but edging it on points difference. As with 2011, I wouldn’t feel much like celebrating, however.

          5. Aww its nice to see you 2 boys work things out! Wales were playing well above themselves every time they won the 6N though. They’re pretty mediocre really and only do well when all the other 6N teams are rebuilding… Sorry I couldn’t resist.

    2. Nobody is suggesting the England are worldbeaters. In truth the fact that we’ve been rubbish for so long is probably the reason we’re getting a little excited now.

      As for Wales, a year ago everyone from all countries was talking about how good they are and that they had the potential to dominate the Championship with such a good young team and deservedly so. But 8 defeats in a row is hard to ignore and you can’t deny that they have a real problem with consistency. That comment was not intended to be a pop at Wales in any way, I thoroughly enjoy watching them, but I think is a fair reflection of where they are right now. I similarly temper the praise of England with a comment about how rubbish they were only 4 games ago.

  5. Brighty, just read this comment “This article pointedly refers to Wales playing above their level when winning their slams”.

    I’m afraid it doesn’t. The Grand Slam was won off the back of a successful World Cup and was a natural progression from that. If you’d asked me at that point I’d have said yes, Wales’s level is undoubtedly the best in Europe and the main challengers to the big 3. I fully expected them to beat Australia in Australia. What has happened in the meantime has cast it in a slightly different light. Similarly England got very excited after winning the Championship in 2011. Again, the subsequent World Cup debacle painted that in a very different light. Nobody is trying to detract from a throughly deserved Grand Slam. But at this exact moment in time, you would have to say that Wales have not performed at that level since. That is undeniable. And it would be a surprise if they suddenly came out and played like that for the rest of the tournament given what had happened since. And as I hope the article shows, England need to win many more games in many different situations before they can be called a top team.

    1. Stuart, I do read the comment as I have suggested. It says “This is a good Welsh team whose true level probably lies somewhere between their 2011 Grand Slam form and their subsequent slump” (by the way note the 2011 typo) – so if their true level is below that then it is implicit that they were playing above it when they won the slam. I don’t see how it can mean anything differently?

      You can rightly point out that since then Wales have been poor but where we differ (and this is subjective so there isn’t an objective right answer) is suggesting where this means Wales’ potential quality level lies – I see your statement as predicting where Wales can expect to be, it’s logical to me to assume a statement of someones level is also a statement of the best they can achieve.

      I see no reason Wales can’t win the next World Cup. Obviously there is a fair bit of fan myopia in that statement but I also like to think there is some basis for it. We have quality players with more quality coming through (U20s are going well this year, beat NZ last year as the first U20 to do that for years).

      There is also the cumulative effect of seeing this comment expounded so often on this blog; predominantly in the comments but it’s all part of my perception of the attitude of this blog, both writers and readers, that Wales have played above their level when winning the slams. It’s an annoying thing to read, as annoying as the cliched “it was a poor 6 nations” phrase that comes out when ever someone other than France or England win it. Hopefully this helps explain my issue with the statement but also I hope you realise that I enjoy debating the issue. It’s interesting to see other viewpoints of Wales (as I am a fan and can’t always think objectively) and it’s further interesting to challenge those views.

      1. I can only repeat that had we had this conversation a year ago I would be saying very different things. At this precise moment, Wales playing to their full potential against England doing likewise, I would take Wales to win. On current form I would take England. The flipside of the argument which you haven’t acknowledged is that I think Wales are a lot better than they have shown in the past 9 games.

        Incidentally I made exactly the same point about France recently as I do about Wales, you have to take performances over time to judge how good a teamn is in the overall scheme of things. I think France have rarely been better than average for a while – they won a Grand Slam in 2010 and promptly got pumped by everybody for the next 9 months. Top teams, like the big 3 do it consistently and that is the mark of your true level.

        I thinbk Wales could win the next World Cup too. I also think they could go aout in the group stages. Same goes for pretty much all the European teams including England. But I am 100% certain the big 3 will make the knockouts. And that is the difference.

  6. Think you’re tilting at imaginary windmills Brighty. This is hardly a unfair sentence…

    “This is a good Welsh team whose true level probably lies somewhere between their 2011 Grand Slam form and their subsequent slump. There is no doubt what they are capable of…”

    Are Wales currently as good as they were in 2011? No

    Are they as bad as their recent run of losses makes them seem? No

    What’s to argue with here?

    This year’s team is not as good as 2011’s, that seems pretty straight forward to me and there are a number of reasons for it – injuries, players getting past their prime, players not on form.

    But equally they are not as bad as the losing streak made them appear

    They are somewhere in-between the two

    1. Pablito, this seems to be all about a misunderstanding. What a lot of you seem to see as a sentence which says “right now Wales are in the middle of being poor/good” I see as saying “Wales perpetual level is middle” i.e. I read it as a summary of Wales in general and therefore predictions of future quality and an assessment of past success.

      1. brighty – I think the essential part is where it says “right now”. This isn’t saying that Wales are perpetually average, but that on current form, and with recent results it’s how they appear.
        England have been average (at best) for at least 8 years, maybe more. But on current and because of recent results are above average.
        Maybe it comes down to expectations? As an England fan I expect us to win every game. But as a realist I know this is not going to happen. I’m sure as a Welsh fan you probably feel the same. Coming into this 6N I had high expectations, and at the moment England are living up to my expectations.
        If I was a Welsh fan, after the AI’s, my expectations would be quite low, so I would probably be quite happy with the performances so far. Especially beating France in Paris.

  7. Don’t think Wales are as poor as the results have shown despite the losing run, true a loss is a loss but the 3 games against the Aussies were lost by a TOTAL of 5 points ! any of those games could have gone the other way & then people may have a different opininon ?.

  8. I’ll start off by stating the fact that I am Welsh. Personally, I think a positive mental attitude is absolutely key in every aspect of life! I hear the statement the English are arrogant almost every week, however arrogance and confidence are all too frequently miss-understood! You must speak positively about any challenge, if not you are most likely to lose on all counts. It doesn’t matter how bad a team play one week (except at the time), the next week you can completely turn that around. It is disgusting that the press and fans turn against their respective teams and players when it doesn’t go to plan and start criticising decisions both on the field and off. What you actually need is for the issues/problems to be highlighted in a constructive way and offer positive and potential solutions…. Get behind your team as if to say, YOU CAN DO IT!! I know most coaches and players say they don’t take any notice of the press, however what goes on behind closed doors can be very different and the thought of players and coaches who are so passionate about their sport, country, individual performances and decision making reading such articles will attack their mental state which in some cases destroys a person’s confidence. Rhys Priestland for example…. On the other hand some characters are very strong mentally and can shrug off such criticism and put in a good performance. In all, I think a positive outlook from respective fans and press can make a massive difference. I don’t hold anything against the NZ press broadcasting a positive article on their team! Good on them! Don’t get me wrong, I have been extremely disappointed with some of Wales’ recent loses, however I am always rooting for them and never turn against them like some Welsh fans! With reference to the comment from Brightly… ‘Wales are mediocre and can sometimes rise above it, England are great but mysteriously seem to have issues over the last 10 years.’ This is Arrogance! Wales are a class outfit and have shown more class over the past 7 years than England! FACT!

    1. Looks like I’m not the only one getting the wrong end of the stick; VR46, I’m Welsh as well. That comment was a sarcastic summation of something I misunderstood. It’s now what I think at all.

  9. As a Welshman I cannot see anyone derailing England this year. They should win their next 2 games and arrive in Cardiff next month and win the Grand Slam/Triple crown. Fingers crossed they don’t mind and Wales can turn them over on home turf but they have been playing well and can do Slam.

    1. Please don’t say “should” – I hate that word when it comes to sport! England are capable of winning the tournament, but nothing is a given (as “should” implies)

  10. There are reasons to be wary, we are very inexperienced (we still face teams where the front row has more caps than our team), we have won nothing, we are coached by an inexperienced group who collectively have only won 1 domestic championship as coaches (I think).

    Between 2000 and 2003 we chalked up 12 consecutive wins against the big 3, including victories in SA, NZ and Aus. We can’t start comparing sides or achievements just because we beat the ABs. There is a long way to go and it is impossible to predict how far we can go and how successfully.

    However there are grounds for optimism:
    – Good conveyor of young talent.
    – Excellent progress at identifying the brightest young prospects and turning them into fully fledged internationals.
    – Significant progress on the pitch, last years champs we were tough to beat but were creating nothing in attack. We can now clearly see the gameplan.
    – Lancaster & team seem to have developed an excellent working relationship with the clubs, which I think is helping player development and welfare.
    – Excellent team spirit, even off the back of poor performances. The self confidence to close out a tight game in Dublin was impressive.
    – We are investing in top class sports science/scientist again. England were probably the worst physically prepped team (of the big countries) for the RWC, Welsh were up there with the very best if not the best. This is now being rectified and the fitness of the English players is top class.
    – RFU seems to have found better leadership.

    As another indicator of the progress, 1 year ago Tuilagi was the only English player considered by some to be good enough to make a lions team, many people were picking 15s without a single English representative. Every English forward is now in contention for a tour spot and many for a first 15 shirt.

    Let’s be realistic about where we are at, but I see no reason to be anything other than optimistic about where we are heading, everything seems to be being built on very solid foundations.

  11. All of this debet is great and is making me visit this blog at every oppertunity. I truely believe that at this moment in time the six nations is Englands to lose. there are the form team, but we are only two games in, France could very easily upset the cart, Scotland, remember Scotland are very much on the up and I can see them turning Ireland over as could Italy v Wales this weekend. For me as a Rugby fan it is great that we have one of the closest 6N which is creating all this discussion and keeping us on edge.

    1. It is definitely a good 6Ns year. And a positive from en England standpoint, is that they will go into the final day with something to play for. Even if they bomb out and blow the slam and the tournament, they will still go to Wales with the chance of the triple crown (something that has gone under the radar in recent years with all of the grand slams that come around now).

      I too agree that at this point it does seen like its England’s to lose, so we shall see how things go.

      I think that the Italians have it in them to upset the welsh, but the loss of parisse is potentially tournament ending for the Italians. He is so influential and inspirational, that I would not be surprised if the Italians crumble now.

  12. A balanced article. I don’t think Stuart Lancaster will let the players get ahead of themselves. There is a noticeable difference how he and his captain, Chris Robshaw, carry themselves. Even Chris Ashton seems to have toned it down. True, Ireland played like muck in Dublin, but England did the simple things well. This can only be good for England as it deprives the rest of us from one very big motivator when playing England. So as long as the English media and fans don’t get carried away, this England team could go far. I certainly can’t see France win in Twickenham. Then again, I couldn’t see Wales win in Paris, or Italy beat the French in Rome. I just hope the rain stays away this weekend. Either that or the authorities start to look seriously at artificial pitches a la Saracens.

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