What we’ve learned from England’s rollercoaster autumn

England Rugby

On Sunday morning, newspapers up and down the country were waxing lyrical with patriotic pride over England’s astonishing 38-21 victory over New Zealand. It still surprises me how, in any sport, a single result can change an entire nations mood on the direction their team is moving in. The days of criticising England and their captain Chris Robshaw for their decision making against both Australia and South Africa seem nothing but a distant memory.

Fast forward a few days and some of the excessive optimism has been tempered with the reality of where the England team actually is at the moment, and their allocation in what will surely be known as the ‘group of death’ in the 2015 Rugby World Cup, alongside fellow rugby heavyweights Australia and Wales. This makes it the perfect time to analyse England’s performance in the Autumn Internationals and stress how important it is that they carry this momentum forward into the Six Nations.

England kicked off the QBE Internationals in rampant form, shaking off the rust as they defeated Fiji 54-12, and built confidence in the ideal manner, as tougher fixtures against the ‘Big Three’ loomed.

Next up for England were disappointing single score losses to both Australia and South Africa. As already mentioned, Robshaw’s decision making was criticised by plenty following the losses, but there was no denying that England were competitive in both games, and single plays were all that prevented England from securing a historic whitewash of the Southern Hemisphere sides this Autumn.

Anything I now say about the New Zealand game will have been said to death by journalists throughout the country, but nevertheless I will add my two cents worth. We witnessed an All Blacks side completely outmuscled by a powerful England pack, whilst the vaunted centre pairing of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith were cut down to size by Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi, and even exposed defensively as the English pair ran in three tries between them. Arguably the most pleasing facet of the game however, was England’s mentality, not only to bounce back from two defeats, but to also survive the scare of a New Zealand comeback early in the second half and continue to play at such a high level.

If you had offered England’s supporters two single score losses to Australia and South Africa, and an emphatic victory over the World Champions, whilst fielding a youthful side with three years to develop ahead of the next World Cup, the vast majority would likely have taken it.

England look to be developing good depth at key positions, with multiple players impressing in the second and back rows, and the duel between Ben Youngs and Danny Care for the scrum half position looks to be the best England have had since Matt Dawson and Kyran Bracken. The front row also looked formidable once more with the return of Alex Corbisiero, whilst Dan Cole could have quite easily worn the seven jersey, such was his ability at the breakdown throughout the Autumn. This allowed England to operate effectively in the contact area without a typical fetcher at the openside flanker position.

A diamond in the rough has been found in the form of Wasps’ lock Joe Launchbury, who did not miss a step in his first tastes of international rugby, and who will be looking to build on this experience in February, as will the likes of Tom Wood and Corbisiero, both of whom shone on their returns from injury. If Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes and Tom Croft can all also return to form and fitness in time, then competitiveness for places in the pack may be at its highest for almost 10 years.

There is no doubt that England are capable of carrying this momentum forward and winning the Six Nations, but going out and winning in Cardiff and Dublin is very different from being capable of it. Critical though is the fact that questions over the ability of England’s backline to be clinical are currently hushed, hopefully giving the players the confidence to go out and perform come February.

Only time will tell if they can live up to the expectations foisted upon them during the ecstasy of Saturday’s game, but this could well be the moment we all look back at in three years and say ‘this is where it began…’.

By Alex Shaw

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

18 thoughts on “What we’ve learned from England’s rollercoaster autumn

  1. i was not a fan of parling or brown before the game but both proved me wrong, especially brown.

    that guy doesnt quit!

    1. I was a fan of Brown, however he still surprised me with his feet and agility. Really admired his combatative work at the breakdown too. With Foden coming back is it inconceivable that we could see 3 15s on the pitch in the 6N?

      I wasn’t a Parling fan going into the AIs (concern over his physicality), but a really good point was made in commentary of the ABs game …. that he looked like a typical AB lock, rangy and skillful … which I hadn’t really thought about before. Still think a Lawes/Launchbury combo may be our best starting option in the future though.

  2. I hope this was the confidence booster that England needed to convince them that they can play heads-up rugby and not have to follow training ground plans to the letter.

    The idea of contesting the rucks and taking the ball at pace seems to have taken hold

    Fingers crossed that they can kick on from here

    BTW – please, please do not bring Tom Croft back. I want my flankers to be involved in the dirty business or rucks, mauls and tackles, not fannying about on the wing.

    1. I can see a case for Croft being an impact sub, but I agree with you his work rate is nowhere near high enough to start. Also can’t get out of my head that he only passed the ball 3 times over the entire course of this years 6N.

  3. Agree with regard to Parling. Wasn’t at all sure about him, but am now. Still think that Lawes should be an impact sub.

    Still not convinced by Brown.

    Wood the man in possession and should be his until he loses it (or is injured which is more likely!).

    Generally, I think that we came out of the AI’s in credit with some more young players and more importantly a game plan which involves the breakdown and players running from deep.

    If we play like we did against NZ, we need fear no one home or away. Not sure that we can live up to those lofty heights every game, but as the team said, we ought to be aspiring to it. February does seem way to far away!

    1. I know I’m in danger of sounding like a stuck record here, but what more does Brown have to do to convince people?

      These are the stats for the games vs the big 3 of the southern hemisphere:

      Goode – played 240 mins – 212 mtrs run, 5 defenders beaten
      Ashton -played 240 mins – 112 mtrs run, 4 defenders beaten
      Sharples – played 60 mins – 8 mtrs run, 1 defender beaten
      Brown – played 180 mins – 153 mtrs run, 9 defenders beaten

      And this is him playing out of position!

      Not to mention his generally feisty attitude, work at the breakdown vs NZ, ability under the high ball, his willingness to run the ball and the difficulty that opposition teams seem to have with tackling him

      Come the 6 Nations, if Foden’s fit, I’d stick him on the wing and then either have Brown at fullback and Goode on the bench (he can cover the back 3 plus fly-half and centre) or have Foden, Goode and Brown as the back 3

      1. Yes impressive stats, but I don’t think he is a wing, and I also only think that he is our third best FB. He did impress me but I just can’t shake that feeling that he is neither one nor the other. I think Foden and Goode make those around them look better.

        Having said that, I don’t know who else to play on the left wing. I think Sharples should be understudy to Ashton on the right as he looked a little off the pace on the left.

        1. He’s not a wing, he’s a full-back, but even at wing he’s outplayed the specialists .

          As for the full-back position. In my opinion, Brown is better under the high ball than Goode, is a better counter-attacker, a better tackler and has a bigger boot – and has shown this in the premiership, where he has been in the top ten try scorers for 5 of the last 7 seasons

          Goode is essentially a fly-half playing out of position (like Cipriani used to do) and as such adds his play-making skills to the backline, something Brown cannot do. This seemed to be essential with Flood playing but it might not be so if Farrell steps up and Burns comes through.

          Is Brown better than Foden? Am not sure but I think you need to have them both on the pitch if they are fit

          Personally, I’d love to see Goode played at fly-half to see how he goes. He’s got a good pass, an accurate boot and can make breaks

        2. Jason Robinson
          Christian Cullen
          Cory Jane
          Doug Howlett

          There are plenty of examples of players that have been excellent at FB or Wing, being an excellent FB doesn’t mean you are an excellent wing but the two aren’t mutually exclusive either. Brown’s only glitch was his support line on the break against the Boks, other than that I thought he was excellent and I hope he keeps the shirt to get a run of games.

  4. I really like the idea of Brown, Foden on the wings and Goode at FB. Ashton did run great support lines for his try but he’s such a stupid show-pony not a grafter. His awful pass to Brown, missing the ball as the try line beckoned, and his ‘splashdown’ (where he jumps in the air but keeps his feet on the floor) shows his lack of class. Rather the three boys who may not have the same wing play understanding, but put body on the line and look to bring others in makes sense.
    The competition for ALL places is the mark of a good team. Just check the AB’s for obvious example of this. England is now building this.

  5. My only worry is what happens when Manu Tuilagi gets injured? who is going to replace him?You saw how the AB were scared of him.he draws so many defenders,its easy for others around him.England stocks in the centers are so limited compared to other positions.playing a full back or a wing in the centers or Trewltrees might be a viable solution.it high time that Lancaster thought of that scenario and get prepared before it is too late…

    1. It’s only one game since a load of people were calling for Tuilagi to be dropped or moved to the wing!

      I would say that at the moment inside centre is Barritt with understudy Twelvetrees and outside centre Tuilagi with understudy Joseph. Doesn’t sound disasterous to me.

      1. I think you’re spot on there. Twelvetrees has great hands and feet, a good boot, and is a good grafter.

        Joseph will draw defenders in but for a different reason to Tuilagi. He will use his pace and step to create space for others to run on to.

        My issue is that no-one else can top Barritt’s work rate, and no-one else can front up like Tuilagi can.

  6. Yep, what it shows is that England can beat a side where the entire team has been as sick as a dog for a week…

    1. You can only play what is in front of you! I guess that we will find out more about the relevant positions of the NH teams in the 6N’s. My predicted order is France, England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy, but 2nd, 3rd and 4th could be in any order as I think that they are all pretty close.

    2. Christ. Even the Kiwis didn’t bother using that as an excuse

      I am presuming that you are Welsh.

      Wales record vs top 3 s hemisphere since 1990 – played 56. Won 3

      England record vs top3 s hemisphere since 1990 – played 72. Won 24

      Wales last win over top 3 – 2008 I believe

      England last win – 2012

      What that shows is that despite the constant bigging up of Wales during the last World Cup and 6 Nations, they just don’t cut it when it comes to the very top teams

  7. The basic concern for all of us is was the ab result a one off(remember jonno’s 2 results v Oz)or can we reaally kick on?For me we need the Grand Slam or at least to top the table.2nd might just be ok anything less means ab’s were yet another false dawn.
    As regards selection select on form at the time in my view several positions are too close to call nearly 2 months away.But thank you England for giving me a fanrastic start to Xmas

Comments are closed.