A View From Below

Sporting debate and opinion

England lose but show rapid improvements

Wales 23 – 15 England

Martin Johnson’s charges take Warren Gatland’s Wales to the wire

England Wales Highlights

Wales started the brightest of the two teams taking a 9 point lead after 20 minutes in a game the England manager Martin Johnson conceded his team were underdogs in. Silly mistakes from England and poor discipline as Mike Tindall was sent to the bin allowed Stephen Jones and Lee Halfpenny to kick penalties.

This improved for England as some midfield magic from Phil Vickey and Mark Cueto set up Andy Goode to run and kick into the corner for Paul Sackey to touch down. Andy Goode’s consistent form and partnership with Harry Ellis has been one of the strong points of the Six Nations for England so far, although it may be makeshift and temporary.
Danny Care has proved his credentials as a strong scrum-half but injury has ruled him out of contention at the moment and the talismanic Danny Cipriani has dropped down the pecking order after his poor displays in the Autumn Internationals although his potential and club form for London Wasps will see him back in the set-up some time soon, as well as the attacking Toby Flood often coming from the bench. It seems until England settle and begin to work on a solid number 9 & 10 link their backline will suffer, as they need to get somewhere near to the Wilkinson-Dawson partnership of 2003 that released players such as Jason Robinson, Josh Lewsey, Will Greenwood and Ben Cohen with such devastation on the way to World Cup glory.

Improved discipline and good tackling from flankers James Haskell and Joe Worsley saw England head in to the half-time break just a point behind Wales.
The decision of Martin Johnson to select Joe Worsley ahead of Stefan Armitage was vindicated by a man-of-the match performance from Worsley who nulified the threats of Stephen Jones and Andy Powell well in Wales key areas.
I have had the fortune to meet Joe Worsley and would say he is a thoroughly nice bloke although the Wales defence will not think the same after his hard hits ensured a selection headache for Martin Johnson ahead of the next game against Ireland.

The announcement this week from James Haskell to leave London Wasps for Stade Francais next year is possibly the start of a worrying trend for English rugby. Previously players have left the Guiness Premiership to move abroad at much older ages around the 30 mark such as Andy Goode last summer when he moved to Brive, although Haskell at 23, has sent shockwaves around the country in commiting his future in France and many players may choose to seek the financial riches of the French Top 14. The same week Riki Fluety, 29 and Tom Palmer, 27 decided to join Brive and Stade Francais respectively and their games should benefit from the switch but they are of slighlty older age. As Jeremy Guscott explains, players should not be condemed for taking more money elsewhere as they can earn up to three times the amount the earn in England with the salary cap-less French clubs.

Old discipline problems from England resurfaced again after half time as Goode went to the bin and it is these mistakes that are costing England games. Johnson must work on his teams play at the breakdown before England’s trip to Croke park this saturday. Two penalties from Stephen Jones and a try from Lee Halfpenny gave Wales 12 points whilst Goode was missing from the action and made it even more difficult for England to come back.

However, England at least showed signs of not knowing when they are beaten, something the boys from Twickenham have been missing for some time as fantastic play from full-back Delon Armitage saw him score underneath the posts.
Armitage played well throughout the game as his high-ball takes and kicking from hand was good and he always looked a threat with the ball.
Against Wales, the self-titled ‘black three’ of Sackey, Armitage and Monye was split up in favour of a back three of Sackey, Armitage and Cueto and although quick hands from the Sale wing Cueto set up Sackey’s try his performance was not entirely comprehensive. Armitage deserves his place at full-back, however Sackey and Monye have both been accused of not being International class and for the time being England may be without top-drawer wingers. Young giant wing Matt Banahan would be my choice for the postion in the future as he is a prolific try-scorer and would be a huge presence in a smaller backline England have at the moment.

Toby Flood’s introdcution in place of Andy Goode allowed a more naturally flowing backline to pile on the pressure by attacking Wales through the midfield. However, dismal decision making in the 73rd minute saw England miss a conversion when they should have gone for a line-out and a dash for the white line and Flood missed the kick.
By now England were almost certainly out of the game and went on to lose 23-15.

Special mention must go to players Riki Fluety who put in a good performance at inside centre but must have found missing men on either side of him for 20 minutes of the game difficult to accomodate. Andrew Sheridan and Phil Vickey were solid as props but the captaincy of Steve Borthwick is difficult to overlook as stuttering. Instead of going for the kill in the last ten minutes Borthwick saw penalties missed by his kicker Flood and it seems Johnson is just trying to represent himself on the pitch with the selection of the Saracens lock as captain.

It seems to me that England need to make some decision on their team that will affect where they want to be going and what they feel they can achieve, before their potential is realised.
The captaincy should be assessed, as should the back three and decisions on scrum half and fly half may be needed long term for England to gel more as a unit and win more games.

Their next game against Ireland may allow us to see how far England have come but it may not be enough to stop O’Driscoll and his charges.


February 23, 2009 - Posted by | Rugby Union

1 Comment »

  1. Hi Jamie,

    You’ve kept this one quiet. Good to see your range of sporting comment goes further than just football. But France’s victory over Wales kind of undermined how close we came to beating them and the manner of indiscipline in the performance against Ireland highlighted the world of trouble this England team is actually in – unless rapid changes of mindset are affected!

    Good work lad.

    Comment by Sam Rider | March 4, 2009 | Reply

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