Monday, 14 June 2010

Chance to spill Wallaby blood missed

It may have been totally overshadowed by the World Cup in South Africa, but England’s rugby team have managed to cause just as much debate and disappointment as their football counterparts after their first test against Australia in Perth on Saturday.

Australia were well and truly there for the taking. England let them off scot-free.

The 27-17 score fails to tell the whole story.

England dominated the scrum, with two penalty tries their reward for maintaining extreme pressure on the Wallaby pack. The site of the Aussie front row popping out shouldn't be seen on an international stage - just ask Al Baxter and Matt Dunning. Australia must have been having flashbacks to the 2003 World Cup when Andrew Sheridan took the Aussie scrum to the cleaners and secured a semi-final against France. On that day, England built on their forwards dominance. They taught them a lesson at scrum-time and gave their backline the platform to shine.

So what exactly went wrong on Saturday?

From my point of view and in particular looking at the first half – ‘shoe-lace’ rugby is exactly what went wrong. Time and time again, the magnificent Mike Tindall broke the Wallaby defence and made it close to the try line. Time and time again, England panicked. Time and time again they failed to execute and punish the Aussies with points on the board. Speaking from experience, as a rugby team you focus on the visits you make to your opposing team’s 22-metre line and as a team you make sure you come away with points, be it 3 or 7.

As soon as England made it near to the try line with numbers out wide, a forward would turn quick ball slow and make Australia’s job of defending a whole lot easier. I hate to say this again, but from experience, defending against a team that is simply trudging one metre at a time at the base of the breakdown is easy to deal with – most back row thrive on it and when it’s slow and lacking of numbers, turnover time beckons. I counted 4 or 5 occasions when this happened, leaving a frustrated Chris Ashton or Mark Cueto screaming for the ball in vain.

‘Shoe-lace’ rugby – the reason England will never be quite at the level of Southern Hemisphere rugby teams. The ability to revert to a slow and predictable passage of play, ignoring any attacking options. From an early age, Kiwi schools teach young players to express themselves and keep the game quick and alive. When I think about what we were taught at school, it was tackle bags and rucking drills and if you did throw the ball around a bit, it was discouraged. In the end, we wonder why England is producing team after team that fails to develop, improve and compete with the New Zealands of this world.

The pressure continues to mount of Johnson. If only some of the current squad showed the leadership and commitment he did on the field, England would be winning these types of games.

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