You have to applaud England’s ambition and intent to play against New Zealand in an open attacking manner, but now is the time for a serious dose of realise for Stuart Lancaster and his charges.
Watching England in the second test against the All Blacks was like cheering on the fat kid in a 100 metre sprint, you have to applaud his efforts but he’s out of the race before the starters gun fires. The issue with England is not in their talent or ability to compete, simply in the game plan they are attempting to execute .
Whilst New Zealand have refined and honed their fast paced off-loading game since the last World Cup, England are trying to apply it to a team that it comes far from naturally to. The reality is that Stuart Lancaster selected a big backline rather than an ambitious one.
From 10 – 15 England were on average 5.5 kg heavier and 3 cm taller per man than their New Zealand counterparts which should have dictated the style of play. If Lancaster wanted his team to play a loose game the likes of Danny Cipriani, Kyle Eastmond and Chris Ashton should have been selected instead of Owen Farrell, Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell.
In the end people will look at a 1 point difference in the final scoreline and say England came close, those watching closely however will be all to aware of just how flattering that scoreline was for the visitors in the end. New Zealand quite happily let England open up safe in the knowledge that once they won the ball back they would have plenty of opportunities.
England simply didn’t have the personnel on the pitch today to take advantage of a game played loosely with the ball remaining in play for long periods of time. Instead they needed to kick for touch, keep the ball amongst the forwards and use their power runners to get over the gainline.
Instead we had forwards passing the ball quickly through the hands, backs attempting off loads that were never on and kicks to nothing. This is exactly what New Zealand wanted as the likes of Ben Smith and Julian Savea lapped them up all day and took advantage of the gaps created by England.
On a number of occasions Owen Farrell punted kicks high into the air from just inside his own half that landed on the All Blacks back three who were then able to identify mismatches with England’s forwards and break the gainline. In comparison the All Blacks kicked into space and chased loose balls putting pressure on the England back three.
The key difference was that whilst the All Blacks back three are capable of making space out of nothing, England didn’t have those kinds of players on the pitch as Tuilagi struggled to make an impression on the game from out wide whilst Ma’a Nonu provided Billy Twelvetrees with a lesson in how to play at inside centre.
I must admit I was a big supporter of Stuart Lancaster’s decision to try Tuilagi on the wing, and I still believe it is an option, however 12 months out from the World Cup we can no longer be experimenting. Instead Lancaster needs to select his best XV for the final test and play to England’s strengths.
For next week I believe the pack needs to be returned to it’s 6 Nations best with the re-introduction of Launchbury and Vunipola so England once again have a solid platform up front that they seemed to lack at times today. Elsewhere Lancaster must consider the option of deploying Myler at 10 after he outclassed Farrell in the Premiership final whilst the centres and back three need amending.
Next week my startling lineup would be; Brown, Ashton, Tuilagi, Burrell, Yarde; Farrell, Care; Marler, Hartley, Wilson, Launchbury, Lawes, Wood, Robshaw, Vunipola. Bench; Webber, Sinckler, Attwood, Morgan, Dickson, Myler, Goode.
With this selection I would keep the game tight up front using the likes of Lawes and Vunipola to truck the ball up before getting the ball out to Farrell to release the crash ball centres with Yarde and Ashton coming in off their wing.
It may not be the most attractive style of play to watch for fans, but England have shown it to be effective whilst it may help to counted some of New Zealand’s counter attacking play that proved so costly in the second test. What England need now is pragmatism mixed with ambition in order to build for the World Cup that is only just over 12 months away.
Next week Lancaster will have pretty much a full strength squad to select from with the players from the Premiership final now fully reintegrated into the squad and the likes of Care back to full fitness. For this reason the team that is selected next week should be virtually the same one that kicks off England’s World Cup campaign next year.
Whilst there may be the odd change due to form or injury, Lancaster has now had time to try the experiments, what England need now is a settled starting XV who know how one another play and are fully versed in the systems and style of play. The All Blacks have shown the value of selecting a consistent side over a number of years and allow us to set a genuine benchmark next week and highlight areas of improvement for the next 12 months.
Who would you select next week?