Stuart Lancaster and his staff have done a fantastic job of developing hard-working team players, what they need now are genuine game changers ahead of the World Cup.
Saturday’s game at Twickenham against the All Blacks sadly highlighted this fact as England fell to yet another narrow loss, although the scoreboard will tell you the game was closer than it was.
For the first 40 minutes England kept pace with the All Blacks, and for periods outplayed their more experienced counterparts. The pack fronted up well and kept England on the front foot for prolonged periods whilst a new midfield combination remained solid in defence.
The problems occurred in the second half when England struggled to escape their own half, even in a period where the All Blacks were down to 14 men after Dane Coles was sent to the bin for 10. Whilst England aimlessly put boot to ball, giving possession straight back the the dangerous All Blacks backline, New Zealand were much more clinical, using their game changers to make line breaks, win turnovers and keep England pinned back.
As conditions worsened the All Blacks were able to look to the likes of Ben Smith and Julian Savea to give them some momentum in attack. Meanwhile when they lost possession the likes of Richie McCaw was busy disrupting the breakdowns and trying to win turnovers for his side.
England’s problem was that other than a sublime moment from Jonny May early in the first half, they lacked anyone who could really turn a game on its head. The simple fact that Jerome Kaino was able to amass 39 metres ball in hand compared to the combined four metres of Chris Robshaw and Tom Wood shows were the problem lies.
Whilst Wood and Robshaw put in 33 tackles, missing only one each, their failure to gain any real ground in attack was part of England’s undoing. England currently have a pack capable of competing with the very best in the world, however the issue is that are they capable of actually outdoing them? You will never win a World Cup purely on your ability to keep the opposition out, eventually a side like the All Blacks will find a way through.
This is the problem England now have, they can keep top teams out for prolonged periods but eventually a crack emerges and they concede, they therefore need to start scoring more. Given England are already struggling to get over the whitewash as it is, maybe it’s time for Lancaster to start looking at a couple of players who offer something a little bit more than workmanlike performances.
Would it not be worth at least having a look at James Haskell in the number six shirt. That’s not to suggest Tom Wood has played poorly, but the fact is that not only is Haskell capable of putting in the hard graft, he is also an able ball carrier who may just help earn England those extra hard yards. It is these points of difference that can win a team a World Cup.
I’m not suggesting a complete overhaul of the team here, what England have already is a solid base, but with a few tweaks they may just find themselves spending a bit more time on the front foot and they do say the best form of defence is a good offence.
I would also consider taking another look at Sale Sharks fly-half Danny Cipriani. Over the last 18 months he has drastically improved on the areas of his game he had previously been criticised for, whilst still retaining some of his maverick traits. He is the kind of player England are going to need if they are to seriously try to compete with the top teams on a regular basis.
The inclusion of Semesa Rokoduguni I think has been a great move by Lancaster, even if he did struggle to get hold of the ball in the All Blacks test. It is a shame he is unavailable for the Boks test this coming weekend, however this does open up one other opportunity.
Rokoduguni’s Bath teammate Anthony Watson looks to be one of the most exciting players in English rugby. Watson has the look of a genuine game changer to him and could well prove to be the next Jason Robinson. Without hyping him up too much Watson surely needs a start sooner rather than later to see what he is capable of doing at the very top level.
For me two or three changes to this England squad could make a whole world of difference. The introduction of Haskell would offer another ball carrying threat in the pack whilst losing very little in terms of mobility and breakdown work.
By including Cipriani England would have a genuine attacking threat at 10 who is unpredictable and is capable of the moments of magic that can be the difference between winning and losing tight games. Do you think England need to look at building on their base of grafters?