After this weekends victory over a tough Samoan side, here are 9 things England will have hopefully learnt ahead of their test against the Wallabies…
1.George Ford needs to start
This isn’t to say that Ford has necessarily usurped Farrell in the number 10 shirt (Farrell needs another shot when fully fit) but he showed enough in the test against Samoa to suggest he could answer a few questions for England. His tactical kicking from hand was superb whilst he stood up to some pretty tough tackles from a physical Samoan side and put in some decent hits himself.
The problem however is that Ford needs a chance to play with a midfield who play to his game plan. Barring one or two moments Barritt and Farrell failed to provide much for Ford to work with. Instead Lancaster needs to look at re-introducing someone like Eastmond at 12 against the Wallabies to play to Ford’s natural strength’s – you only have to look at the link up between Ford and Watson for Mike Brown’s try to see how important these combinations are.
2.The bench lacks impact
The England bench is hardly one that is going to worry oppositions in the final 20 minutes of a game. Where as the Wallabies can look to the likes of Quade Cooper, Will Genia and Kurtley Beale at the end of the game, England will be looking at Billy Twelvetrees. Lancaster needs to find a couple of players who can offer up some form of impact, especially if they end up chasing the game like against the Boks and All Blacks.
Given this final game against the Wallabies will count for very little in the grand scheme of things, maybe now is the time to try a couple of players who can come on and make a genuine impact. I don’t see Christian Wade as an England started but surely a player like this is exactly who England could have done with in the first two games of the Autumn Internationals.
3.Ben Morgan has to start
For the time being at least the debate of Vunipola vs Morgan has to have been settled – for me Morgan should now start whilst the Saracens tries to regain some form. Morgan has shown in his outings so far that he offers a bit more going forward and a little bit extra rugby intelligence. Unfortunately Vunipola has so far been a little off the pace, possibly as a result of sides becoming more aware of his impact.
Morgan possibly had his least effective game against Samoa but still looked more effective than Vunipola did in either of the previous two games. One of the key things England have been lacking is decision making and it seems Morgan is one of England’s best players when under pressure. His general positioning was also a big positive as he was regularly available for ball carrying duties.
4.The basic skills are still pretty poor
I’m not sure what the hell has gone wrong but the number of times the ball has been knocked on and spilled during the Autumn Internationals is absolutely ridiculous. Whether it be squandering clear try scoring opportunities, knocking-on to end the game or just generally failing to hold on to the ball in contact, England’s ball handling and retention has been shocking in parts.
These kinds of turnovers will be driving the coaching team crazy as there have been a number of moments in the last few games that could have completely changed the course of the game. It seems this isn’t just an issue for one or two players, but has been a constant issue throughout the team. It would be easy enough to blame the poor conditions throughout the series so far but the England side should be more accustomed to these conditions than any other.
5.England need a proper openside
This isn’t a criticism of Chris Robshaw who was fantastic against Samoa putting in twice as many tackles as any other player, but a general issue in the side. England saw in the first two games in particular the importance of having a quality openside flanker in the team. McCaw and Burger both came off the pitch with the man of the match award after winning turnovers and generally just disrupting the flow of England’s game.
The problem is that England don’t have a player like this who will cause that disruption and slow down opposition ball. For me Robshaw should be moved over to the blindside and a disruptive openside should be introduced. Ideally Lancaster should take a look at Steffon Armitage, but failing that a player like Will Fraser needs to be given a chance as we’ve seen throughout the international window how important a player like this is to teams.
6.James Haskell needs another shot
Should Lancaster continue with his current selection policy of using Robshaw as England’s chief openside, then James Haskell needs to be given another shot at playing blindside. He may not have had his best game in an England shirt against Samoa but he was heavily involved in proceedings and was at least attempting to disrupt proceedings, as he brought some much needed physicality to the back row.
At the very least Haskell should be on the bench given he can cover all three positions in the back row, but should ideally be given another start against the Wallabies to see if he can challenge Tom Wood for the shirt. His international experience and leadership qualities are exactly what England are lacking, whilst his club form has been nothing short of outstanding so far this season.
7.Danny Care should start
Care has been far from his best during the Autumn Internationals so far, but for me still looks like England’s best option at scrum half. Ben Youngs failed to provide a real point of difference during the Samoa game and doesn’t offer quite the same threat around the breakdown as Care. That’s not to say Youngs doesn’t deserve to still be in the squad but he doesn’t quite look like the player he was a few years ago.
I also think Richard Wigglesworth needs to be given another chance for England, given he actually offers a point of difference to Youngs and Care. He may not have the same attacking flair as them, however he is the kind of player who can help England control a game, particularly in difficult conditions. The key here is that with Wigglesworth England wouldn’t just be swapping like-for-like which has been a key issue in other positions.
8.The midfield is missing
Now obviously injuries have somewhat impacted on selection choices, but in all three of the games so far the England midfield has been largely anonymous, particularly when going forwards. This is a key area for Lancaster to address as it is making it very difficult for England’s wingers to get their hands on the ball and show what they can do. This is increasingly becoming an issue as England are unable to create a platform from which they can play off.
A large part of the problem seems to be that England are trying to adopt the unstructured style of play adopted by the All Blacks, the issue being they don’t have the kind of players capable of adopting such an approach. Instead England need to revert to a more traditional, structured approach in which the midfield can get their hands on the ball and ship it out wide to the pace men.
9.Anthony Watson should start
Whilst most of the plaudits will go to Jonny May after scoring two tries against Samoa, for me Anthony Watson was actually England’s most impressive winger. Watson was a threat throughout, gaining metres with ball in hand and providing a constant target for Bath team mate George Ford. He couldn’t get himself on the scoresheet but did a fantastic job in setting up Mike Brown’s try.
May obviously deserves a great deal of credit, and looks like one of England’s most dangerous finishers right now, but for me Watson is the player who should definitely retain his place out wide. He now needs to be given as much game time between now and the World Cup to get fully accustomed to international rugby as he looks to have many of the same qualities as Jason Robison.