England vs Samoa, Steps in the Right Direction?

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While Clive Woodward complained, that with the game won and twenty minutes to go, England needed to see this as a preparation for Australia and be ruthless in finishing off Samoa, he discredited both Samoa, the conditions and the fact that England had won the game by 60 minutes. All credit must go to Samoa, they kept the game close until half-time and laid bon-breaking hit after bone-breaking hit into England. While England in torrid conditions managed to score three tries, and although not perfect got the win that was vital.

Plenty of positives but still a lot to build on

It will sound repetitive now but again England were superb in the lineout and scrum. Their forwards provided an excellent platform all evening. Credit has to go to the front five, especially the second row of Dave Attwood and Courtney Lawes, as well as the impressive replacement George Kruis, which snaffled lineouts, broke the line and made plenty of tackles. The backrow were similarly excellent with Robshaw deservedly man of the match for his non-stop tackling.

Despite the hard graft England’s forwards, besides Attwood and Ben Morgan on occasions, they again failed to provide the gailine-breaking ballast required. In contrast the Samoan forwards punched holes and were always looking to offload, even if the conditions didn’t favour expansive rugby they still looked for options. This is the area England’s pack can really improve in, getting those offloads in and trying to break the gainline. The benefit of an offloading game is it means if the forwards fail to break the line they can utilise the space they have made with an offload and allow the supporting players to get in behind the opposition.

A huge plus was George Ford. Given his first start at 10 he wholly justified it, making several line breaks and demonstrating excellent vision and skill in his low cross field kick to Anthony Watson to set up Mike Brown’s try, and should have had 2 more assists bar handling errors. Ford played what was in front of him and although he stood slightly deeper than he does for Bath as he gains more international experience he will attack flatter. Another bonus was Ford’s kicking game, although not perfect off of the tee or out of hand, he looked to pin Samoa into their half with England’s lineout dominant and the rain pouring down, something that should have happened two weeks ago against the All Blacks.

Another who is impressing is Jonny May, now he is finding his way to the try-line with his blistering pace he looks to be the most likely candidate to have cemented one of the wing births, having scored 3 tries in 3 tests. Anthony Watson also looked good with far more ball than he got on his full debut against the Springboks. He offered a threat with ball in hand and was unselfish in setting up Brown’s try as well as showing supreme skill in getting the offload away. A run in this England team can only be good for Watson.

While England offered plenty of promise they still failed to show the ruthlessness or sharpness of a top side. Undoubtedly they left a couple of tries out on the field, as they failed to capitalise on several driving mauls in the Samoan 22. However, more concerning was the knock on by Brown after Ford’s break, while Brown was coming too laterally to make the most of the break with Samoa drifting to accommodate Ford’s arcing run. Worse came in the 80th minute with time up when Ford broke to create a two on one which Attwood dropped with the line at his mercy. Yes, it was raining, but these men play rugby in England, it rains all the time and a short pass shouldn’t be too difficult to take when the game is over and you have already won.

Australia next week

Undoubtedly Australia will pose a far sterner test next week, and it is a game England have to win to prove they are still going forward and the last couple of defeats were only minor blips.

For the final test I would select based on Samoa, and ring a few changes. I know this will undoubtedly never happen but I can only hope. Firstly Owen Farrell is not fit or in form, he has barely played for Saracens this season and there is no harm in sending him back to get himself sorted for the Six Nations. We all know he is solid with the boot and in defence, even if Ken Pisi palmed him off with ease, but he still failed to release the back three or present an attacking threat himself. It says a lot that Billy Twelvetrees, who is NOT the solution, looked more of a threat in his short cameo, even though I don’t recall him making a single pass. Twelvetrees and Farrell are very similar, both solid in defence with a good boot, and in this area Farrell is better than the Gloucester captain, so there is no point having a like for like on your bench. Farrell should at least be on the bench for the Wallabies game, with Ford starting at 10. I would say Farrell should go back to Sarries and Cipriani should be given another shot from the bench but the chances of this happening are almost as slim as me starting at 10 next week at Twickenham, so I will be happy for Farrrell to be on the bench.

This opens up the centres again and I think Kyle Eastmond has done nothing wrong, he hasn’t even had enough ball to do anything wrong with, nor has he been torn to ribbons in defence so bring him back! Plus Eastmond will reform his club partnership with Ford, which will only help the two play more smoothly against a strong Aussie backline. Now again this won’t happen but Jonathon Joseph is cutting club teams apart for fun, so give him a shot, we know what Brad Barritt can do, he can defend very well, but we have yet to see what Joseph can do so why not utilise him now, as a trial for the Six Nations against Australia where less is at stake?

The pack against Samoa were excellent and I found Tom Wood added little that James Haskell didn’t provide so I would keep him at 6. Ben Morgan was also excellent and he deserves to continue his run in the team. Yet, I would select Billy Vunipola on the bench, because he provides an impact that Wood cannot ball in hand, and after 60 minutes of Test rugby I know who I’d rather run at me…Although tough on Rob Webber, he would be the only change, for the more experienced Hartley, who I would bring back into the starting fifteen, with Webber an excellent impact replacement.

Finally and most controversially I would drop Mike Brown. This is not a reflection on hims as a player, I think he has been one of England’s best player for the last two years, but he is out of form. Mike Brwon in last year’s Six Nations would not have dropped the pass against Samoa or New Zealand with a try almost certain. I would move Watson to full back, where he will probably end up in a few years, and has played many times before. He will be even more dangerous running from deep and returning kicks with the extra space offered at full back. This again leaves the wing open. While Yarde butchered a possible length of the field try by delaying a pass to Brown, he is a great prospect, but again lacking form. So I would select Semesa Rokoduguni on the wing. He played for Bath at the weekend so must be fit. Rokoduguni barely touched the ball against the All Blacks, but is the in-form wing in the premiership, making by far the most metres, while defensively he fronted up to Julian Savea on his debut. Not only this I would select Rokoduguni because otherwise it makes his cap against New Zealand pointless if he doesn’t get a chance to actually prove himself with ball in hand.

At scrum-half I felt Ben Youngs kept the ball moving quickly and did nothing to justify him being dropped, while Danny Care will be eager to prove himself again from the bench!

I think this team would be the best one on form over the season and Autumn internationals to take on the Wallabies.

15. Anthony Watson

14. Semesa Rokoduguni

13. Jonathon Joseph (but realistically Brad Barritt)

12. Kyle Eastmond

11. Jonny May

10. George Ford

9. Ben Youngs

8. Ben Morgan

7. Chris Robshaw (capt.)

6. James Haskell

5. Dave Attwood

4. Coutrney Lawes

3. Dave Wilson

2. Dylan Hartley

1. Joe Marler

Replacements:

16. Rob Webber

17. Kieran Brookes

18. Mat Mullan

19. George Kruis

20. Billy Vunipola

21. Danny Care

22. Danny Cipriani (but realistically Owen Farrell)

23. Mike Brown

Firstly I’d like to say I’m not a Bath fan, and have based my backline on the form players over the Autumn and Premiership season so far. I think England should not look at the world cup but at winning their next game, as if they keep doing this they will develop the team to win the next game, and then the next and so on until they possibly win the World cup…

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