We take a look at nine things the England coaching staff will have learnt from their sides victory over France at Twickenham…
1. I was wrong about Jonny May
I’ll admit to having been a harsh critic of Jonny May over the last year or two, but there’s no doubting he’s really stepped up his game. It wasn’t just in terms of the try he scored or the way he got back to save a try in the opening minutes, but also in the way he positioned himself off the ball, and chased kicks. For me he is more than deserving of a start at the World Cup on current form.
2. If England want a tackling machine at 12, Burgess could be the man
There is a lot of talk of Brad Barritt being England’s preferred option at inside centre, however what Burgess proved is that he can be a defensive lynchpin. He put in a number of big hits, and was right up there in the tackle counts. He also offers slightly more all round than Barritt. Although there are still some obvious issues with his lack of time playing union, he deserves another shot next week.
3. The line speed is impressive
Throughout the game, the line speed of England was impressive as they constantly applied pressure to the French line. There were some obvious issues as French players broke through when gaps appeared, but if they can apply that pressure to the opposition at the World Cup, whilst shoring up some of the gaps over the next couple of weeks then they could be on to a winner.
4. Hooker is a real area of concern
Tom Youngs is England’s obvious first choice hooker, but behind him there have to be serious concerns. Whilst Rob Webber had an ok outing, he still looked some way off his best, whilst Luke Cowan-Dickie doesn’t look quite ready for international rugby yet. The line out was the biggest issue with throws often going awry, and this must be a serious concern for the England management team.
5. There should also be concerns about the back row
Flanker Calum Clark failed to make much of an impact on debut, whilst Tom Wood had a fairly quiet game. Equally Ben Morgan looked like a player who clearly hasn’t played for several months. Chris Robshaw and Billy Vunipola are obviously still yet to come back into the mix, however the blindside much be a serious concern with neither Wood or Haskell offering enough to suggest they deserve the shirt.
6. Brookes and Kruis didn’t do their chances much good
It’s not to say that either prop Kieran Brookes, or lock George Kruis were poor, just that they failed to make much of an impact on the game. Kruis was relatively anonymous bar a few good takes at the line out, whilst Brookes struggled at scrum time. For me, Corbisiero needs a quick run on at tighthead next week to see if he can cover, and if so should make the squad, whilst I’d go with Attwood over Kruis right now.
7. Henry Slade is key to unlocking the back three
There are still a few concerns over Slade, mostly regarding his lack of international experience as we saw on several occasions, however what we cannot deny is his impact when England were on the front foot. His distribution was key to two of England’s tries, whilst he also held up well in other areas. For me, Slade, Burgess, Barritt and Joseph should be the centres, although Burrell deserves a shot.
8. Alex Goode improved his chances considerably
Goode has been one of England’s most criticised players in recent years, however against France he showed his value to the side. He dropped into the line well, and provided an excellent option as a second receiver, helping set up a key try. It was his work off the ball though that was to be most commended, he covered the backfield sublimely and helped ward off a number of French attacks.
9. Anthony Watson has to start
Watson proved to be the difference between England and France as he scored two impressive tries to help his side to victory. His first try in particular was magnificent as he left French winger Brice Dulin for dead with his step, before crossing the try line. He also had a solid shift in defence with a number of important tackles and covers ensuring that he should be England’s first choice winger.