The last few days can’t have been easy for anyone involved in the England set up after a heart wrenching loss to Wales at Twickenham. Despite a solid showing for much of the game, simple errors gave the impetus to a stoic Welsh side who didn’t need a second invitation to claim a famous victory over one of their biggest rivals.
Whilst a three point loss is hardly the catalyst for a major meltdown, it did suggest there are some serious issues in the camp which need addressing as a matter of urgency. Both on and off the field there are concerns for fans given the enormity of the task at hand.
For me the issue began before the game had even kicked off thanks in large part to the coaching teams selection policy. Now in fairness, England almost got the result which would have vindicated some of the selections being made, however they didn’t, but that is only part of the issue.
It’s hard to criticise too much at this stage given the fact Owen Farrell was excellent at 10, whilst Burgess had a much better game than some are giving him credit for. In fact, it was only after the removal of Burgess that England looked somewhat vulnerable in defence.
The problem however is that rather than sticking to a formula that had proved relatively successful in recent seasons, England instead opted to play not to lose rather than to go all out for the win. This is particularly baffling given that England have been particularly successful through the backs this year when playing a more open brand of rugby.
Unfortunately it seems the coaching team lost their bottle somewhat and instead of playing a game that suited their current crop of players, they instead focussed on what Wales would throw at them. Whilst this worked for around 60 minutes, it didn’t say much about the coaching team’s belief in their side to go out and win the game.
The selections harked back to the issue of selecting players on what they can’t do rather than what they can do. As fine of a player as Owen Farrell is, have no doubt that the All Blacks would likely have opted for either Ford or Cipriani to start, safe in the knowledge that either player is more than capable of winning a game rather than simply just not losing it.
Equally, the selection of Burgess spoke more of the sides desire not to concede rather than to go and and score themselves. Given the fine form of Henry Slade in the warm up games, what was the bloody point in bringing him along if he’s not even going to get a chance to sit on the bench when England’s only other creative midfielder Jonathan Joseph is out injured?
And here lies the biggest fault with the selection – the bench. Whilst Richard Wigglesworth and Alex Goode are fine Premiership players, and able deputies, they are hardly the types of players you want coming on in the final 10 minutes when you’re behind and desperately in need of scoring some points.
One of the biggest differences between the two sides was the impact of their collective benches. Even though Wales ended up bringing players on in unfamiliar positions, they still had a positive impact on the game whilst England’s bench actually saw them team regress if anything.
This week against the Wallabies, I implore the England coaching team to select a bench that at least stands a chance of turning a game around should it be necessary. The likes of Danny Care, Henry Slade and Jack Nowell all offer something off the bench that can cause a shift in momentum rather than simply trying to see a game out.
It would also be amiss not to mention the decision to go for the corner rather than the three points in the dying minutes. Look, it was an error with hindsight, but equally it’s good to see that collectively England felt positive enough to roll the dice. At this stage I believe it would be unfair to single players out for the decision or to chastise too much. They will know they made a mistake, and will hopefully have learnt from the experience.
The one completely unforgivable aspect of the defeat to Wales however was the penalty situation. How an international team playing at this level can continually give away penalties for the same infringements is inexplicable and will hopefully have resulted in a hefty bollocking from the management team.
It’s easy to understand the first few as the referee’s have been particularly hot on issues at the breakdown, but to still be giving Wales kickable shots at goal deep into the second half is complete idiocy. It’s not like they won’t have been aware this would be an issue having studied game tapes.
This issue lies primarily with individual error, but the senior leadership group must also shoulder some of the blame for failing to get their troops in line. Any such issues this weekend will guarantee an early exit for the host nation, especially when faced with the impressive duo of David Pocock and Michael Hooper.