With the fallout of England’s early exit from the Rugby World Cup, we take a look at nine things that they got totally wrong…
1. Not sticking with a game plan that was working
Over the last 18 months or so, England have been playing a more open style of rugby that has seen them scoring plenty of tries and testing the opposition. For some reason this all changed after the opening day win over Fiji and saw England revert to a more conservative game plan that invited the opposition to attack them. The introduction of Ford against the Wallabies showed how much of an issue this was.
2. Dropping Dylan Hartley
If you look at the percentages, England’s line out performed quite well at the World Cup. Watch the game tapes though and it tells a very different story with poor set piece ball providing no attacking platform. Whilst Hartley may be an absolute idiot, his non-inclusion in the squad was a major turning point that significantly damaged England’s performance at the set piece at a time when they needed it to be solid.
3. Not selecting Steffon Armitage
A controversial one for some, but the reality is England were shown up badly by the likes of Warburton, Qera, Hooper and Pocock who absolutely dominated them at the breakdown. Given Armitage has been the best openside in Europe the last couple of years, he could have made a world of difference for England and allowed them to compete effectively at the breakdown where games have been won and lost.
4. Making poor decisions under pressure
The glaringly obvious one here is the option to kick for the corner instead of going for the posts against Wales, however there were many more instances of poor decision making. Opting to carry on running the ball rather than taking the three against Australia was another glaring mistake. These continued failures to take the points when they were on offer have cost England dearly.
5. Dropping George Ford to the bench
We’ve already touched on this above, but the decision to drop Ford to the bench is inexplicable. There’s no doubting that Farrell played well, however England looked an entirely different side when Ford was pulling the strings at 10. There are no guarantees it would have made a difference to the eventual results, but you can’t help but feel it would have given England a fighting chance of scoring a few more tries.
6. Selecting a bench that had no impact
This was most obvious against Wales when England left Alex Goode on the bench despite their desperate need for points. By selecting players who were safe options, it meant that when the side fell behind, it was difficult for them to get back into the game as they didn’t have players who could come on and make a difference. This was contrasted by both Australia and Wales whose benches made an immediate impact.
7. The pack
I’ve not got a clue what went wrong here, but after years of being fairly solid, particularly in the scrum, England’s pack regressed significantly heading into the World Cup. They looked reasonably good against Wales, but against both Australia and Fiji the scrum was marched backwards, whilst they were comprehensively beaten at the breakdown. This despite the pack being pretty similar to the one that beat Australia last year.
8. The midfield selections
I’m keen not to pinpoint any individuals here as this was a collective failing by England, but the midfield was one key failing. There was a lack of experience in the midfield in every single game with many untried combinations being used at the World Cup for the first time. When Joseph was unavailable through injury, the English midfield selection was also excessively conservative and curbed the creativity of the back three.
9. Not giving younger players a chance
The likes of Henry Slade, Jack Nowell and Jamie George performed exceptionally well in the build up to the World Cup yet weren’t even given the chance to come on off the bench during the first three games. If the coaching team weren’t confident enough to play them against quality opposition then they shouldn’t have been selected in the first place. I’m sure many England fans will wonder what could have been had Slade been given a chance though.