Well, England remain triumphant and unbeaten so far this Autumn. It was evident that after a committed, yet technically ‘lacking’ display against the Wallabies last weekend, England needed to come out the blocks with dynamism, power and tactical dominance. With Wade and Yarde both ruled out due to injury, Ashton was given another opportunity to prove his fine finishing ability which has been non-existent of late. It also allowed Saints starlet, Ben Foden to start on the Left Wing, which gave England further certainty under the high ball. England also made a full sweep of changes in the Front Row, with Vunipola injured and an average performance from both Tom Youngs and Cole last Saturday, gave Marler, Hartley and Wilson chance to impress. With an Argentinian side who have shown both powerful short play and ruthless wide play during the Rugby Championship this year, an England win was far from set in stone. The opportunity to impress new Head Coach Daniel Hourcade was motivation enough for stand-in Captain, Leguizamon’s side.
A first-half performance gave England a 24-6 lead at the Half Time whistle. England demonstrated a fantastic ruck clearing ability, allowing Dickson to maintain some quick ball that gave England an early platform to tally up some points. The Northampton Saints combination of Hartley, Lawes, Wood and Dickson gave England dynamism and fantastic continuity that led to easy penalties for Farrell and tries from Launcbury and Twelvetrees. It seemed that any English forward was confident in the first receiver position, and not only would they work to get over the Gain Line, they would endeavour to keep the ball alive as to suck in Argentinian defenders and exploit the space out wide. On quite a few occasions, witty play from the Saints quartet allowed England to make influential breaks in the wide areas. This continuity and go forward gave England the majority of first half territory, and was helped by the evasive, intelligent running game of Harlequins Full Back, Mike Brown. Defensive play was top-class once again, and the likes of Robshaw, Wood and Lawes all led from the front. Line speed put the Argentinian Halfbacks under immense pressure and cut off any attacks at the source. The flooding of the midfield made light work for Foden and Ashton who weren’t particularly tested.
First half set piece was delightful to watch. Hartley, a brutal, aggressive, sometimes over eager player was terrific in the loose, carrying ball and making the hard yards, whilst simultaneously hitting his man at Lineout time. Galarza and Albacete were given minimal opportunity to contest for Lineout ball and it gave England their first try after a lovely rolling maul that was finished by Launchbury. However, when scrummaging against one of the world’s most effective in Argentina, it can make it hard for team’s to earn crucial penalties and platforms. Yet, England maintained their solidity in the Scrum and didn’t let the likes of Ayerza get the better of them on regular occasion.
Perhaps this rounded, ruthless performance from England for a full 80 minutes would have turned a few a heads, and potentially put a doubt in the back of New Zealanders minds, but, as is expected of England, it was a tale of two halves.
With many expecting England to capitalise on the first 40 minutes, supporters, coaches and player alike will have been disappointed with the response. Argentina were allowed back into the game with a handful of technical errors and a dissipating backline structure. England were exploited similarly to last week, when chasing a kick they expected to force play back in-field but allowed Argentinian replacement Cordero to find space down the short side, only to be stopped by the arm of Danny Care. The replay underlined the poor defensive structure with a scattered chasing line that almost encouraged the Pumas to counter-attack. Also, it seemed like around the rucks, in the guard positions, Argentina grew more assured in taking short ball up with the forwards and punching small holes in the midfield.
When England had ball in hand, it was evident that the chemistry and connection was still minimal. Even though Twelvetrees added to England’s distribution and gave England two options at Fly Half, the midfield partnership once again left a lot to be desired. Both Centres carried ball with intent, but regularly over ran passes and tried to overplay with the odd unnecessary offload. Over running the play meant that England were regularly put under pressure at the breakdown with the likes of Foden and Ashton having to come back to cover sloppy ball. Farrell seemed to switch off in the last 40 with his more recent flatter, threatening play receding into angular, lifeless running that ultimately put the players outside him under unnecessary pressure.
On the other hand, there was some positives from the Second Half. Corbisiero made a sudden influence in the Scrum, which can only mean good news ahead of next week. Both Parling and Goode returned to the fray for some needed game time, which means the Red Roses now certainly do have strength in depth.
In order to beat the All Blacks next weekend we need to ensure our kicking game is spot on, and doesn’t allow for a Dagg or Jane counter-attack. We also need to ensure we cut off New Zealand’s danger at the source. If we can put Carter and Nonu under immense pressure, as well as their breakdown, we can hopefully force New Zealand into making mistakes inside their own half. If we continue to carry ball like we did in todays first 40 minutes and combine that with tremendous defence and work rate, we can battle New Zealand in the backs. In the forwards, as long as Lawes and co. continue to make offensive tackles and the likes of Corbisiero, Hartley and Launchbury can ensure a solid set piece, we will be in with more than a fighting chance. A French team full of newcomers managed to pressurise New Zealand, and deserved much more than the 26-19 loss.
I sincerely hope we can push on!
1. Joe Marler- 7- He carried plenty of ball and held his own in the Scrum. Has to be England’s third choice at Loosehead.
2. Dylan Hartley-9- Man of the Match because of his accurate throwing, fantastic in the loose. Showed why he was originally picked for the Lions.
3. David Wilson- 7- Stern scrummager. He offers aggression and power. Better form than Cole.
4. Joe Launchbury- 7- Turning into a wonderful player. Hugely physical for someone so young.
5. Courtney Lawes- 7- One of the shining lights of the day alongside his club colleagues. Enjoys getting in the face of the attack. Him and Launchers are like an extra two Back-Rowers.
6. Tom Wood- 9- Enigmatic. Has a wonderfully balanced attacking and defensive game.
7. Chris Robshaw- 7- He always does the basics right. Nothing OTT. The man to lead England forward.
8. Billy Vunipola- 8- I think Billy was fantastic. He played like a 30 cap Number 8. Could barely fault him.
9. Lee Dickson- 8- Proven himself to the doubters. Great energy, yet needs to get some consistency in his game.
10. Owen Farrell- 6- He made his kicks, tackles and had good vision with the boot. However, im still wary of his attacking play. Lacklustre second half.
11. Ben Foden- 7- Great to see him back. Great upper body strength and threatened down the wing. Like to see him in the 11 shirt against NZ.
12. Billy Twelvetrees- 7- Much improved from last week. Got over the gain line and gave England another kicking and passing option.
13. Joel Tomkins- 6- Still haven’t seen his offloading game. Got tackled rather easily and didn’t make the most of good ball.
14. Chris Ashton- 4- Sorry to say, I think his time is finally up. He couldn’t even finish his Try confidently.
15. Mike Brown- 9- Tremendous. Always manages to wriggle out of the first challenge.
16. Tom Youngs- 5
17. Alex Corbisiero- 7
18. Dan Cole- No real impact
19. Geoff Parling- 6
20. Ben Morgan- 7
21. Danny Care- 6
22. Toby Flood- 6
23. Alex Goode-No real impact
Next week’s team-