With England’s tour of New Zealand ending in a series whitewash to the hosts, Stuart Lancaster and his team will have plenty to reflect on ahead of the World Cup next year. With little over a year to go England will need to learn their lessons fast if they are to have any hope of claiming the title on home soil. Here are 21 things the England coaching team will have learnt from their tour of New Zealand;
1. They are still a long way off being a top 3 side
Whilst England managed to remain within touching distance of the All Blacks during the first two tests, at times they were completely blown off the park. Currently South Africa and Australia both look much more likely to be able to keep up with the All Blacks.
2. They’re still no closer to knowing their starting XV
Lancaster is now no closer to knowing his first choice XV than when he began the tour three weeks ago. Certain positions were already filled after the teams performance during the 6 Nations but the problem areas still remain an issue as nobody has really stood out.
3. Danny Cipriani needs more game time over the next 12 months
Cipriani has finally paid his penance and now looks more than committed to the cause. In his brief appearances on the tour he has looked calm and calculated behind a solid pack and shown in flashes the brilliance he possesses in offence. He is a serious contender to start but now just needs the game time to prove it.
4. Lawes & Launchbury should start in the second row
I can see the merit in having Geoff Parling in the England side, especially given his influence at the line-out, however Lawes & Launchbury offer so much more. They proved during the 6 Nations what an effective combination they are and must therefore start any games they are fit for.
5. Chris Ashton deserves another chance
He may not be the most popular player in the country but there’s no doubting Ashton’s finishing ability. Being dropped from the team seems to have spurred him on and he has come back stronger as a result. England have a serious issue finishing off moves, and in Ashton they have a natural born finisher.
6. Andy Farrell needs some one-on-one time with Yarde and Ashton
The England wings looked dangerous in attack however caused serious concerns in defence. Farrell must therefore spend some time with the pair of them focussing on their first up tackling to ensure they’re not slipping off and giving the opposition easy yards.
7. Manu Tuilagi needs to learn to kick
It seems likely that Tuilagi will start for England in the 13 shirt at next years World Cup so must spend the next 12 months developing his game. Ma’a Nonu has shown the importance of developing his all round game and in order to be completely effective Tuilagi needs to develop these subtleties to his game.
8. Ben Morgan should start the next game
I feel a little sorry for Billy Vunipola having come off of a physically and mentally draining season with Saracens. Unfortunately he looked a long way off his best during the tests with New Zealand whilst Ben Morgan performed exceptionally.
9. Re-starts need to be addressed as a matter of urgency
On a number of occasions short kick-offs from Aaron Cruden resulted in easy turnover ball for the All Blacks. In contrast England kicked long and gave space to New Zealand’s dangerous backs. They therefore need to work on competing for their own kick-offs whilst ensuring they secure the oppositions restarts.
10. The kicking game still remains a serious issue
Lancaster must have watched on in frustration as time and time again England kicked straight into All Black hands handing the initiative back to their opponents. In contrast New Zealand’s kicking game often resulted in territory and/or relieved pressure during difficult moments.
11. Key playmakers need to work on game management
At times England’s ambition was the undoing of them as instead of relieving the pressure and kicking for touch players attempted to run the ball. This is a key element of the game that England need to work on as this kind of decision making will be key during the World Cup.
12. Key men need a rest
Several of England’s players looked well off their best during the tour of New Zealand. Whilst this was largely down to the pressure applied by the All Blacks at key moments, it still appeared some players looked jaded. The likes of Brown, Vunipola and Wood looked to be struggling after a long season and therefore need a rest this year.
13. James Haskell deserves another shot
Haskell proved in the first test that he has back to his very best and definitely deserves to be part of the England squad. His versatility makes him an ideal player for the World Cup, however he needs to be rewarded with more game time over the next 12 months so he can push Wood and Robshaw hard for a start.
14. Burrell and Tuilagi should start the next test in the centres
The first 40 minutes of the final test unfortunately proved that Eastmond is not the man to play at inside centre for England (although he should definitely be in the squad). Burrell and Tuilagi need the opportunity to play a couple of games together to see if they are capable of establishing a partnership for the World Cup.
15. Sam Burgess has one hell of a challenge ahead of him
Lancaster needs applauding for experimenting with his squad during the tour of New Zealand, however what it proved is that you need several seasons, not just a couple of games to embed new players into the team. For me Burgess has too much to learn to be considered a serious option for England’s World Cup campaign in 2015.
16. Lancaster needs to settle on a third choice tighthead
Whilst most of the positions in the England team have a fairly established pecking order, tighthead prop is one area of slight concern. Whilst Henry Thomas seems to have been the preferred option until the last game or two, Kieran Brookes looks more capable of backing up Dan Cole and David Wilson.
17. Three players need to step up to being World Class in the next year
England have a number of players who look capable of being one of the best in their position in the world, but need those players to step up now. Whilst New Zealand have a number of players like this in the side, England are still yet to find their key men who can make the difference during tight games.
18. England need to find another top class finisher
Both Yarde and Ashton have proved they are more than capable of finishing off difficult chances, however they need at least one more player capable of making space out of nothing. Tuilagi can barge his way over the try line, however Lancaster needs to find another man who can finish off the difficult chances.
19. The communication needs to improve
At times during the three tests the communication between England’s players seemed to be lacking. There were a number of occasions when players ran into one another or failed to call the defensive line out wide to cover overlaps. It’s therefore important for England to improve the communication between players.
20. The defence needs to be more aware
Over the last couple of years England’s defence has improved significantly as they managed to hold out against teams in difficult circumstances. Unfortunately in the third test this went to bits as players were sucked inside leaving huge overlaps out wide that New Zealand duly exploited with ease.
21. Lancaster needs to select a starting XV and stick with it
Just a year out from the World Cup Stuart Lancaster now needs to be playing his first choice XV for as many games as possible barring any injury issues. This will allow the team a full year to properly gel and get used to one another in a test match environment.
What do you think will be the key lesson Stuart Lancaster and England will take from their tour of New Zealand?