England march onto Ireland at home in Twickenham on February the 27th with two wins from two and without conceding a try in those two away games, all positives along with the fact they lie top of the 6 nations after 2 rounds right? i don’t quite think so. For the first half the game was more than even with England going into half time with a 11 9 lead only due to a missed penalty by the very promising Italian/Ex policeman Fly half Carlo Canna.
England lacked a real intensity first half with a very average attack, their only try of the half coming from a very good bomb kick from Bath stand off George Ford and fantastic hunger from Mike Brown with the chase subsequently resulting in turnover ball against a unorganised Italian defence. The ball was whipped out wide with a switch from Farrell to Billy Vunipola then back to Farrell with him delivering a majestic pass to Ford to finish a well worked try in the corner, that was it from England in the first half holding onto a 11 9 lead by half time.
The 2nd half England did run away with it with their bench making a very positive impact in the likes of touted future England captain Maro Itoje, George, Marler, Clifford and Danny Care especially making a impact on the game. You have to ask the question though, if England did not get that 2nd try from a Joseph interception which was poorly given away by Italy would of they pulled away and had the 40 point victory? I’m not entirely sure along with this of course Italy’s fitness is not up to scratch and that even showed in their loss to France 2 weeks ago with them dropping off in the last 15 minutes.
England’s bench was a real good sign for the future though with Itoje, Clifford, and George making the biggest of impacts especially who firmed the scrummage up, furthermore offloading to Farrell for England’s final try which was All Black esk. I think England did very well last 15 minutes to blow Italy away and get that gap in score by the final whistle and credit has to been given to Joseph who had a average first half but made up for it with a cracking 2nd half trick. Questions still have to be asked about England’s midfield as there were cracks in Joseph’s first half performance, asking the question should Daly the inform centre in European rugby be given a chance at 13.
Jones has said that he thinks Daly, Itoje will have 60 odd caps but the end of their careers at least so why not start at least one of them now? Marler made a good impact off the bench too with me now correcting my past statement in the fact i think Marler is the best loosehead England can START. Mako Vunipola did not take advantage of getting his start and was subbed just after the 50 minute mark, with England now reverting to their previous tactic of starting with Marler then subbing on Mako for the last half hour. You will get the best out out of both players with Mako being like a steam roller off the bench showing off his carrying/offloading game along with evermore improving scrummaging.
Jamie George deserves a mention as well with his impact more than evident, not just creating the try for Farrell with a great offload but the scrum was going forward more the linnet looked more slick and there is genuine pressure on Hartley now if Bedford boy George carries on these performances off the bench. Eddie Jones did get right the selection of starting Ben Youngs (the safer option over Care) right though even though Youngs did not have best game he somehow got MOTM.
Care’s impact off the bench was evident though with a lot quicker ball being delivered from he breakdown, this had the added effect of increasing the intensity but also speed England played at with them running a lot harder and straight in the last 20 minutes. That in itself blew Italy away, they could not live with it, which asks the question why didn’t England play like that in the first half? i guess we wont know for sure but the subs bench obviously made a big impact along with the Joseph interception just after half time taking England over the 7 point gap, effectively taking pressure off England allowing them to play with more freedom.
‘There can only be one’ the famous quote from the Highlander film is that I’m referring to England’s selection at this current time with playing two 10’s in the 10 and 12 channels, its a temporary fix but as soon as Slade or Tuilagi are fully fit they have to be playing 12. International test teams who want to be the best have to have genuine out and out players playing in the 12 position. Just look at the world cup if you want any example, Burgess playing 12 against Wales played most of his club rugby at 6 for Bath and then Barritt at 13, he’s an out and out 12 who did not have the creativity or individual ability to play 13 especially against Wales to break a defence of they’re quality.
For Ireland the Ford/Farrell axis may work as England will have forward dominance physically and in the scrum, but for Wales i can see Roberts really targeting Farrell plus a far more competitive scrum battle. Overall if your an England fan you cannot complain with two pretty convincing away wins and not conceding a try in the first two 6 nations matches, but the bigger picture is you want to see more creativity and danger from the England backline which includes the likes of Nowell, Watson, Joseph which we have not seen enough of so far apart from that 2nd half blitz of a hatrick from Joseph.
England lay top of the 6 nations table after the first two rounds with a style of rugby we expected, set piece dominant focusing on scrum which has been a lot better this year already after a poor world cup. Lineout has been the best in the 6 nations so far apart from a horrific spell in the first half against Italy where the receiving off the ball was fine from George Kruis, but basic technical errors in the mauling gave away some very cheap penalties allowing Italy a sniff in the first half.
Discipline has to be addressed with England giving away 13 penalties in the Italy game and 10 in the first half, do that against Ireland or Wales there will be trouble with the way Sexton and Biggar kicking at the moment. England improve discipline, sort that mauling business out and carry on that attacking edge they showed in the last 20 minutes against Italy, they could very well be in a good position when it comes to facing Wales on the 12th March. For that game, for me they must have a out and out 12 with talk of Tuilagi returning for that game. They must not overlook Ireland though, who will be desperate for a win over England especially considering they have not won a single game yet. when they face a sore Ireland side who will be without Tullow tank Sean O’Brien.
By Cameron Petrie