By Jamie Hosie
Two from two for England and they’ve hit the targets many would have set before the autumn series started. Despite the results, however, there is still plenty to be improved upon.
On a strange day at Twickenham, the 31-12 scoreline against Argentina suggested a dominant performance that did not entirely reflect the reality of the game.
1. An eighty-minute performance is needed
For forty minutes, everything was rosy for England. There was fluency, cohesion and an attacking intent that had been lacking against Australia, and a 24-6 scoreline at the break, with three tries under their belt, was a fair reflection of that. After half-time, however, things could not have been different. They failed to score another point until the 77th minute, and Argentina even looked at times like they were in with a chance of stealing an unlikely comeback win. If England are to have any chance of beating the All Blacks next weekend, they will need to put together a complete eighty-minute performance, not just forty.
2. The Northampton Connection
For years, the backbone of the England team has been made up of Leicester Tigers players. On Saturday, however, there was not a single Tiger in the starting line-up and instead, there were five of their great local rivals, Northampton Saints. Club connections help an international side gel, and the five Saints all performed superbly to drive England to an impressive lead they should have consolidated further. Hartley and Lawes were particularly impressive.
3. Real competition for places starting to develop
Certain positions in this England squad are starting to look very healthy. In the front row Joe Marler’s scrummaging demons were nowhere to be seen as he outplayed the vaunted Argentine pack, and with Alex Corbisiero and Mako Vunipola both in the mix, that side of the scrum is well catered for. Next to them, Dylan Hartley was superb and will put pressure on Tom Youngs, while the line-out went well under the stewardship of Courtney Lawes, meaning Geoff Parling’s place is perhaps no longer as assured as it was. Ben Morgan looked back to form after Billy Vunipola’s stellar performance last weekend, and when you consider the players still to return from injury, England can be confident they have a good, solid squad.
4. Why was anyone questioning Robshaw?
There was much speculation about whether Chris Robshaw would be England captain and, indeed, if he even merited his place in this England side. Two games into the autumn series, and Lancaster’s decision to stick with his man has been more than vindicated. Robshaw is not blessed with star quality, and is not the shouty, aggressive type of captain, but he leads by example and on Saturday that example was exemplary. He made twenty tackles in total, and played his usual linkman role superbly, completing nine passes.
5. Ashton better… but still not good enough
A try, an assist, 83 metres made and three offloads… on paper Chris Ashton’s performance was of the highest quality. While there were some nice touches, there was still too much average fare and poor mistakes for a winger on the international stage. He butchered a one-on-one in the first half to be held up over the line, and was stepped far too easily by Cordero in the second period. He may well be retained to play the All Blacks next week – that is not the time to throw Wade in – but after that, his place in the team may well be at stake.
Jamie Hosie (@jhosie43)