“I know some fans will have doubted England after their defeat at the end of November, but I’d say now is the time to keep the faith in what Martin Johnson, his coaches and the players are doing. The biggest lesson we learnt from the autumn Tests was that successful teams need a clear philosophy and must then play it. From an England point of view, everyone should now be clear about how they’re trying to play the game, something that some would argue wasn’t necessarily the case before.
Last month it was more ball in hand-orientated, especially running from deep, irrespective of the lines on the pitch. If it was on to run, they went, and tried to stretch the defence. They also tried to keep a lot more tempo and pace in the game and they brought dynamism, which is the way I believe the game should be played.
It’s now a matter of honing that game plan and bringing in players who can excel within it. You can’t keep throwing the bath water out every time as that just leads to a dilution of potential. I look at the Toulouse model. Toulouse haven’t changed the way they play in 20 years and they’re still one of the most successful sides in Europe.
It takes time to get everyone up to the true clarity and precision of the system, but if that is what England want to do, they need to build on it and not keep starting again. Let’s try and evolve from where we are now and move on, rather than have a look at a different way of playing.
England have some powerful runners in Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes and Chris Ashton. They have some dynamic forwards who give them go-forward. The best thing about November was the way they were able to inflict that tempo on Australia, who are probably the quickest team in world rugby. It just shows you can dictate tempo to them.”
“New Zealand are ranked No 1 and they showed why last month,” Booth continues. “They don’t drive that much but their pick-and-go is very direct and strong, so they have the ability to change from a power-orientated game to an open-field game.
For England the two most physical contests were against Samoa and South Africa, and there is still no substitute for physicality. Like London Irish at Northampton, we came second in the contest physically and as a result, no matter how quick you’re trying to play, you’re then unlikely to win. That is what physicality does to you.
We know England have got good physicality by the way they defended in the first 20 minutes against South Africa. But it’s about many things, including focus, mental fatigue and concentration. Philosophies are all well and good but ultimately rugby is a physical contest, it’s me against you.
Lawes and Dan Cole were excellent and while England don’t need to discover another group of young players, as I think this group is good enough, don’t forget they have guys like Riki Flutey and Jonny Wilkinson, although Toby Flood has surpassed him by some distance, coming back into the squad.
France went for depth at all costs, introducing more and more new players rather than clarity at the top. I don’t think England need to do that ten months from the next World Cup.”