Chris Robshaw's decision making, Owen Farrell's mental strength, Stuart Lancaster's tinkering and England's issues at the breakdown are discussed
By Adam Hathaway
Make your mind up
We have been here before with Chris Robshaw. Three years ago, the England captain was embroiled in a ‘kick or not to kick’ row and he was at it again on Saturday night against Wales at Twickenham. Against Australia, in 2012, Robshaw turned down three kickable penalties and England lost 20-14 and, a week later, against South Africa he asked Owen Farrell to kick a penalty with two minutes on the clock when going for a try looked a better option. That 16-15 defeat is still haunting England because it ensured they slipped out of the top four in the world rankings, just before the draw for this World Cup was made and they were handed their dog’s dinner of a group.
Five minutes after the Wales game, Robshaw would have bitten your hand off for a draw against Wales which makes you wonder why he did not take the three points on offer late in the match.
Clive Woodward, yes him again, used to want his players to Think Correctly Under Pressure, T-CUP as he called it. Robshaw had a brain freeze on Saturday, he can’t afford any more.
Don’t be a tinker man.
If the England captain had a bit of a wobble in the top two inches at Twickenham, then what about the coach? With 69 minutes gone Stuart Lancaster’s team were seven points up and had won the game more than once. So the boss shoves on George Ford, takes off Sam Burgess and shunts Owen Farrell to centre.
There are only three things wrong with this. If you are going to put Ford on then he should have had more than 11 minutes of action, or else don’t bother. Farrell was playing better at 10 than he has for England for a long, long time and Burgess had done everything he had been told to do ie. keep Jamie Roberts quiet. The game should have been in the bag and England let it slip. Substitutes are supposed to add to the team but this one scuppered it. Just because someone is on the bench it does not mean you have to get them on.
Are England the new chokers of world rugby?
Are England the new chokers of world rugby? Every single big, nearly-everything-on-the-line match they have had over the past four years they have fluffed their lines. From the Grand Slam collapse in Cardiff in 2013 to Saturday’sgame at Twickenham they have come off second best. Ireland in Dublin this year, Wales at home in 2012 are amongst the others where Lancaster’s team have been runners-up and if it carries on this weekend against Australia they will be back at their clubs in time for the start of the Premiership.
It used to be New Zealand who blew the big games – in the 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007 World Cups – and in cricket it was the South African side who have a habit of chucking away winning positions. Stuart Lancaster needs to get rid of the tag starting on Saturday or else it will suffocate their World Cup.
England’s breakdown is broken
Referees during this World Cup have been told to pay special attention to players getting their hands, on the ground, in front of the ball at the breakdown. I wonder if anyone bothered to tell Dan Cole, who should be particularly frustrated after giving away a penalty for that offence in the first half of Saturday’s game at Twickenham. Elsewhere, England were pretty much second best at the breakdown against Wales and the two-six-and-a-halves against a genuine number seven (or two when Justin Tipuric came off the bench) shows no sign of abating. England might not have a genuine ball-snaffler but giving away cheap points in that area is a quick way to the World Cup exit door.
As Stuart Lancaster said: “We’ve talked a lot about discipline, and breakdown penalties, and we gave some dumb ones away which kept them in the game.” It is about time the England team listened when the boss talks or else the party will be going on without them in a couple of weeks.
Farrell the iceman
There has been some comment that Owen Farrell was in the England starting line-up because his dad, Andy, happens to be one of the selectors. Stuart Lancaster always maintains he has the final call anyway, but don’t forget that Farrell was benched during the autumn internationals when one of the selectors was…er, his dad, Andy.
The fly-half proved that was garbage, and he should be in the side on merit, at the weekend with his all-round game and he also kicked five penalties, a conversion and a drop goal without missing the sticks once. Farrell is one Ian McGeechan’s beloved ‘Test Match Animals’ who gets the job done, whatever the circumstances. If he is not starting on Saturday then the England selectors really have lost the plot although don’t bet against him starting at number 12.
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