Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Brian Moore: England's backs go missing in action against Ireland

The Twickenham agnostics, are metaphorically starting to hum this refrain after Martin Johnson's claim that England's narrow loss to Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday showed "there is still obviously a lot more in us".

The responsibility for this inability to score tries, or make repeated openings, has been laid squarely at Jonny Wilkinson's feet, but this game showed that the defect is far from his sole

responsibility. Riki Flutey's contribution from No 12 is the key to taking the right options during open play and whatever creative light he possesses it was hidden so far under the bushel as to be virtually invisible. He was simply missing in action.

When you add to this the failure of Mathew Tait to demand the ball, the continued non-communication between the back three and the technically-flawed service of his scrum-half, you see that Wilkinson is shouldering much of the criticism for what is a systemic failure of England's backs.

It is unfair and inaccurate to single out the No 10 when there are a multitude of other contributory factors: Toby Flood, for example, would have done no better last Saturday. Moreover, even if Wilkinson had played flawlessly, the refusal of nearly all his fellow backs to accept their responsibility to think clearly and act accordingly would have rendered his contribution worthless.

The most damning aspect of England's loss, however, was the one problem that has been highlighted so often that it has almost become accepted as a natural state of affairs; something intractable, criticised only by those who are fatally out of touch with the essentials of the modern game – slow ball. How many times does this point have to be made before it is addressed properly? The body positions of players taking the ball into contact, their delivery of the ball when going to ground, the failure of clearing players to go beyond the ball – all these remain clear. Without a solution to this malaise, England cannot progress properly and it is time someone was held to account.

Fortunately the French have been almost single-handedly showing that, sporadically, northern hemisphere rugby is capable of matching its southern counterpart. Their first-half dismantling of the Welsh was as clinical as was their mistaken tactical decision to sit back and play for territory in the second half, which merely ceded ball to a struggling opposition who gleefully accepted the implicit invitation to attack.

In making this mistake the French showed they are not immune from the muddled thinking that passes as 'the game today'. What remains ineluctable is that without the ball you cannot score and kicking the ball long means you do not have the ball. Perhaps the simplicity of this notion renders it unacceptable to modern thinkers who insist on cloaking everything in jargon.

The seismic change in the French attitude to defence has underpinned every success they have achieved in the last two years and if they can rid themselves of even a modicum of inconsistency, they have the chance to mount a serious World Cup challenge.

The Scots have been handed a similar lecture, albeit that theirs has come at the other end of the spectrum; it takes only one period in which you dominate, but do not score, to see you scrapping for the wooden spoon.

This Six Nations rugby has been distinctly average, although it still produces the unexpected and has provided several tight finishes; in this at least it continues to demonstrate its worth.

France V England Hospitality

Scotland V England Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

No comments:

Post a Comment