Saturday, March 13, 2010

Stuart Barnes's Big Game:France V England

Robinson, the former England head coach, has yet to secure a victory in this year’s competition while England under Johnson are yet to come anywhere near answering the critics with a performance of any imagination or intelligence. So, yes, Ireland and Wales could be the best game of rugby this weekend but this one should have the drama.

Telfer made his assertion based on the opinion that England is no longer much of a team. Johnson can dismiss former players and journalists as having "an agenda" but it is more telling coming from the man who coached him on the successful 1997 Lions tour of South Africa. He cannot snarl and say "what do you know?" because Telfer knows an awful lot and is surely one of the more respected rugby thinkers in Johnson’s eyes.
They were not bad at home to France but were easily beaten and, true, they played close to their limit against Wales and but for injuries would have surely won in Cardiff. Then they went further than even an inept England and lost in Rome with the Scottish forwards banging around one-dimensionally on the Italian line, giving a passable imitation of all the failings Robinson displayed as England’s head man.
They beat Australia, but Australia did everything in their powers to inflict defeat upon themselves. Australia beat themselves before Argentina, who England beat in a desperately dull game that autumn, won in Edinburgh. The theory that Scotland should beat England is difficult to justify.
What is tantalising, however, is the other side of the coin. The argument that England should beat Scotland is an equally unjustifiable assertion because away from home Johnson’s team cannot be banked to win anywhere but in Rome.
The old vices are back with a vengeance. Possession is not a problem but, as in the bad old day’s pre-Clive Woodward, the lions’ share of it was insufficient at home to Ireland. England win ball but it is so slow and static that the backs do not know how to use it. When they do produce quicker service, the back line is far too deep, far too regimented and far too unimaginative.
The quest for a team shape has left them forgetting the importance of having an individual with the ability to break a defensive pattern. England have a great deal to prove but the management, even more than the players, are in the firing line. If the players lack belief or the players are simply the wrong ones, the problem begins and will not be solved until the management is fixed. England’s management will not be changed but they may still be running out of time with the fans.
Defeat in Rome was a desperate disappointment for England but it probably makes life tougher for them. Scotland are not that good a team but they have enough about them to respond to the panic induced by that awful loss to Italy.
Robinson’s role is to channel that desperation. If he achieves that, England are in for a fight. The Scottish scrum is improved and the back row is a proper unit. The Scotland coach will fancy taking advantage of Johnson’s decision to select the hard-tackling Joe Worsley and omit a genuine openside flanker in Lewis Moody to compete with the burgeoning John Barclay. Scotland will not wilt in the set-piece and could outflank England at the breakdown. If they do, the Scottish half backs know what to do.
Chris Cusiter has the defensive capacity to rattle Danny Care, while Dan Parks has the advantage over Wilkinson in the distance and accuracy of his tactical kicking. Should Scotland establish a platform and maintain position it is hard to see where England’s tries will come from.
Whatever the quality of the individuals involved the conservatism that has emanated from the management will not make it easy for England to cast off their shackles and play, like high-class professionals, what is in front of them.

No comments:

Post a Comment