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Light on the horizon

Ryan reviews England's form ahead of Italy clash

Features Posted 9th February 2012 view comments

It was a fantastic result for Stuart Lancaster's new England and nobody can take anything away from them. To win in Murrayfield is no small task as many sides with greater experience than this one will testify.

Three new caps in the starting XV and eight in total across the squad, Chris Robshaw and his men will have been delighted that their new dawn opened with an away victory.

Lancaster's efforts to create unity and willingness to play for a common cause certainly paid dividend with the whole 22 players' commitment to grinding out a result being one shining positive in a drab afternoon.

Botha: solid in defence for England

Botha: solid in defence for England

Efforts to force values and behaviour to the forefront of this current squad's thoughts not only gave England a tangible return on the playing field but also firmly drew a thick black line under events in New Zealand.

Somehow I can't see Robshaw and his teammates playing football with the Calcutta Cup post game down Princes Street under this new regime!

Selection

Team selection will be under all the more scrutiny now that England have played and Lancaster will need to strike the right balance between creating stability and confidence in the squad - something that is crucial for such a young group - and competition for places.

It is essential against Italy that we get some sort of indication of progress in this aspect because if the opening weekend is anything to go by then the challenges of France, Ireland and Wales are a significant step up.

Dean Ryan
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Lancaster shouldn't hold back if he feels the need to make changes as the foundations of creating a squad are built around people getting their opportunities to play.

Key areas that were under the spotlight going into the Scotland game were:

Second Row

Mouritz Botha wasted no time in introducing himself to international rugby with his willingness to sacrifice his own health to the defensive cause.

Tom Palmer wasn't at his best and looks laboured when tasked with running the lineouts. A similar performance in England's 2010 pre-Christmas internationals opened the door for Louis Deacon to come back in.

With Geoff Parling's contribution in the second half breathing down his neck, Palmer will have to lift his game against Italy if given the chance.

Back Row:

I don't think we are any closer to solving our best back row dilemma. I am still not convinced that the balance is right.

While recognising that the form players in England currently are all labelled as six-and-a-halves I still believe that when occupying the role at international level they need to be allowed to apply all their efforts to the specifics of the position they are occupying.

At the moment England seem to be sharing all the job requirements of a six, seven and eight across all three players.

This is best illustrated at when England are defending at lineouts where Croft is used to shut down the front ball and occasionally Robshaw was tasked with going up at the back.

This may give England their best defensive lineout but makes us vulnerable when opposition teams attack down the centre channel as our first defender to get around on the far side was often Dan Cole.

Not only does this make England at risk on the inside shoulder of Hodgson or Barritt off the next phase (an area where Scotland made inroads) but it makes it impossible to judge whether Robshaw is our next seven.

If England are to look at a more balanced back row allowing each player to concentrate on his own specifics then I wouldn't be surprised to see Ben Morgan force his way in. His late 15-minute cameo had all the hallmarks of an eight comfortable in his own skin, captured best with a surge off the back of a scrum when Cole had got the right-hand side up.

Quality No.8's don't need second invitations to have a rumble at opposition midfield backs.

Midfield combination:

The other area of some debate has been in the midfield where Bradley Barritt made a mockery of his non-selection in recent seasons.

Adapting to the pace of international rugby can take some players their first few outings but Barritt looked like he had been there for years.

What he may lack in pace he certainly makes up in speed of thought and his defensive efforts kept England in the contest.

Owen Farrell struggled early on to make a contribution but grew in confidence when able to get in at first receiver more often, a position that allows his kicking game the opportunity to come to the fore.

There are still question marks over England's creativity in their attacking game and they looked more comfortable when they played a more conservative and direct game in the second half.

With the return of Manu Tuilagi in the next few weeks England certainly have the physical/direct game to trouble teams but the real challenge is whether they can develop a wider more dynamic style.

Playing Style

We shouldn't hide from the fact that this was not thing of beauty and Lancaster's pre match thoughts of England playing with a second receiver in Owen Farrell capable of bringing a pacey back three into the game never really materialised and a half-time shift in tactics was evident.

England's challenge - while having a foundation of a very organised and direct approach with front five forwards playing off nine to get them over gain lines quickly - must be to develop on a wider front.

While the more direct approach can give you easier continuity and an error-free framework, when used as the only type of attack it is fairly predictable and the more physical of opponents will meet the gain line battle with some relish. England's forwards have some work to do to establish themselves as kings in this area.

The key is to strike a balance where opponents are not able to predict where you will strike next therefore England's inability to get this right is of some concern.

It is essential against Italy that we get some sort of indication of progress in this aspect because if the opening weekend is anything to go by then the challenges of France, Ireland and Wales are a significant step up.

Now at the same time as we shouldn't be quick to criticise a team on the back of a poor result we shouldn't also herald the dawn of a new era on the back of a positive one.

This was an important win for a young group finding their feet at Test match level but in reality it was a poor performance against an even poorer opposition.

England will have to drastically improve on this if they are to trouble the other Six Nation contenders.

Predictions

Italy v England - Away win

France v Ireland - Home win

Wales v Scotland - Home win

Comments (2)

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Barry Bunn says...

Last week I predicted that England would win but win ugly. However nothing prepared for just how dire and ugly we would be. I thought maybe, just maybe it was not as bad as I first thought but on review it was anti-rugby rubbish. I said, before that┐we have no heavy ball carriers in the tight five and that we have selected a backrow chock full of club sixes, playing out of position who themselves can not carry and finally I said the mid-field is the worst England have ever put out none of them can either, run and pass, make a break, send a dummy or a feint or do anything remotely interesting. I think I was absolutely correct. We passed the ball 58 times; Wales passed it 177 and France 132. We actually ran with the ball (you know the thing we all like) only 64 times, compared to France 91 and Wales 106 and we made a total of 223 meters, again compared to Ireland 332 and Wales 433 and Italy 458 and France 473, wow we were so poor. We have 3 X 6's in the b'row and 2 X12's on the pitch and another 12 on the bench. So, last week i thought we would win. This week I am going to bet we lose. We look like an average club side. You would not believe we are the current 6 nations champions would you?

Posted 15:22 10th February 2012

Greg O connor says...

France are rightly favorites for this game against Ireland but don't be surprise if we see Ireland seek a win here as they love when they are the underdogs. I have ever seen a team to play as well as Ireland when they are not expected to win e.g (the "world cup Ireland vs Australia ... Ireland were big underdogs here and won".)

Posted 16:50 9th February 2012

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