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Stuart Barnes: England will need more than mental strength to beat New Zealand

Stuart Barnes Posted 4th November 2013 view comments

A good win for England but for fifty minutes that was an unashamedly ugly game of rugby; this was an afternoon where the result eclipsed the performance, which is just as well.

A repeat performance next Saturday will take them close to winning with something to spare against an Argentine team hammered by the loss of Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe but a New Zealand ravenous for revenge would tear this sort of English effort to pieces. So would South Africa and Wales for that matter.

Farrell: showed his winning mentality against Australia

Farrell: showed his winning mentality against Australia

That is the bad news but there is plenty of good too. You have to poke beneath the ashes of this eminently forgettable game but they are smouldering.

In the rubble of an English middle that keeps collapsing under the slightest pressure the temperament of Owen Farrell stands out. There can be debate regarding the technical merits of his game but the bloke has an iron temperament. His mental ability to forget a first half that was less than average in all aspects and produce a strong second half is great news. He is not yet a great fly half but he is a winner and any side needs a few of those.

Australia was weak mentally, England was strong. Tick another box because this was the first full scale test match since the calamity in Cardiff and England found the belief to steer a leaky ship to safety.

Stuart Barnes
Quotes of the week

England v Argentina

1.30pm, Sat, Sky Sports 2 HD

Average as England was offensively it was defensively potent around the fringes. Tom Wood was outstanding and Chris Robshaw was not far behind. The defensive work rate of Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes was very good too.

Billy Vunipola is another good news story. He was more effective for England than he has so far been for Saracens which is a fine sign. In a team struggling for the front foot he was the one forward with the combination of raw power and subtle footwork to get England over the gain line.

The other individual to emerge with credit is Mike Brown. The Twickenham crowd was subdued for most of the game (and understandably so) but every time Brown sniffed an opportunity to counter attack he took the game to the Wallabies and the crowd responded. Of all the players he was the one playing the role of Guy Fawkes and trying to ignite a patriotic crowd but one that knows enough to recognise a damp display.

Brown turned the game with a counter attack from his own line that ended with Marland Yarde bundled into touch by a majestic Adam Ashley Cooper tackle. Australia messed the line out up and Will Genia, enduring a nightmare afternoon, was charged down. Robshaw's reactions were quickest, he touched down, England were level and had the momentum to take control, which they did in a decent final quarter.

Well played Brown; not so well played Dudley Phillips who missed the fact that Brown's feet were just in touch. Australia should have been in position to launch a potentially try scoring attacking line out. Instead England took advantage of their incoherent effort to clear their lines a full ninety metres downfield. Games turn on decisions like these.

But the fact remains that Australia had the clearance in their hands and fumbled the ball and time to come back and yet they fumbled the game.

England, in contrast, rode their luck and ran out the winners and better team. Australia were weak mentally, England were strong.

Tick another box because this was the first full scale test match since the calamity in Cardiff and England found the belief to steer a leaky ship to safety.

Help from the bench

Lancaster also benefitted from a fine effort from the bench. It came into play in the second half and made a real difference. Ben Youngs injected a missing spark. Dylan Hartley added accuracy and edge in the line out. Both these men deserve an opportunity to start against Argentina to build a case for inclusion against New Zealand. Fifty minutes from the start and a half hour effort from Lee Dickson and Tom Youngs should enable Lancaster to select his optimum team for New Zealand.

The only other change foreseeable has to be in the messy midfield where Billy Twelvetrees poor club form with Gloucester translated into a scrappy international effort. His selection was based upon the potential to unlock an attacking game with his fusion of classy passing and hard angles. As it was the only classy passing came from the hands of Quade Cooper who at least produced a few useful tricks for the crowd.

Luther Burrell, if fit, is so far ahead of the Gloucester man on current form that he must start. Argentina is a perfect opportunity to breathe in test match air before the rare air of taking on New Zealand.

To summate a bad game, an average performance but a good result with plenty of positives lurking. A schoolmaster might say, 'far more dynamism and pace required in the future' in fact even a rugby broadcaster and journalist might say it. Much more needed but capable of improvement and undoubtedly these hard working grafters are willing to learn. The outcome of Saturday could prove better than the journey.

Stuart answers your emails...

Got a question for Stuart? Email him at or use the feedback form below...

Stuart, Do you think England should field three different teams for the QBE matches to balance winning essential games with testing the last few 'possible' players who will strengthen the squad for the RWC? The players I am thinking about are David Ewers, Henry Thomas, George Ford, Jonny May, Luther Burrell, Kyle Eastmond, Henry Trinder and Elliot Daly.
Michael Ward

STUART REPLIES: Michael, Three teams is pushing it. Continuity is a key word and England will not - and should should not - treat the QBE games as trials. After the weekend Luther Burrell would be the newcomer from your list I would hope and expect to enter the equation with Bath's Anthony Watson my dark horse for some game time as Mike Brown's back up in the Six Nations. Trinder would have been my pick for this autumn but injury set him back and I don't believe it helps or is fair to someone like Joel Tomkins to make a debut without much happening around him and then being rested/dropped. I am a big fan of Ford's potential and am hopeful he too could nudge his way into the 2014 picture. Maybe Christian Wade is close to a start too.

Hi Stuart, I thought Joel Tomkins had a strong debut for England but do you think he has enough attacking potential to lift an invariably laboured England midfield? I'm not convinced he is the answer. Sarries aren't the most lethal backline and a potential three-quarters of Farrell, Barrett and Tomkins for England will scarcely strike fear into opponents.
David Peters

STUART REPLIES: David, I am not convinced either and am not quite so sure where his game was strong but see my point above. That is a midfield made to tackle, not one to win a World Cup.

With the World Cup just two years away, would any of the current England squad make it into the 2003 team, Stuart? I can't think of one that would. While they are relatively young and things can look differently when a team gets on a roll, is this not still a worry for England? As the Lions showed, man for man they're still a long away from having the best players in the world.
Thanks, Jim

STUART REPLIES:Jim. Good question. Alex Corbisiero would be pushing. Ben Kay would be coming under pressure from a few locks and that would be about it. But that is, as you write, more of a concern about the readiness of this squad than an indictment of these players. It is hard to see them developing into the stature of the 2003 team but players grow as teams mature. It is a worry but there is two years until the WC and hope is far from lost for England fans despite a rather dull game on Saturday!

Stuart which player are you most looking forward to watching this autumn?
Phil Warner

STUART REPLIES:Anyone wearing a black shirt and anyone wearing a white shirt against them that day...will New Zealand ignite England again? Away from Twickenham Eben Etzebeth is growing into one of the world's best players. I love to watch him and if Gael Fickou gets a chance for France he's another to watch out for.

Comments (9)

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Mark Ditts says...

England are a very ordinary side who managed to beat a poor Argentinian side today and a very weak Aussie side last week. To think England has any hope against NZ next week is laughable.

Posted 19:58 9th November 2013

Greg Nicol says...

Everyone one is talking about the England midfield being a problem area,however I believe there is also issues with the back three. Ashton is becoming a real problem, he seems to offer less and less in attack and defensively he consistently makes mistakes. I fail to understand why he was not dropped months ago he is just not up to par. As good as brown was on Saturday I still think he lacks a yard of pace for a true international. My short term answer is drop Ashton and bring in foden, he is strong and quick and is a genuine back three rather than just a wing. He is very sound defensively and proven at international level, bringing in wade is too much of a risk Defensively.

Posted 10:08 7th November 2013

Lawrence Brady says...

I'm a big fan of Wade but I can't help but worry that he's another Varndell. Fantastic with the ball in hand but poor defensively, under the high ball and an average kicker. At international level I'm sure he would get found out, as he did for the lions vs. Brumbies. The top international wingers like Habana, Smith and North have learnt to be world class across all these areas, so far I don't see Wade reaching their level of consistency. I hope I am wrong as what an exciting player to watch.

Posted 13:33 5th November 2013

Tom Denning says...

It amazes me how people (including the England management team) can write off players after a single performance in a white shirt. Take Twelvetrees for example yes he missed that tackle but he couldn't make up for that mistake as Lancaster insists on sticking with the least creative fly half in the country. Farrell is a master at what he does, however what he does is extremely limited, he lacks the ability to get a backline going which affects the players outside him, Farrells lack of inventiveness negated Twelevetree's ability to spread the ball and use the wingers who end up receiving little or no ball. If Lancaster persists with Farrell at ten then he needs a creative influence outside him not a barritt or a burrell who lack the distribution ability of a second playmaker at 12.

Posted 22:28 4th November 2013

Matthew Ward says...

Twelvetrees has a much worse passing game than he is given credit for, not an international player, Eastmond must be 12.

Posted 14:47 4th November 2013

Ryan Da rocha says...

Hi Stuart, Another great article, thanks again. Personally, i thought the game was very very poor. It's sad to see an Australian side losing to a performance like that. Being honest, both sides were rubbish - miles away from a team capable of competing at the next world cup. Talking of junk, how junky is Marland Yarde? His low centre of gravity really helps his power through the tackle. I would just love to see him twerk, i think he would put Mylie Cyrus to shame. Well, at least that is what i've heard on the twerk vine. thanks! Ryan

Posted 13:30 4th November 2013

Swing Low says...

Despite not setting the game alight, England didn't do too badly at all v Australia; who are an established top team that are battle hardened coming off the back of a Lions series and 4 nations campaign. England's several newbie backs don't inspire confidence but have a feeling that will come in time, this was their first trot out... roll on Argentina!

Posted 13:25 4th November 2013

Bob Simmons says...

Hi Stuart. Injuries aside do you think a potential partnership for 2015 could be Eastmond and Tuilagi? Eastmond played well in Argentina before injuring himself for Bath early this season. I think the quick footwork, step and soft hands of Eastmond would balance brilliantly with Tuilagi's less subtle but extremely effective skill set. Obviously Tuilagi is out but Eastmond is a player that has the skill set to unlock defences and is superior at making a break than Twelvetrees, also defensively he's a demon. Now he is fit again I would really like to see him given a go against Argentina with Tomkins/Burrell in the midfield. Also what are your thoughts on Ashton? He missed yet another tackle due to poor positioning (positioning was poor all game) in the build up to Australia's try and didn't do much if anything going forward. Christian Wade's criticism is that he is defensively vulnerable and poor under the high ball yet Ashton can't make a 1 on 1 tackle to save his life at the moment and isn't exactly solid under a bomb, and hasn't been for at least 12 months now. There are plenty of good, wingers, not just Wade but Strettle, May etc. who are equal if not better defensively and offer more going forward, illustrated by Wade's finishing at Kingsholm on the weekend. Surely Wade must be pushing for a starting berth against Argentina. Yarde and Wade on the wings would provide a threat and potential England have not possessed out wide since 2003. Thanks, Bob.

Posted 12:41 4th November 2013

Steve Taylor says...

These types of game are to test new individuals and partnerships as well as to test the current form of the established. That being the case surely it is time to drop Aston in favour on another with defensive capabilities?

Posted 12:31 4th November 2013

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