Autumn Internationals: England 16-26 New Zealand

7 11 2010

Analysing rugby is almost always an entirely subjective matter with two people watching in different parts of the world almost often having an entirely different view point – even if they are supporters of the same team – despite having watched the same match. Normally, however, amongst the ‘experts’ of the media, many of whom are ex-players themselves, a sort of consensus emerges. After yesterday’s trio of matches it is safe to say that this is certainly not the case.  With the first round of Autumn Internationals completed; almost every report you read in the various outlets have often strongly contrasting viewpoints and, being as we are in the business of writing sports opinion, it is our duty here and now to add to this mix…

Call us pessimists, call us cynical (or possibly even miserable) but for the Compulsive Hooker it appeared to be same old story. All ‘huff and [very little] puff’. Sport is ultimately about results and time and time again the Southern Hemisphere powers show that. Despite a lack of home advantage, they are usually comfortably better than their Northern Hemisphere opposition in almost all facets of the game. This is not to say that there was not a glimmer of hope for all three of Ireland, England and Wales during yesterday’s games; but in the end class told and once again it was 3-0 to the south.

England 16-26 New Zealand

Some of the biggest disparities in the press have come in the analysis of this match with, particularly in the English press, what we would regard as some fairly major fallacies being peddled.

This game was undoubtedly a game in which, for short periods at least, England’s much vaunted improvement of recent times was evident. In truth the scrum was the only part of the game where England could be said to have dominated their opposing numbers, yet pleasingly for some England supporters there were signs of a better game plan and a certain amount of ambition on show.

Unfortunately for the cynics (of which we count in their number) England’s positive steps are really, perhaps, just a demonstration that the very basics of the game are finally being grasped. That it should have taken 7 years and three coaches to get back to this stage is not exactly a great thing.

Putting on our ‘positive head’ though, we were pleased with Ben Youngs’ performance at nine as on the occasions where England were able to secure ball on the front foot, it was his distribution and initiative that led to much of the good work. Hape also had some good moments although it was fair to say that in more than one instance the pairing of Nonu and Williams exposed some limitations – he remains a work in progress. Tom Croft was industrious and showed glimpses of why he was so successful for the Lions in 2009; his forward partners and brothers of the front row, Sheridan and Cole, were excellent and provided a platform that a better side could have used to good effect. Foden, too, showed glimpses of his form against Australia in the Summer.

In amongst this several players were mired in a morass of ineffectiveness and an unfortunate lack of precision. Flood was the forerunner in this group; not exactly bad – just totally unable to imprint himself on the game. Ashton looked lightweight and fell off several tackles whilst offering little in attack. On the opposite wing, Cueto, looked off the pace – an intelligent footballer to be sure, but not one that holds any terrors for the opposition any more. Ashton in particular has shown enough promise to be worth sticking with but with Cueto should go.

In the third category of players who in our opinion are holding England back is the opinion polarising Nick Easter and the veteran centre Mike Tindall. Easter is the archetypal safe bet. A solid, dependable but crucially slow and curiously undynamic character; he capped yesterdays performance by a series of panicked errors in the run up to half time that showed, to us at least, that the return of James Haskell cannot come soon enough. At very least the word ponderous cannot be so freely applied to the Stade Francais man.

Tindall, again, is another safe but limited player who we hesitated in putting into this category although, once we realized this was out of loyalty to his past achievements, we added him to the list. Shown up by the AB’s centre pairing on more than one occasion, we have rarely seen him looking so laboured. The problem that Johnson has is one of who would you replace him with; there are few English 13’s around putting their hands up for this role and so for the short term at least he is a safe bet to retain his place.

New Zealand were a frustrated side for most of the game (credit which should be given to England for the manner in which they put the AB’s under pressure) but still had comfortably enough in the tank to make this victory one that was never really in doubt.

The centre partnership of Nonu and Williams, whilst lacking the finesse and communication of regular partners, was a success on the whole. On debut Williams showed enough good touches to show that he is unlikely to find a lack of class an issue at test match level. Gear was electric on the wing and has surely showed Henry enough reasons to stick with him for the time being.

The one area of concern might be in the scrum as Franks in particular was shown up on a regular basis by the combined power of the English forwards. This was not ultimately a factor, being as it is a less important factor in the modern game.

So, in summary, despite some good things, particularly the pressure and the spoiling that England were able to achieve, in the end class and efficiency told and the AB’s ran out comfortable and deserved winners.

Ireland vs South Africa to follow…




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