Sweet Chariot: Outstanding England

14 11 2010

England 35-18 Australia

Well that was encouraging!

You may have noticed that the Compulsive Hooker has had its fair share of issues with England rugby since the blog’s inception. We have castigated Martin Johnson, Steve Borthwick and, more recently, Nick Easter and Mike Tindall mercilessly – the years of ‘rebuilding’ and hurt took their toll you see. However, faced with a result that is as impressive on paper as it was in the performance; we feel that it is time to set aside the negativity and once more take pride in England rugby.

Southern hemisphere supporters (and possibly anyone non-English) will undoubtedly laugh at the headlines and lead paragraphs in almost all English media reports on the game this morning. Without fail there is some mention of the World Cup and how England have sounded ‘a World Cup warning’. Whilst this is still probably jumping the gun until the levels of consistency have been raised to close to 2003 levels, it is not entirely an unfounded statement. The rest of the world are of course very familiar with the English media’s propensity to get over excited (just look at the football team!) but in many ways you can’t blame them – it was truly an awesome performance and one that was genuinely exciting.

It is rare to see a northern hemisphere side dominate a Tri Nations team. Even in the glory days of English rugby back in 2001-3 when England didn’t lose to any of these sides for 3 years, the games were not often as one sided as yesterday. Using memory alone, the only examples of this we could come up with were when England put 50 points on South Africa in 2002, and possibly the test in Sydney just prior to the World Cup when England ran out winners 25-17 in an entirely dominant display. There may well have been more – our memory is not perfect – but certainly with wins rare over the past 7 years, the manner of it was entirely unexpected.

In our pre-match predictions we had suggested that England had a reasonable chance and would secure a win by one score. With England playing some of the finest rugby we have seen from men in shirts bearing the red rose (we quite liked the ‘anthracite’ shirts ourselves…), the result of the game was never really in doubt from the moment Ashton crossed for his first try and England went 10-0 up.

The catalyst, as always these days, in good things from England was the 20 year old Ben Youngs. Deservedly Man of the Match, he did not take an incorrect decision all game and excelled in that old rugby adage of  ‘playing what’s in front of him’. His vision and step to put first Lawes and then Ashton away down the right was audacious and, quite simply, breathtaking.

Ashton, after a quiet game against the All Blacks, was excellent and showed outstanding pace to beat Drew Mitchell to the line on his 80 yard dash for his second try. Whilst he was undoubtedly brilliant, it was the other winger in the form of Mark Cueto who appeared to have been reborn and caught our eye. Over the past couple of years Cueto has been a solid, intelligent but unexciting presence on the wing – rarely providing the go forward of yesteryear. At Twickenham yesterday he was back to his inventive and dangerous best; on several occasions breaking through holes in the Aussie defence and generally being very difficult to put down.

In truth this was a great team performance and it would be wrong to pick out individuals too much but others that caught the eye included Tom Croft, Courtney Lawes, Ben Foden and Shontayne Hape. Even the victim of many a rant on this website, Nick Easter, provided a good link and go forward when he had the ball. Our doubts about him remain – he is too slow and still seems to knock on too much – but until Haskell or someone similar puts their hand up, he’s fine. Tindall, too, had a good game after a particularly average showing against the AB’s and despite looking ponderous on occasions provides an experienced head. Similarly to Easter, it would be nice to have a dynamic young 13 coming through but until this happens  Johnson should continue selecting him.

Australia will be bitterly disappointed but they were simply not allowed to play. In the backs the outstanding Kurtley Beale played what amounted to a lone hand whilst only Pocock was in evidence in the forwards. As England know only too well, playing with a pack going backwards is almost impossible. All this despite the much vaunted weakness of the Australian game, the front row, not being in evidence at all! They are obviously not a bad team overnight and remain a highly dangerous outfit – albeit one that lacks the necessary consistency.

Finally, a word on the architect of England’s win, Martin Johnson. It is fair to say that we have been fairly damning about Jonno’s regime over the past year. For the first 2 years in charge his lack of experience, coupled with a strange fascination for Steve Borthwick and an aversion to youth, ensured that we were sceptical his credentials. Too often one good performance was followed by three dire ones – but with evidence having been mounting since the France game in March that, just perhaps, it was different this time, we are going to gracefully withdraw from this position. It is clear that now whatever balance Johnson was seeking has been achieved. Most importantly he knows who his first XV is – something that for a long time was simply not clear – and with the timely emergence of Youngs, Foden, Ashton and Lawes there is that added bonus of having some potentially (in Youngs case, already) world class players to pick from.

From our point of view at the Compulsive Hooker, we would also like to say what a pleasure it is to be feeling positive about England rugby once more. To be able to write something without a burning knot of frustration in your stomach is a novel experience and one that we hope England have managed to banish for quite sometime. So well done England, well done Martin Johnson and bring on the Springboks!




6 responses

14 11 2010
George Buck

I have to disagree with your doubts over Easter. He does lack pace, but he is a tremendous ball carrier which is what we have been lacking. Lawes, Moody, Croft all have pace and Easter adds some solidity to the back row. If you re-watch the the last two England games, Easter is constantly getting over the gain line. This allows us to be on the front foot and get some good ball to play with. I think he is our best option.

I agree with your comments about Tindall. Although he adds some strength in the centre he certainly lacks pace. He is quite one dimensional with his ‘crash ball’ and his passing has not been good enough. I agree that there is no one really putting their hand up to take his place however.

14 11 2010

Ah Mr Buck! Thanks for your comments.

We’ll have to agree to disagree! Easter appears to divide opinion – and not just amongst fans – Guscott for one appears to not to rate him but then others do.

I just think that it is surely possible to find someone who can do all that but has more dynamism to go with it. Undoubtedly he’s a reasonable player – but I imagine you’d agree he’s hardly a Dallaghlio for example.

Still can’t believe the result!

15 11 2010
George Buck

My Dear Mr Breadstick,

No problem at all. An avid reader dear boy.

We’ll have to agree to disagree as you say. However it is very easy to compare the likes of Easter to Dallaglio (a World Cup winner… please spell his name correctly). We could do that with Flood vs Wilkinson, Martin Johnson with Palmer and Greenwood with Hape. I strongly believe Easter is the best we have at this given time. Each player could have a little bit more pace, a better pass or a stronger tackle if we want to be picky. Haskell is the only other option at 8 I feel and he has had numerous chances to deliver. A lot of chat about him in the England under 21’s setup, but he has done nothing since. I sincerely hope he comes through and finds some form, but he’s not for me. Is there anyone else you might suggest at 8? Please don’t say Jordan Crane.

15 11 2010

haha. thanks for your reply – and apologies on misspelling an England legends name.

My pick would be Haskell when fit – if you remember back in the six nations this year he had a couple of great games, particularly Wales where he scored 2 tries and possibly Italy i think it was. Agreed he had not really done much up to that point but until he got injured it looked like he was really coming through this year.

At the same time, I do think Easter is currently the best we have (other than Haskell) but even knowing this, he still frustrates me!

On the Flood debate, I think he’s doing quite well at the moment. Nothing spectacular but is kicking his goals and distributing well. Have your views started to change with him at all?!

15 11 2010
Will Follett

I thought I would throw my sixpence worth in to the debate over the No8 position.

I am in agreement with George- I think Easter has been one of England’s most consistent performers over the last few years. He is a big, powerful man who invariably makes the hard yards and always sucks in opposition defence. He has frequently done this from static ball and I can think of a number of occasions where his ability to add the required impetus has provided the momentum for England. There are numerous fans and commentators (The Compulsive Hooker included) who have championed the need for consistency from our National side- there are few players in the current set up who have demonstrated the aforementioned consistency as well as Easter. To look to replace him with a younger, quicker model (Haskell is that man but he has flattered to deceive) just because we have turned in one free flowing performance, is over zealous and unfair.

Let us also remember that international rugby is not about individuals, moreover units. One of the reasons that Dallaglio was such a great English 8 was because he, Back and Hill complimented each other so well. I think that Easter, Croft and Moody have the necessary skills and qualities as a unit to outplay any international back row. I do not think that is the case if you replace the Harlequin with his Stade understudy

15 11 2010

Cogent words as usual Foll – thanks for commenting. I do understand where you and George are coming from yet he remains a limited player really – not world class by any standards – but agreed he is the best we’ve got. The other thing I would suggest is that in the last two games he has turned the ball over more than any other player. Stats http://www.espnscrum.com/new-zealand-tour-2010/rugby/match/109185.html and http://www.espnscrum.com/australia-tour-2010/rugby/match/109180.html for last two games.

It is this that has tipped me over the edge from a position mirroring yours (although still thinking he’s limited) to where I am now!

In fairness though only Croft has made any yardage even close to Easter so he is going forward – albeit slowly!

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