Autumn Internationals Round Up: England

29 11 2010

After a depressing end to what had previously been an encouraging Autumn International series we are not sure exactly what conclusions to draw. Whilst some questions have been resolved there are many that are still outstanding; amongst them – are England truly a side capable of challenging for the world cup next year? What does their defeat to South Africa mean? Is two out of four really good enough?  In an attempt to answer some of these questions we will split the arguments into positives and negatives.


In our eyes the most obvious one, despite his relatively poor game against South Africa, is the young Leicester man, Ben Youngs. Watching him play it has been easy to forget just how youthful and inexperienced he still is. This time last year he had only just started playing regularly for the midlands club following injury to Harry Ellis but has already established himself as surely a fixture in the side for the next five to ten years. In fact he was so integral to England’s attack that it was noticeable how, with huge South African pressure at the breakdown and at scrum time, England as a whole lost their shape.

Flood too had a good series and his half back partnership with Youngs is now an effective one. Never flashy or extravagant, Flood has done enough to justify his continuing selection as first choice fly half.

Outside these two there are further success stories. Hape has been increasingly creative and was one of the few bright spots against the Springboks. Cueto has had a quite exceptional Autumn despite not having scored for close on twenty tests now. Inventive, sharp and continually asking questions of oppositions defence he was as key to England’s revival as anyone else. On the other wing Ashton was electric in attack and solid in defence and is part of the younger brigade of players who look like being the core of the team for some time to come.

Foden, at full back, was on balance good although he had one or two hairy moments, particularly against South Africa. It is a hugely refreshing thing to have a running full back although we would rather he keeps the ball in two hands a bit longer – by tucking it under his arm he immediately shows the opposition he is going himself rather than potentially releasing any supporting runners. A minor thing however and he deserves a pat on the back for his efforts.

Up front there were more positives with the entire pack doing well. Courtney Lawes, Dan Cole, Tom Palmer, Andrew Sheridan and Tom Croft were all brilliant at points but most importantly performed consistently well. This is an excellent pack and one which will only grow in stature as time goes by. Easter had his moments in the last two games although turned over too much for our liking against the Kiwi’s and the Aussies. He remains the best we have in that position. Moody was consistent if not outstanding but led the team well and so remains comfortable first choice seven.

Perhaps more encouraging than any individual performances was the nature of the way England played the game. This of course reached an apogee against the Australians in what was the finest England performance for quite some time (certainly seven years or so) and then tailed off gradually. The fact that England were trying to play with pace and width and on several occasions actually succeeded demonstrates that, at the very least, Martin Johnson is moving them in the right direction.


Pleasingly less negatives than positives – something that we haven’t been able to say when reviewing a series for what seems like eons – but there are still question marks remaining. Most glaringly is the outside centre conundrum. Tindall was reasonable and provides a solid and experienced presence, yet he is hardly a game breaker as someone like Conrad Smith is for the All Blacks. His replacement for the Samoa game, Matt Banahan, didn’t do enough to suggest he is ‘the man’ moving forward although he wasn’t without his own plus points. A class 13 is priority now for Johnson.

A second worry would be the way that England were blown off the park against the Springboks on Saturday. In mitigation a couple of England’s key players went off injured – yet it looked like the sheer physicality of the South African’s simply overpowered them and at points there was an element of panic and a forced nature about the English play.

To tell the truth it was likely to be a case of inexperience and a young side not knowing how to go back to basics (plus the Boks were awesome at the breakdown) and so hopefully this will improve over time.

Finally, what we will say is that England still need to be more efficient and take their chances better. It was certainly improved this November yet one feels that had it been the All Blacks in a few of their try scoring opportunities that went begging – the score lines would look all the more impressive.


A decent if not outstanding Autumn but still short on actual results. England were beaten by a better side on the day against the Boks and by a genuinely brilliant side in the All Blacks but will still feel that it was a November which could have gone better. This being testament to raised standards and correspondingly raised expectations, it is actually no bad thing and for that alone, Martin Johnson would probably be pleased on balance.

To answer the question posed in the opening paragraph regarding the world cup we would suggest that at this stage England are probably not world cup challengers. Yet, if they put together a good 6 Nations, they could take the final small steps that will put them right up there and who is to say after their game against Australia this isn’t possible?




7 responses

29 11 2010
Will Buck

Generally I agree with the article but there is a clear area of concern for me with the England side and that is the 10, 12, 13 channel. This has been a continuing problem since the loss of Wilkinson, Geenwood, Tindall all those years ago and until we find a solution then I am afraid we will be lacking against the top sides of the world. Australia are a smart side and after watching us against South Africa will adjust the way they play against us. Whilst we put in a superb display against Australia, it was not in the problem channel that we created. Cueto did come on a good inside line off Hape for one try, but the try came from good suppport lines from Cueto, Croft and Ashton rather than good play in this area. Flood had an ok display against Australia plus a faultless place-kicking display, but I am afraid that he has not impressed at all. He is still playing too deep, has not made breaks and most importantly he is indecisive under pressure at 10. This was highlighted massively against South Africa. He is not helped by having a hugely inexperience Union player at 12 next to him. Hape is a typica English selection based on size more than anything. He has shown good touches, but 12 needs to have a brain and also be able to take pressure of 10 when needed. Nonu does this through sheer strength and his ability to make yards. The other top 12’s are ball-players who can also kick mainly (see Giteau, Hook etc.) Hape’s game does not suit 12 for me. TIndall will never let you down in defence, but he was never quick and the international game has passed him by for me. Jonny needs to come back in for the Six Nations and World Cup. I would go for Flutey and Waldouck also as they play together, but there are more alternatives out there than one would imagine. Conrad Smith shows that size is not that important and players such as Anthony Allen, Simpson-Daniel, Jon Clarke at Norhampton etc. should be looked at. If we sort out 10, 12, 13 then we can be a real force but it will not be easy!

29 11 2010

I hear what you say although I didn’t think Flood was too bad at all. Didn’t look brilliant against the boks but then no one did. Agreed Hape probably isn’t long term answer and given the chance would also select flutey once more. If only greenwood was younger!

Always thought Simpson Daniel has been unlucky with injuries and selection. Watching highlights of him when 8 or 9 years ago for England I was reminded how good he was. Give him a go i’d say. Not seen too much of Waldouck so couldnt comment on him.

29 11 2010

I think a key outcome from the series, is that we are finally looking like being able to arrive at a settled first XV – something that we’ve not been able to say for ages with the constant chopping and changing. Courteney Lawes was immense against the Boks, and with other young players (Ashton, Youngs, Cole also coming through to prominence – they will only benefit from continuing to develop as a unit together. A return to form and fitness of the likes of Rees, Tait, Armitage, Haskell and not least Johnny could yet see us as a force to be reckoned with, with genuine strength in depth, come this time next year.

29 11 2010

Hear hear mr. Giordballs.

29 11 2010

Agree with Mr Buck, Flood still hasn’t done enough to impress me, still looked a little clueless with ball in hand, his kicking is quite good though, but no real go forward. Lawes was an inspiration, always looking for work, even on the back foot he looked for ways to get things going. Hape should lose his spot once flutey is fit, not creative enough at 12. Ashton, Foden and Cueto were brilliant (what the hell was Johnson thinking keeping Ashton on after the headclash v boks? he was clearly in trouble, if he died would they substitute him?) Hey, according to Steele this Autumn was a success, 2 out of 4, hurrah!

29 11 2010
Will Follett

There is much to be positive about- the bottom line is that we lost against an outstanding AB side who, once again, have looked an amazing outfit when there is not a World Cup at stake (although few would bet against this side matching Kirkpatrick’s men of ’87).

The Springboks pack produced an utterly stunning display of physicality that we simply could not compete with. The current World Champions dominated every breakdown and collision area and therefore starved our backline of any decent ball (which is why Flood had to stand that much deeper this week).

I agree with Mr Buck that there are players out there who might play better than those people currently wearing the white shirt (although I am reminded of just how deep Jonny and Flutey stood when they played together. However I agree more with Giordballs about selection consistency. One of the fundamentals behind our success 7 years and 7 days ago, was (barring one or two positions) the ability of Woodward to name his starting XV with ultimate confidence in those players. This Autumn series has compounded the international credentials of Messers Lawes, Youngs, Foden, Ashton, Cole and has relivened some of the more experienced players.

We are not the finished article, but we are a lot closer than we were a month ago

29 11 2010

A perfect summation! Thank you for your thoughts.

Finally feeling proud of English rugby again – 6 Nations will be very interesting…

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