Wales 19-26 England: Exciting Start To The Six Nations

5 02 2011

As much as we are not a fan of Friday night fixtures in the Six Nations (mostly from selfish reasons once you take the time difference into account in the Middle East) last night’s game was one to savour. The quality was mixed with both Wales and England making elementary rugby errors on occasions but the passion, the occasion and the players commitment could not be faulted.

Despite the various claims by Welsh players and management that they ‘could have won the game’ we felt England were deserved winners having controlled the game for longer periods. The architect of England’s victory was the much maligned Toby Flood and throughout his time on the pitch was the central figure in England’s quest for the win.

Flood is not a showy player, neither is he the type to make a sixty yard break a la Dan Carter, yet he is becoming expert at picking the holes and importantly keeping his hands free so as to put other players away. Ashton’s first try resulted from Flood seizing a mismatch between backs and forwards before putting Ashton away on the inside and on several other occasions valuable yards were gained by Flood’s half breaks and intelligent off loading. For all the claims Jonny Wilkinson has to the starting role (and it must be remembered we are die hard fans of the great man’s) Flood is the correct choice for the moment and probably the entire Six Nations.

Outside Flood the England were backs were again industrious although they did not quite show the same fluidity as perhaps against Australia back in the Autumn. Hape had good moments going forward although he was at fault for Stoddart’s eventual try and could run straighter on occasions. On the wings Ashton of course scored two tries, demonstrating a happy knack to be in the right place at the right time with Cueto again excellent although his hunt for a try must go on.

Quibbles? Well yes we have a couple. Tindall, again, while solid looked far from threatening and slow in the 13 channel. We have always had an immense amount of respect for him yet it remains a simple truth that if there was another half decent option in that position he would probably not be in the squad. Should England and Johnson unearth a potential heir to the World Cup winner over the next few months – someone who has some speed and the capacity to do the unexpected – it would certainly not hurt England’s chances.

Secondly, a minor point about Ben Foden. Foden is a player with a myriad of supporters in the English press and amongst the fans who appreciate his willingness to run the ball back at the opposition rather than indulge in kick tennis. We too admire him for this, although we do wish he wouldn’t tuck the ball under his arm quite so readily. A defender watching an opponent running at him will see this and immediately know that, even despite the presence of supporting runners, Foden is simply going to have a go himself.

If you watch the great full backs, for example Mils Muliaina of New Zealand, they always keeps the ball available for the pass (unless of course the gap is massive and he is simply motoring through untouched), so spreading an element of doubt in the defenders mind. At least once last night Foden was also guilty of carrying the ball in the wrong hand which meant he was penalised for holding on when he was tackled – so ending what had been a very promising and sweeping England attack.

This is a minor quibble only though, we hasten to add, and one which we can live with as we would rather have Foden’s sense of adventure coupled with his safety defensively rather than any of the alternative selections.

Up front England were solid if not devastating with Easter, debutant Tom Wood and Dylan Hartley all having good evenings. It was the unsung Tom Palmer who again stood out for us most though as his excellent work at the line out, combined with a crucial turnover and generally excellent work in the loose, meant that he is rapidly becoming a lynch pin to this England pack.

By no means a perfect performance, the result and the knowledge that there was much excellent work to build on will give England heart. With three home games to come there is no reason to think at this stage why this cannot be an excellent tournament for Martin Johnson’s side.

Wales on the other hand have little to write home about. Imprecise, repeatedly taking the wrong option by kicking when there was space out wide to work with and losing out in the scrummage battles, it was the same old story for Wales. There comes a point in any coaches career when you feel that no matter what they do they are not going to either sort out the problems or reinvigorate the players. It happened with Ireland’s Eddie O’Sullivan and also for Andy Robinson during his time as Head Coach for England and now we feel it might be happening to Gatland.

They have had the same problems for the best part of 18 months now and there seems to be little signs of any resolution to this. It is true that there will be people who said ‘they could have won’ and perhaps if they had been cleverer on the ball this might have even been the case. The fact of the matter is though that they created almost no clear cut opportunities; the chances being cited by pundits and fans alike generally still requiring a substantial amount of work to be done and hardly fall into the category of final pass gone wrong missed opportunities.

As Jonathan Davies said afterwards in the post match round up, there was very little Wales could take out of this game although we would suggest that Morgan Stoddart on his debut was one. He appeared to be a strong, pacey and willing player who consistently looked a threat to England’s defence (despite his first knock on) and also finished his try superbly.

It is doubtful whether the WRU having given Gatland a lucrative contract until 2015 will part ways with him any time soon, but in our eyes the rumbles of discontent will surely grow if, as we predicted, Wales finish contesting the Wooden Spoon with Italy.

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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!





Some Questions

14 03 2010

It is hard to write this piece without it descending into a diatribe of epic proportions against England and particularly the England management. Nevertheless, we will try and provide a few opinions as objectively as possible regarding the game we have just watched.

Ending in a draw, which to our eyes seemed a fair result considering the sheer inadequacies present on both sides, it underlined the shortcomings mentioned ad nauseam in previous articles on this site. To a large degree we are willing to exempt the players from blame; not totally you understand as there is far too much experience within the team and poor execution in the game to do so, but on the whole we feel they are handicapped by poor selection and an atrocious game plan from the England management.

Before we go any further, and to attempt to stem the flow of negativity straining to unleash itself from our fingertips, let us have a look at Scotland. On the whole, Andy Robinson, will be relatively pleased with a draw although this still leaves Scotland likely wooden spoon winners. Yet this was a game that Scotland could, and possibly should have won. There were definite positives in several key areas; the 6,7,8 combo continues to impress with Beattie in particular vying with Jamie Heaslip for the title of the best number 8 in the home nations, and out wide Scotland again showed intent and variation. Unfortunately the final pass went astray too often for them to be truly effective but importantly the desire was there.

Despite results not going their way, Scotland have improved over these past 4 games. They remain hamstrung by a small player base which means they are always going to be a smaller nation, yet under Andy Robinson they have showed more structure and played more rugby. We hope that the Scottish board sticks with him as with a bit more luck and certainly a little more nous the results in this tournament could have been quite different. It was interesting to see the Scottish full back punching the ball into touch once Toby Flood’s attempted drop goal has been charged down, willing this time to settle for the draw. Lessons have clearly been learnt from the Wales game.

And so, back to England.

There are two overriding emotions present here at the Compulsive Hooker so let us deal with them one at a time. Firstly frustration. Here is a list of things in England’s favour which in theory should mean England should not be in this current malaise.

  • England are blessed with one of the largest player bases of any senior test match rugby nation.
  • Even despite the recent economic downturn, the financial status of the RFU and most English clubs has remained healthy.
  • The facilities available throughout these clubs and at headquarters remain some of the best in the world.
  • The wealth of the clubs has been able to ensure that the majority of the star players stay in England and are not tempted overseas for more lucrative rewards creating a player drain. The recent strength of the Euro and the wage caps imposed in the UK, has made this a greater challenge than before, yet France is hardly far away….
  • The ability to attract foreign talent for the financial reasons above. This of course can be argued both ways, but really and truly the standard of the Guiness Premiership would not be half as good as it is without many of these players playing. (There are some exceptions to this rule but not many).

Yet despite all these compelling reasons (and we are positive there are many more) why England should, from a support point of view be one of the best teams in the world, yet come to naught when you look at results.

The second emotion is puzzlement. To explain this we have composed a list of questions below which go some way to elucidating this feeling. (In no particular order….)

  • Where has Riki Flutey disappeared to? We know he’s a good player (3rd test of the Lions tour, France and Wales matches in last years 6 Nations are all examples of his abilities), yet in the last 3 games he has been extraordinarily innocuous and totally invisible. Did he touch the ball before the 57th minute today? We missed it if so….
  • Steve Borthwick? Really?
  • Louis Deacon? And Steve Borthwick? Together?
  • Will Steve Borthwick ever fail to use the adjective ‘fantastic’ in relation to another dreary England performance? We haven’t seen the post match interviews with him but we’d be willing to bet he said the word somewhere….
  • Delon Armitage? Which dastardly character has stolen his mojo?
  • Why the aversion to exciting and dynamic young players? (Dan Coles excepted). Ben Foden, Courtney Lawes, Ben Youngs? It’s as if they have been put on the bench as a token gesture to appease the angry press and near to rioting fans but nothing more.
  • Why does Jonny stand so deep? Is it really the game plan ‘so lay off him’, as Johnson told the media earlier in the tournament, or was he simply protecting his talisman?
  • What does Rob Andrew do for his exorbitant wages? (This is a very interesting point and one which we will tackle at some point in the near future).
  • Does Rob Andrew possess big enough ‘cahones’ to sack the man he appointed to be England’s saviour?
  • Will Martin Johnson admit defeat and resign, therefore saving him the trouble?
  • Who can sack Rob Andrew? Why won’t whoever it is that can do so?
  • Where has Mark Cueto’s pace gone?
  • Where can we apply to join the England back room team? It’s well paid, amazing job security with almost no performance related targets to hit and on top of that masses of great England gear…..
  • Above all, England have good players. We know this. But why, oh why, can they not play rugby together?!?!
  • Etc
  • Etc

There are many, many more questions where these came from. There are also answers to many of them, but somehow the men to whom all these frustrations and performance issues come back to, appear to be supremely oblivious to the either the problems, solutions or both.

Please Johnno! We loved you as a player and as a fearsome man of iron; but please don’t ruin your reputation or tarnish our still (but only just) pure adoration for you. It’s time to get out whilst you still can…..





Martin Johnson Loses His Marbles

10 03 2010

The England team has been announced for Saturdays 6 Nations match against Scotland. With what is now disturbing regularity, Johnson has surprised most people by making 2 changes which, in our view, are verging on the ludicrous.

Firstly Lewis Moody has been replaced by Joe Worsley at 7, which quite frankly is a bizarre decision. We all know what Worsley offers, lots of tackling and hard work but also silly penalties and very little ball in hand. Moody, however, has been one of the few England players to have shone over the recent past and despite a quiet game against Ireland, it seems a strange decision. Worsley is a very fine defensive player and as such represents a negative pick.

Louis Deacon has come in for Simon Shaw forming what must be the most extraordinarily dull lock pairing we have ever seen. Both Deacon and Borthwick are players of much the same type, solid, dependable, slow and as far from the description ‘dynamic’ as it is possible to get. The only sliver of light showing here, comes in the form of Courtney Lawes, who has been moved up to the bench. Lawes shouldn’t hold his breath however as the last time he sat on the bench he wasn’t trusted with much actual game time.

Now and again in life you come across people who are contrary. We all know the sort, people who will disagree with even the most sensible argument simply for the sake of being different and are often stubborn and irritating individuals. It could be argued that Johnson could be one of these types given his selection policies. Every single critic, both English and not, including such coaching luminaries as Sir Ian McGeechan, have identified England’s failings and all broadly agree, although it must be said not everyone is on the same wavelength with regard to the cause of these issues. We won’t list them for the umpteenth time here, yet it appears the only man who doesn’t understand what is wrong, and therefore can hardly be expected to fix it, is Johnson himself. By ridding England of Moody, ignoring Foden and bringing in Louis Deacon to partner Borthwick (a case in point himself) he is reinforcing all that has been wrong up until this point and quite frankly, we don’t understand it.

The one change we, and many better informed commentators, feel should have been made has been ignored. Despite being clearly the only England back to have injected any pace and intent into the attacking game against Ireland, Foden has been ignored once again. In some ways we appreciate Johnson’s loyalty to Armitage, yet he has been such a stuttering presence it seems an opportunity missed to not give Foden his first start.

A second option which we feel would increase England’s potency, is by throwing Ben Youngs, Leicester’s flying scrum half, into the mix. Despite many media experts giving Danny Care qualified praise for his performances in this years competition, we at the Compulsive Hooker believe him to be a flawed player and actually the cause of some of England’s problems.He is quick and has the ability to break upfield, but his decision making is frequently poor and his passing slow due to the extra steps he takes each time he passes. Giving Youngs his head would have been a bold and brave move by Johnson, although it is hardly surprising he stopped short and only included the young 9 on the bench.

So there you have it. In our eyes, incontrovertible proof that Johnson is not the man for the  England job. We have said it before and we’ll say it again no doubt, but living legend and world cup winner though he is, coach, selector, manager, whatever you want to call him – he is not.

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It is getting to the point where we at the Compulsive Hooker, are considering not watching the game on Saturday. Up until now we would never have even contemplated such a boycott, yet the levels of frustration incurred by watching the drivel dished out by this current England side are so high that we would probably be better off focusing on the hockey for example. At least they can play.

Through chatting to many people over the past few weeks, we know that we are far from alone in this. We are from a situation where Twickenham will have spare tickets for a game, but England need to be careful. The fantastic work in promoting and widening the profile of this brilliant game done by England in the late 90’s and early 2000’s is being undone. At this rate, no 12 year old child is going to dream of being the next Steve Borthwick or Delon Armitage.

It is of course very easy for us to comment on England from the safety of our couches and not being responsible in any way. Yet something MUST be done and it must be done soon.

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Oh and a prediction for the match itself….. England to snatch a low scoring and pretty dire affair. 15-9 perhaps? It would not come as a surprise to us though if that scoreline is reversed. So far on this website we have been wrong probably 60% of the time. We would dearly love to be forced to write a piece on how amazingly short sighted we have been so far and of course if they can play like that, Johnson is clearly the man for the job… Somehow we doubt we’ll need to though!





Irish Competence, Same Old England and Journalistic Difficulties

1 03 2010

An English Perspective

Writing on this website has given the Compulsive Hooker an insight into how difficult it has been for English rugby journalists to earn their crust over the past few years. There are only so many ways to skin a cat as the saying goes, and with England’s hopelessness continuing game after game, each article is simply a repetition of the last with only a few minor variations.

Normally a journalists repertoire of potential articles would consist not only of match build up (how the team can win, who the key players will be etc), match reports, player ratings and what the team need to improve on for the next game. However in England’s case, with the build up being what England need to do and the match report and post game verdicts on what they didn’t do being virtually the same article, albeit in the past tense, it makes it hugely difficult to maintain the readers interest.

The other stock page filler is the interview/homage/profile of any established legend or up and coming hero. This was shown to be impossible in the current rugby climate when the Times ran two pieces side by side on the two Danny’s, Care and Cipriani. Care’s piece could be placed in the ‘young upstart becomes central pillar of English rugby’ category and Cipriani’s was firmly in the ‘wronged up and coming hero’ category. All these pieces served to underline was the levels of rugby poverty England are going through. Cipriani has long been hailed as the up and coming star of the next generation, yet this article was misplaced as subsequent reports of childish behaviour during England Saxons Italy game has shown. The article on Care, however, defied rational belief in that whilst he has had his good moments in the 6 Nations, the key flaws in his game remain and in another era would not be receiving this current run in the team. A quick glance at the newspapers comments section of either article backs this up convincingly.

Therefore and with this all in mind, we are not going to rewrite for what is already the 4th or 5th time about England’s or more particularly Martin Johnson’s failings, as by simply clicking here you can see everything that needs to be said has already written.

Regarding the match in particular only a couple of specific points are worth mentioning with regard to next weekend:

  • Foden to start at 15 next week: We are big fans of Armitage but he is a faltering presence this season, his injury perhaps still affecting him. Foden looked threatening and importantly played with real purpose.
  • Hodgson for Care: Quicker service, no unnecessary extra steps. We would actually prefer to see Ben Youngs given a go but this is unlikely considering Johnson’s innate desire to negate risk.
  • 60% possession, England making only 40 tackles compared to Ireland’s 109, 2 scrums won against the head and home advantage should have translated to a comfortable win. Yet it didn’t.

An Irish Perspective

This was a pleasing and much needed win for the Irish. Wins at Twickenham are rarely easy (even recently) and considering the problems at scrum time and the levels of possession enjoyed by England, this was a win to be proud of. Where Ireland won the game was the effectiveness of their defence and the frequency with which they turned the ball over, 13 times in total.

Despite Jonny Sexton’s off day with the boot he showed exactly why he was preferred to Ronan O’Gara, providing a genuine threat and pivot for all Ireland’s attacking play. Whilst they could hardly be accused of setting Twickenham alight with brilliant running rugby, Ireland played a more balanced game than England, moving smoothly between different facets of the game.

The Compulsive Hooker has always been a fan of Geordan Murphy and it was pleasing to see him come back and play with such good effect. Whilst he is very unlikely to displace Kearney completely, he is a good back up and with Ireland building to the World Cup in 2011 strength in depth is key. Keith Earls also showed glimpses of his running ability with a couple of scintillating breaks.

All in all Ireland should be pleased with the win although the problems with the scrum remain. John Hayes and Cian Healy is a partnership hardly to be feared in the front row and with Hayes having reached his 100th cap yesterday perhaps it is time to put him out to pasture.





Six Nations Round 2 – Thoughts

15 02 2010

England, England, England*.

This was supposed to be the game where, with all Johnson’s first choice players available, England would cut loose, throw off the shackles and prove to the rugby world they can play. A combination of a resurgent Italy and extraordinarily muddled game plan ensured that England struggled and Italy in many ways appeared to be the better side.

Italy did all that was expected of them, getting up into England’s faces and spoiling well at the break down. England, however, after a good start in which Armitage almost went over in the corner, retreated to the aerial kicking game that is all too familiar to England supporters.

The best sides in the world all employ a kicking game. These are built around other aspects of the game plan which in turn create space for them to kick to. By drawing players into contact situations and sucking in the defence this creates gaps behind into which kicks can be placed and territory gained. England’s kicking is mainly down to a lack of other ideas, which means that almost always the opposing team has players covering and any potential advantage is lost. Factor in the poor quality of much of the kicking and often England are simply handing back the advantage to the opposition.

Delon Armitage had a second poor game and seems to have lost confidence since his stellar performances last year. An important facet of his play was his ability to run the ball back, often beating two or three men and putting England on the front foot. In the last two games he has been fallible under the high ball and then, more often than not, simply put boot to ball in a fairly aimless fashion. England need the old Armitage back as otherwise Ben Foden provides an attractive alternative.

On a positive note, Wilkinson stood a great deal flatter and several times initiated wide attacking moves with Monye twice and Flutey making lengthy breaks down field. The extraordinary thing was that despite a clear demonstration that this tactic was working, for much of the first and second half England reverted to type and the boot. Variety is the spice of life and England just keep getting it wrong by doing the same thing again and again.

Coming into this game Flutey was supposed to be the man who could set England’s backs alight. As noted above, whilst there were instances of this (more in this one game than the entire Autumn series combined), Flutey needs the ball in hand (and his in particular) to do this. After a couple of deft touches in the opening minutes, it was the 38th before he touched it again, at which point his lovely angle cut open the Italian midfield. It was telling that England’s best moments came with him involved and should be something Johnson considers over the next fortnight.

In many ways Italy were the better team on the day and had clearly set out to play with some invention themselves. Their backs, which previously had been impotent, burst into life and genuinely threatened on a couple of occasions. Mallett would be a great deal happier after this performance than Johnson, although he is no doubt ruing the missed opportunity to take what would be a serious scalp in world rugby.

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France have been reaffirmed as favourites to win the championship and potential Grand Slam winners. Indeed if they play as they did against the Irish in Paris there is little chance of anyone even competing and we would have backed them against any side in the world. Dominant at the breakdown, brilliant in the backs and with Parra and Trinh-Duc playing probably their best games for France, Ireland stood no chance.

Despite odd individual moments of brilliance from Darcy and O’Driscoll the Irish found themselves repeatedly hitting what appeared to be a solid blue wall, such was the French defence. Coupled with set pieces that achieved parity at best and the Irish back row being second to the break down on most occasions it was always unlikely once France had gone into the lead. Ronan O’Gara was also poor, missing kicks and tackles which when combined with his insistence of standing 15 yards behind the gain line when receiving meant that the Irish backs had little chance of making any impressions. Jonny Sexton will likely return for England at Twickenham which for both teams is a must win game and having Sexton’s superior attacking ability will help unleash Ireland’s undoubtedly talented backs.

It is important Ireland regroup to win the remainder of their games as with only 18 months to go prior to the next world cup, it is crucial they keep their momentum going. France, on the other hand, appear to once more have an embarrassment of riches and with Lievremont appearing finally to be settling on his preferred combinations they are going to be a genuine threat to the southern hemispheres superiority.

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Having sat down to watch the Wales Scotland game with some trepidation at the prospect of a low quality game we were pleasantly surprised by what turned out to be the game of the tournament so far. Despite suffering injuries to Thom Evans and Chris Paterson Scotland stormed into the lead and with only 6 minutes remaining were 10 points clear. Wales however produced a fantastic period of play to deny Scotland what would have been a cathartic win for Andy Robinson’s team.

When Wales play like they did in the final minutes they are seriously dangerous and it must be a huge frustration to Warren Gatland that they cannot do it over an 80 minute period. Shane Williams looked like he is back to his best, creating two on ones and worrying the Scots every time he got the ball. Likewise Jamie Roberts had his best game since the Lions and was the main focal point for Wales going forward.

For Scotland the back row were brilliant, particularly in the first half, with Barclay and Beattie carrying well and competing on the ground. A second positive was back play which looked more full of initiative and threat than it has done for quite some time. If Scotland can carry this form over to Rome they should be fairly confident of winning.

The major frustrations of course come from losing a game that they should really have won. It seemed an extraordinary decision by Blair to restart the ball into play with the scores level at 24 all when a simple kick into touch would have brought the end of the game although equally you could applaud them for gambling and going for the win.

*Our frustrations are probably all too apparent in this article and so we apologise if we sound bitter – its just so appalling being England rugby fans at the moment!





Six Nations Thoughts – England

26 01 2010

When beginning this piece, we found ourselves unsure of how to begin. There seemed to be so many frustrations and a veritable litany of complaints about the current England team and coaching staff, that it is almost too overwhelming for an England fan to write about. With this in mind we are going to start with the positives and see how it goes from there….

When compared to the Autumn internationals, where England were missing almost an entire first team due to injury, things have improved dramatically. The extraordinary lack of props in November has partially been resolved due to players coming back from injury and the emergence of one or two others. Dan Cole of Leicester has been in sparkling form in what is virtually his debut season and is surely a man for the future. The only slight cloud that remains here is the continuing absence of Andrew Sheridan. Matt Mullan of Worcester has also been promoted from the Saxons squad which seems to indicate that Johnson is firmly looking to the future.

Nick Easter’s return to the squad provides a welcome sober head to the side. Easter has never been the quickest or most dynamic player on his feet but he provides a much needed solidity and can be relied upon to make the hard yards. Unfortunately Tom Croft’s injury has deprived Johnson of his services until the second half of the tournament although it is doubtful that he would have started. So dynamic for the Lions, Crofts open field game has never been suited to an England under Johnson who are intent on keeping it tight and rarely threaten the wide open spaces. It is instructive to think that the only time Johnson’s England has broken the shackles (against France last year) Croft was at the forefront of all that was good.

Here at the Compulsive Hooker we have covered the second row conundrum and Johnson’s predilection for Borthwick before so we won’t go into details (but you can find our rant here). Suffice to say that we would like to see a Shaw – Lawes combination which would combine the best of the old and the new, conveniently forgetting the mediocrity in the middle. With the announcement last night that Johnson is to retain Borthwick as captain this will clearly not happen although you have to hope that Borthwick isn’t immune from a 60th minute substitution just because he is skipper.

In the backs Flutey’s return means an increased ability in attack once more. The Compulsive Hooker’s admiration for Wilkinson is well documented and we hope that the return of Flutey will help him stand flatter. The real key to this of course is making sure that England are playing on the front foot and not trying to create from behind a retreating pack. With Armitage surely returning at 15 and the promise of Ashton on the wings, suddenly the back line appear to be more of a threat. Scrum half will be interesting and we would like to see Ben Youngs of Leicester given a run out at some point. Foden, eternally the unlucky man in Johnson’s squads, appears to be the one to miss out again although perhaps his continued retention will eventually get him some game time. A more instinctive attacking English talent there probably isn’t so a chance is overdue.

As mentioned yesterday England do appear to suffer when compared with the talents on offer in Ireland and France although undoubtedly there is a strong core running through the side. With the resources available to England both on and off the pitch there is no excuse for them not to be challenging for honours year in year out. Something has gone wrong though over the last 6 or 7 years and for our money, Johnson is not the man for the job. To justify his retention as Team Manager, England need to finish at least 2nd in our eyes. Anything less and England will have gone backward.

Prediction: 3rd. The fixture list is kind to England with two easy (in theory anyway) away games to Scotland and Italy and only one tricky one (France). England though will probably also lose to Ireland so a middling campaign only with two losses is our prediction.








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