Wednesday 17 January 2018

Flood knows England can learn from wake-up call

England 26 Samoa 13

Mick Cleary

The slovenly, wayward kid is having to grow up fast. The pains of that development were clear to see on Saturday, much as the knowledgeable old bird of English rugby, Martin Johnson, had forewarned. Words are one thing; experience quite another.

The value is in the sharp-end learning. England are wiser men this morning, aware that slack finishing and half-baked work at the breakdown can prove costly. Victory has to be earned, not assumed.

This was a proper test for England, and they came through. Not with ease or with plaudits but in the long term this will be as significant an outing for them as that giddy, landmark performance against the Wallabies. It is a "a wake-up call," according to fly-half Toby Flood, mindful that a repeat against world champions South Africa will cost England dear, the Springboks' Murrayfield woes notwithstanding. England are not the real deal yet.

The pathway towards maturity is strewn with obstacles and setbacks, many of which England encountered at Twickenham. Some were of their own making, a certain rashness and casualness creeping into their play.

It would be indecent not to pay tribute to the wily ways of Samoa. They have always played with pride and physicality. These days they also bring cleverness and organisation to their game, their enhanced fitness levels enabling them to see it all through to the final whistle, as shown by the way they mangled England's scrum in the closing stages and scored their second try through Fautua Otto. On the scoreboard, this was Samoa's best day yet against England.

The home side's flat mood post-match is evidence they realise that the project is only just under way. It will be some time before it is complete. Flood acknowledges as much, warning his team-mates that they cannot bask in the glow of one upbeat win.


"We really wanted to put down a marker this series but we haven't done that yet," said Flood, who finished with 16 points. "In that regard the game against South Africa is huge in how the autumn will look. We came in wanting to win three games. If we set the bar as high (as against Australia), then we've got to perform to those standards. We need to raise it against the Springboks."

South Africa are more of a predictable entity than Samoa. They too are powerful in their ball-carrying, unremitting in contact and a handful at close quarters. But they do not have the same tendency towards the unorthodox. That aspect took England by surprise, as did Samoa's ferocious commitment at the breakdown. There was less crispness about England's play there.

"We allowed them to harass and harry us, which was the reason for our downfall," Flood said. "We didn't work hard enough off the ball."

The midfield shuffle brought some benefits although the pairing of Shontayne Hape with Bath team-mate Matt Banahan will not terrorise the best defences.

That said, Banahan became more assured as the game wore on, scoring England's first try in the 48th minute and intercepting a wild pass from Kahn Fotuali'i, so impressive to that point, teeing up the second try for Tom Croft eight minutes from time with a neat pass to Danny Care.

England's scrum was dominant until collapsing in a heap in the last quarter of an hour. "We've got to finish off," said Johnson, whose half-time pep talk amounted to precisely naught, Samoa scoring within 36 seconds of the restart through a Paul Williams try.

England will not name their side until Thursday, plenty of time to allow lessons to be learnt.

Irish Independent

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