Saturday 20 January 2018

Red Rose lose plot after ripping up blueprint

Dean Ryan, England comment

England paid in the first 40 minutes of yesterday's game for their lack of strategic development over the past 12 months.

The way they have played for the past year has not been what they tried against France. You can look at individual mistakes, and there were plenty, but they are not why England lost. You have to look at the route to this game and see it as a systematic failure.

Martin Johnson selected Toby Flood and Jonny Wilkinson because the team have not been playing any attacking rugby against the decent sides until deep in the second half of games, by which time they have been chasing. The side's performances in the pool matches built the pressure to get on the front foot and take sides on.

Against France, they went to the other extreme by trying to run everything without having taken the necessary first step of building field position. England needed to find the balance between structured and unstructured play and they failed. They abandoned their attacking kicking game and leapt from conservatism to running everything when what they needed was something in the middle.

Any side needs to be able to play multi-layered rugby so when things are not working they can adapt their approach. New Zealand can run through the backs, kick tactically, keep it in the forwards -- they have tried different things to win games. England haven't and when they tried a different approach in the first 40 minutes they didn't look comfortable. They have the players to do it -- the back three, Ben Youngs at scrum-half, Toby Flood -- but they haven't practised it and cannot be expected to unveil it for the first time since the Australia game last autumn in a World Cup quarter-final.

Despite all their running and passing, too often England went lateral because they did not have direction up the middle. I am not saying Mike Tindall should have played, but Wilkinson and Flood often went sideways because both felt the pressure to play a wide game.

England also had a huge error rate and this, along with the lack of direction, meant they did not did not build any field position. They had only two attacking lineouts in the first half because they had no attacking kicking game. They needed to build position and then open the game up and be adventurous whereas they tried to open the game up without having built the position.

Even when they did find field position in the first half, the lineout went surprisingly badly. The lineout is unbalanced because they keep putting a back-rower -- Tom Croft -- at No 2 and Louis Deacon near the back; Lewis Moody is a great player but is not a real openside; Youngs and Wilkinson struggle to gel at half-back; Wilkinson and Flood did not gel in the midfield.

For all the criticisms, it looked like Johnson was creating a template for playing conservative rugby in the World Cup that he believed was the way to success. And he was sticking to it until this week. To jump so far away from that in the quarter-finals looks like madness. England were not comfortable with the feel and tempo of an all-out running game and it showed. The experiment could have been inspired or suicidal. It ended up suicidal.


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