Monday 14 October 2019

Fractured England need to click into place soon

England’s George Ford on the way to scoring his side’s fourth try against Argentina. Photo: REUTERS/Issei Kato
England’s George Ford on the way to scoring his side’s fourth try against Argentina. Photo: REUTERS/Issei Kato

Brian Moore

England have gone one better than they did in the 2015 Rugby World Cup and made it out of their pool, yet they have not fired like many expected and unforced handling errors and penalties still hold them back.

Is there more to come or are the fractured performances so far as good as it gets? We might find out in their next game against France but, as with previous games, a fractured performance might well suffice to beat a French team who have only shown moments of cogency.

The fact is, as Wales have shown, you do not need to produce a performance that approaches perfection, you just need one that is better than your instant opponent. Against every side, bar probably New Zealand, that will be good enough.

Eddie Jones, England's coach, must be frustrated that his side have not yet clicked. But averaging nearly six tries per game is enough if the needed improvements materialise.

Small mistakes in the contact area stopped England from registering a bigger win against Argentina and Jones still had to play his full starting XV. It might be that he has had doubts about one or two formations that many had thought were settled.

The George Ford/Owen Farrell axis, at 10 and 12 respectively, appeared to have been eschewed in favour of Farrell and Manu Tuilagi but Henry Slade's continuing injury problems have meant his productive partnership with Tuilagi has not been able to develop. With a full week to the France game England will be hoping Billy Vunipola will be fit and that he steps up his game.

England are not far from clicking but those steps of precision will have to come in every game to be sure of advancing. Some have claimed the win over Argentina was meaningless because they only had to face 15 men for 18 minutes. England had no control over that and that leads us to another point widely touted on social media - high tackles.

Red cards for these are ruining the game for spectators is the call. Claims have been made that this crackdown on high tackles is a panic response to the problems the NFL has had around concussion. People are suggesting other ways to minimise the impact of sending off, like having an orange card where the player is sent off but after 20 or 30 minutes a replacement is allowed. A panic response by World Rugby? A little harsh; swift is a better word but even if it was in panic - damn right.

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Who would pay the $1.25bn and rising that the NFL and its insurers have had settle for? Making the game safer is not some plot from a branch of the PC-gone-mad brigade; it is the correct attempt to fulfil a sporting and ethical duty to the game and anyone who plays or supports it.

The side who have a player sent off are seriously disadvantaged and are supposed to be. This is hard for their fans but is the fault of their player, not an official or the application of the law. It is as simple as this - players must start their tackles lower. Their coaches need to impress this on them.

Only when sides lose games does self-interest kick in and force players and coaches to address this point.

Start having orange cards and you will find nobody gets a red and you create every incentive to take out an opposition player.

This issue provokes more examples of whataboutery than almost any other. All we want is consistency, say critics, as if this has never been said before. World Rugby and every union should ask officials to strive for consistency, but every fan should admit they will not get it. Remove all humans from the process and you still might not get the holy grail of law enforcement, because few situations are on all fours with another.

The aim of rugby is not, and should never be, to facilitate ever-bigger hits.

Running, passing and scoring tries should be the focus. The Japanese and players from other teams have shown that lower, more conventional, tackling can be effective. If you require monster boshing to be entertained or you think that its absence means rugby is going soft, go and watch MMA.

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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