Wednesday 13 December 2017

Lancaster brushes off criticism of England's lost momentum

Italy 11 England 52

Owen Farrell of England goes over to score a try during the RBS Six Nations match between Italy and England at the Stadio Olimpico
Owen Farrell of England goes over to score a try during the RBS Six Nations match between Italy and England at the Stadio Olimpico
Ben Morgan of England is tackled by Joshua Furno of Italy during the RBS Six Nations match between Italy and England at Stadio Olimpico
Mike Brown of England scores his first try during the RBS Six Nations match between Italy and England at the Stadio Olimpico

Chris Hewett

Victory is not always everything it's cracked up to be.

An hour or so after watching his side put seven tries and a half-century of points past Italy in a city where some of the world's leading sides have struggled horribly in recent seasons, Stuart Lancaster found himself under fire over his substitution policy – the equivalent, in his eyes, of Jack Nowell being criticised for crossing the Azzurri line with his socks round his ankles.

The coach seemed bemused, exasperated and unusually prickly, all at the same time.

A short while afterwards, in his black-tie penguin suit at the official banquet, he was to be found in front of a television screen, watching Ireland pinch the Six Nations title from under English noses – an experience he would later describe as "not much fun."

Listening to him, the mind drifted back to Australia last summer, when the Lions boss Warren Gatland found his series triumph over the Wallabies tainted by the furore over the dropping of Brian O'Driscoll. In big-time rugby, you can be made to feel like a loser even when you win.

Lancaster will put these negatives behind him soon enough – but for the fact Ireland played the two weakest teams in the tournament, Italy and Scotland, at home, and that England suffered a 20-minute meltdown in Paris on the opening day, the trophy would be in Red Rose hands.

"Everyone is entitled to their opinion," he said, when pressed on the criticism of his tactics off the bench, an assault led by his World Cup-winning predecessor, Clive Woodward.

Not that Lancaster considers all opinions to be worth the time and effort spent in expressing them. In his view, England ended up with only a 52-11 win rather than one that would have forced Ireland to beat France by a bigger margin, as the Azzurri refused to surrender in the final quarter.

In arguing that his replacements – particularly Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi, Bath lock Dave Attwood and young out-half George Ford – gave added value to the England display, the coach was on solid ground.

Tuilagi made quite an impact, touching down in destructive fashion and winning the turnover that resulted in Chris Robshaw's wrap-up try.

Ford also emerged heavily in credit, although it remains to be seen whether the 20-year-old playmaker will be trusted to run the show against the All Blacks this summer if Owen Farrell has to stay behind for a Premiership final.

"We've made real progress over this tournament and with some top people on their way back – Marland Yarde and Ben Foden are fit again, Geoff Parling will be playing soon – we can travel to New Zealand this summer in reasonably confident mood and give it a real go," said Lancaster.

It is quite a while since an England coach said that and meant it. The last to do so was that Woodward chap, back in 2003 ... and we all know what happened that year. (© Independent News Service).

Italy – L McLean; A Esposito, M Campagnaro, G Garcia (A Masi 72), L Sarto; L Orquera ( T Allan 42), T Tebaldi (E Gori 65); M Aguero(A De Marchi, L Ghiraldini, L Cittadini (M Rizzo 46-70), Q Geldenhuys, M Bortolami, J Furno (P Derbyshire 55, replaced by F Biagi 61), R Barbieri, S Parisse (capt).

England – M Brown; J Nowell, L Burrell (Tuilagi 53), B Twelvetrees (G Ford 70), J May; O Farrell, D Care (L Dickson 65); M Vunipola (M Mullan 75), D Hartley (T Youngs 53), D Wilson (H Thomas 70), J Launchbury (D Attwood 70), C Lawes, T Wood (T Johnson 65), C Robshaw (capt), B Morgan.

Ref – P Gaüzere (France).

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