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England better for the test

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Ben Dirs | 18:48 UK time, Saturday, 20 November 2010

Twickenham

If their display against New Zealand showed England were travelling in the right direction and their defeat of Australia suggested they were travelling fast, then their defeat of Samoa was the reality check Martin Johnson's side needed.

Any side with as many players plying their trade in the top European and southern hemisphere leagues as Samoa have is never going to be easy prey, and so it came to pass at Twickenham on Saturday.

At the post-match news conference you got the sense Johnson had gained almost as much pleasure from the gritty performance as from the scintillating display against the Wallabies last week, stating that the stop-start nature of the game and disallowed tries were "not necessarily a bad thing".

"That's Test match rugby," added the England manager, "sometimes you have to grind your way to a win." Yes, England fans have reason to be excited by the moulding of an exciting young side but they also need to remember it cannot be champagne and oysters every week. Against obdurate and muscular sides such as Samoa you have to make do with meat and potatoes instead.

Some of Johnson's players apparently expressed disappointment in the changing room after the game but the boss will look upon the experience as seasoning for the bigger battles ahead, with next year's World Cup the ultimate target. Matt Banahan might not think it, but Johnson will no doubt try to persuade him that being mown down by George Pisi will have done him the world of good.

Man-of-the-match Shontayne Hape was probably England's brightest spark, making line breaks and creating space for others, although some would argue he was not even the best centre on the pitch, with Seilala Mapusua proving more than a handful. The Banahan experiment in midfield was not as successful - true, he took his try well and set up another but he looked frail defensively at times, not something you would expect to say about a man of his size.

Chris Ashton was quieter than last week - to be fair, it was difficult not to be - but the Northampton wing always demands the ball and flittered into life at times.

One burst into the line from off his wing, like a cannonball through the side of a galleon, showed what he is all about and he is England's most impish three-quarter since the soft-shoed Jason Robinson. On the other wing, a rejuvenated Mark Cueto sparkled again.

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England's front row were all over Samoa at scrum time, with Andrew Sheridan the destructor-in-chief, and the Sale prop also had one or two gallops, which we had not seen for some time. Hendre Fourie slotted in nicely in the back row and Johnson will take much pleasure from the performance of lock Courtney Lawes, who looked like he fancied it when things got a little bit tasty.

There was some profligacy on display, especially before half-time when Ashton's break should have led to a try for Ben Foden and an Ashton touchdown under the posts was disallowed after a forward pass from Hape. But it was a case of fine lines and nothing some fine-tuning should not be able to fix.

"It was good in a way," said Johnson. "You can get frustrated but we kept our composure, kept on playing until we got the breakthrough. It was a different game from last week, there were lots of reset scrums and bodies around the breakdown. If it takes 75 minutes to break them down then it takes 75 minutes. We handled it well."

Samoa have set themselves a target of one win from their autumn tour and I would not be at all surprised if they achieve their goal in Aberdeen next week. That shows how far this side has come, with better planning and player access reaping benefits.

Captain Mahonri Schwalger said before Saturday that only when his side start scalping "tier one" nations can they be compared to the joyful outfit which appeared from nowhere to beat Wales and Argentina at the 1991 World Cup. But their performance on Saturday suggested they are not too far off.

England skipper Nick Easter may not have been as happy with his side's display but in rugby, as in any sport, you are only as good as the other side allows you to be. And Johnson will actually be happy his troops are unhappy, because it shows they crave perfection. South Africa are up next and they will be equally as stubborn as Samoa - but Johnson, ever the pragmatist, seems to like it that way.

As well as my blogs, you can follow me when I'm out, as well as when I'm about, at http://twitter.com/bendirs1 

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    This was a very interesting game to watch. England got a bit of a shock - especially late on when the Samoan scrum had a go in the tight - but they stuck to their patterns and got the win. They could have had three more ties of course but that would have flattered them. I thought they looked like a team beginning to bed down - with key second-stringers slotting in well, even if they can't match the standard of the first choice players. That is as it should be, and Johnson must feel he has his best side identified now.

    Sheridan looks like he is coming right back into form, and Wilson looked very good. Not sure about Thompson - I am not sure he quite gets the style the team are trying to play, and he still can't throw into the line for toffee. Lawes is developing real consistency, and I continue to be impressed by Care's greater calmness and intelligence as a sub - having Youngs there seems to have done him the power of good. The same goes for Armitage - he deserves credit for the commitment he is showing as a sub after one season as the Golden Boy and another as the walking disaster.

    On present form Samoa offered as much of a challenge as any of the Home Nations will do in the New Year.

  • Comment number 2.

    Not disappointed by the performance, i think Samoa played extremely well and England stuck to the task well. I am becoming more and more impressed with Hape, the ability to break the line and off load is something that England have been missing in recent years. None of the replacements from last week were poor but didn't do enough to stake a claim for a starting birth against South Africa

  • Comment number 3.

    I'd love to see an All Black side that doesn't contain Pacific Island imports and for those players to represent their nation of birth. Maybe then the likes of Samoa could compete.

    I'd also love one day to see an England side that doesn't contain southern hemisphere imports.



  • Comment number 4.

    Still can´t believe how many good players a country of less than 200,000 people can produce! And they could be even better together for the world cup if they get more preparation time...

  • Comment number 5.

    Bob, not sure if you saw the game but Samoa certainly did compete, much like they did against Ireland. The question about eligibility is never ending. The IRB set the rules and countries have to followl

  • Comment number 6.

    In fairness, to Bob, in that case players like Shontayne Hape, Dylan Hartley, Hendre Fourie and Riki Flutey amongst a fair few others would never play for England.
    Glad England were roughed up a bit more this week, good preparation for the Springboks...two out of three wins must be the best for years for England, three out of four (whisper it) would be the best since before the 2003 RWC to my memory. Maybe we actually stand a chance in the Six Nations, and perhaps the World Cup!

  • Comment number 7.

    It's a massive issue that won't be resolved to people's liking therefore the IRB guidelines are those that all countries have to go by - not saying they are right but where do you draw the line? Country of birth? country of parents birth? Country where you learnt the game etc.., etc.., Not sure it's right to hijack the article with these discussions when it isn't it's focus

  • Comment number 8.

    It wasn't as impressive as the win against Australia but then again, that would take some topping. England were a bit more scrappy and less clinical, but overall they played well. However, it really does show what a difference it makes having dynamic, all-round players like Croft and Moody in the back row compared to the one dimensional, and at times, clumsy Haskell and Fourie. Samoa would never have got anywhere near as much ball if Croft and Moody were playing.

  • Comment number 9.

    Also, I think it is very easy to put down Englands performance without taking into account how well Samoa played and how organised they were in areas such as defence and the lineout compared to recent years.

  • Comment number 10.

    have only seen higlights on TV of Samoa game, was at NZ game and saw all of Aus match, but the direction of travel is probably the most hopeful since 1999.
    I know we had a stronger side in 2000-03 but all the key players, Johnson, Dallaglio, Hill, Back,Dawson, JW, Greenwood, Catt has 5+ years of international experience by RWC 2003. All of the above would probably have been in a world XV at their peak, today's team is work in progress by comparison, but Youngs, Ashton, Lawes, Croft and Foden will all surely be at RWC 2015 let alone next year's in NZ.
    feels like 1999 in many ways; if we get to QF or at best SF next year that will probably be par ( like in 1999) but watch us go in 2015, esp at home. Think we may win 2011 6N at this rate though. Ireland in decline, Wales confused, France you never know but they have to come to Twickenham this time.
    ALso think we will beat Boks next week

  • Comment number 11.

    Ben, I would be very surprised if Samoa achieve their goal of one win at Murrayfield next week, since they are not playing Scotland at Murrayfield, they're playing at Pittodrie (Aberdeen FC's ground)!

  • Comment number 12.

    "I'd love to see an All Black side that doesn't contain Pacific Island imports and for those players to represent their nation of birth. Maybe then the likes of Samoa could compete." Bob

    Bob, you have your first wish as none of the current All Blacks side contains Pacific imports, all are NZ born or bred. i.e. products of the NZ rugby system. However the current English team has 2 players Hartley and Hape who are NZ imports, as well as a coach Martin Johnson who was groomed to be an All Black.
    Your second wish, however may be impossible, as the current Samoan team has over half its players being born in NZ i.e. also products of NZ, and this is one of the reasons why they did compete, and have since 1991 competed strongly with 6N teams especially Wales. It was great to see Samoa score their first try and then second on Twickers, but the sight of a Maori player being the most penetrative back for England was a bit eerie to say the least.

  • Comment number 13.

    Credit to Samoa, I have never seen such a disciplined performance from a Samoan team before; their defence was outstanding. Where in the past they have a tendency to over commit and leave gaps, they just were not there today.

    Well played both teams; a deserved victory for England, now lets finish the Autumn off right.

  • Comment number 14.

    "the sight of a Maori player being the most penetrative back for England was a bit eerie to say the least." hamoajoe

    Not wanting to get drawn into the whole nationality argument but I thought Mark Cueto was from Workington, Cumbria, not NZ! ;-p

    I felt that Samoa brought to the table exactly what everyone expected and maybe a little bit more. I think that this was a good test for England as islanders always offer that increased physicality and passion for the game.

    I thought the England pack looked devastating at scrum time and in open play, all singing from the same hymn sheet and buying into the game plan. That was until changes were made on 55 minutes when Thompson appeared which seemed to throw the aforementioned hymn book out of the window. Samoa started to get a foothold in the scrum for the first time in the game and I can't fail to highlight that rediculous kick from the replacement hooker on his own 5 metre line, gives new meaning to putting pressure on your own throw. I'm sure that everybody agrees that it's a nice story how a player told that he will never play again due to injury defies the odds et al but he isn't up to the standard that he possibly was in 2003. He hasn't iimpressed me with his carrying and seems to be lacking a little to play at this level now.

    On a positive note (which I think there are a fair few that can be taken from yesterdays performance), the England backline appeared to have some belief and cohesion, taking the ball over the gainline regularly, Fourie and Wilson impressed me with their ball carrying and scrummaging ability respectively, despite not having a huge amount of game time in recent weeks and Cueto seems to have carried some form over from last weeks display, hopefully this can continue into next week and Ashton still looks like a class act. Despite what TheGunshow1980 says, I feel that there may be 1 or 2 selection headaches for Johnson this week.

  • Comment number 15.

    Further to some of the above, I was wondering whether the FB Williams was connected to the All Black wing who played on the other wing to Grant Battie, and then moved back to Samoa, on retirement to help the progression of Samoan rugby. Was that not a Williams?

    Like most people so far I thought that England's performance was satisfactory given the opposition. Though perhaps the Samoan tackling was not quite as lethal as in the past. It is now apparently OK to go for people in two's around the neck, so some impact on the handling skills is understandable, when faced with Samoans. And modern players pick up enough injuries to put them out of action for long periods. I think one of the objectives in the game was to finish up with a whole squad in one piece, as MJ highlighted very quickly after the game.. Perhaps MJ also remembered the fisticuffs between Moody and Tuilagi on the last occasion [ Interesting that Cole- another team-mate - took on the job of tackling T when he came on]

    The game was always going to serve the twin purposes of continuing team and squad development: and the changes up front, while giving bench players a run out, did impact on the overall performance.

    Wilson has real static strength, but is less of a footballer than Cole. And I continue to look in vain for why Haskell is so highly rated by many. It seems to me that this was the kind of game that cried out for a classic number six performance- i.e. close driving around the fringes and support play on the shoulder. I listened to the BBC radio coverage and saw the highlights and saw none of this. But it looked like Haskell giving away the first Samoan penalty for laying on the wrong side of a ruck- an old Haskell trait. As it was, Fourrie did make forward drives- but I do not see that as the task of the open-side WF: though Tony Neary made a speciality of it in the Beaumont GS winning team.

    I suppose that Haskell stays in contention partly because he has played in all the BR positions.

    Outside of the pack Banahan was the one change, but- possibly because of the nature of the forward effort on both sides- what was noticeable was Hape at inside centre taking on the task of straightening up the lateral drift of both teams and creating "go forward". So we did not see Hape and Banaham operating much as a centre-pairing in the classic tradition.

    The Samoan tackle count showed why, and also explains the logic that made England [like Wales the night before] opt for successive set-scrums because at least it prevented the very mobile and physical opposition from spreading out in a formidable defence. It was good enough to force English attackers to put a foot into touch on several occasions when tries were likely.

    The All Black performance against Ireland- also a formidable tackling side- showed how to make both time and space. But England worked out some answers on the field.. and generally passed a test.

    Cass

  • Comment number 16.

    Just two things to add. Firstly I think we have a good chance of reaching SF stage in next years W.C, and possibly even the final. We should win our group and face France in the Quarter and Australia in the semi-final. The odds maybe against us in both those games but the A.I's show we have a chance. The match that scares me is Scotland in the group stage.

    I think we should all wait till after the S.A. game and judge the series as a whole, but it does seem we are heading in the right direction so far. Of course we've been here before but you have to have hope.

    Secondly, we may dare to hope for results in the next 6N's we haven't acheived for ages. Our performance against Samoa wasn't great, but it was better than Irelands, so maybe we have a chance away to Ireland and also Wales.

    I'll sneak in an extra point. I'd like to see Banahan given another chance despite yesterday. When it comes to outstanding international players our talent pool is a bit thin and I don't think Tyndal is in that category any more. We shouldn't be dumping players after one disappointing performance, we've done that too often in the past. Banahan is inexperienced in this role and likely to improve, but I think it akes sense to have players from the same club playing together.

  • Comment number 17.

    I agree with Johnson in the main. A win's a win and games you have to scrap for teach you as much as defeats and more than stylish wins.

    Thought both Fourie and Bannahan were not up to the job; against a better team Bannahan's positional weakness would have been exposed more brutally, and if Fourie thinks an openside's job is to drive blindly forward like a prop, he should think again.

    The changes were a mixed bag - Care brought composure where Youngs had had an off day, and Croft showed what we'd been missing when he came on for the lumbering Haskell. Thompson as others have mentioned was an unmitigated disaster and almost single handedly gifted the initiative back to Samoa.

    But overall I'm pleased: while the three tries were rightly disallowed, we're talking centimetres here: by the tiniest of margins England could have been looking at a score of 40 plus. On another day those centimentres would have fallen the right side of the touchline, the forward pass would have been backward, Twickenham would have rocked and the media would be touting England as potential world champions. That none of those things happened is, as MJ says, perhaps a good thing. Progress by degrees will serve England much better than flattering scorelines.

  • Comment number 18.

    Fair analysis Ben, and I'd agree with your points.

    In terms of providing a crucible in which to appraise Johnno's side, this year's AIs are perfect - first the allround intensity of the ABs, then the inventiveness and improvisation of the Wallabies. Now we've had the cussedness of Samoa, and to round it all off next week we've got a wounded Boks team.

    England/SA games, no matter what the context, always resolve into a battle for forward supremacy; it's what both nations pride themselves on most.

    The set pieces will be interesting - I think we can dominate the scrums, but our lineout has looked vulnerable in the last 3 games, and Matfield is the best stealer there is. It'll help if Hartley's radar is working; I thought Thommo was an unreliable thrower-in, but in the AIs to date Dylan's been much worse, particularly on must-win lines out.

    Then there's the breakdown, where the Boks are really missing Broussow, and the England back row are starting - just starting mind - to remind me of the Holy Trinity of Hill, Dallaglio and Back in their pomp.

    With anything approaching parity of possession, I think the England midfield and backthree have the taking of their Bok counterparts.

    If we can maintain good discipline and deny Steyn a supply of kickable penalties then I think we should beat the Boks next Saturday. But they'll be feeling the hurt of the loss to Scotland and looking to restore their self esteem.

    I don't think it'll be a classic of running rugby - more of an old-fashioned knockdown/drag out, but none the less compelling or exciting for that..

  • Comment number 19.

    I really enjoyed the match and was really pleased that England didn't start kicking the ball away when things weren't going their way. The build up to all three disllowed tries was very good, so I'm not too worried that England didn't get over the line. Samoa's defence was outstanding. The only major mistake England made was not retaining possession from the kick off at the beginning of the second half, which led to Samoa scoring. Although England were less clinical, I think Samoa played better all round than the Aussies last week.

  • Comment number 20.

    I think we should be beyond complaining about players adopted countries and playing for them.

    The only area where it should be looked at further is where a player has represented a Country in Rugby League and wants a shot with another in Union - oh, and the blatant illegal attempts by the Welsh to find 'invisible' Welsh links for Kiwis - Shane Howarth and Sinkinson for two.

    But everything else - let it go. It's tedious. If a Country turns their back on a player, or the conditions are right to flourish, then let them come to another Country. Fourie worked his socks of in South Africa, it didn't work out well, came to England with Rotherham and worked his way up.

    I only mind seeing Hape for England, good player, but as a fan of both codes, I did not like seeing him beasting the English in league, then singing God Save the Queen at Twickers. That seems wrong.

  • Comment number 21.

    I wonder if that is the first and last time that Chris Ashton will be described as 'impish'. I don't remember jason Robinson carrying three Aussies over the line with him. He generally jinked around them instead.

  • Comment number 22.

    Bob - I wrote a blog about the misconception of the All Blacks "stealing" islanders last week. It is actually a lot more complicated than that. Many All Blacks down the years that some sections of the media would have you believe were nicked were actually born in New Zealand - Bunce, Jones, Umaga, Nonu, Mealamu are just some of the players of Samoan descent who were born in New Zealand, which pretty much makes them Kiwis. Many others moved to New Zealand when they were children, which also makes them Kiwis.

    wordjammer - Haha. Well, would you warrant it, Scotland playing in Aberdeen... many thanks for pointing that out.

    CASSEROLEON - Indeed, Brian Williams, who was NZ's record try-scorer until John Kirwan surpassed him, is Paul's dad.

    The Holy Hooker - Agreed - don't expect the Saffers to be lobbing the ball about, it could be very old-school indeed...

    Treemonkey1975 - When I say 'impish', I'm not talking about their stature, more their mischievous nature on a rugby pitch!

  • Comment number 23.

    I think you're mostly being too harsh on Banahan. It was his international debut in that position and he scored one try and set up the other. Plus gave away no penalties and made no big defensive blunders.
    What more can you ask for?

    Yes he took an obvious hit in one case but on numerous occasions he made good offloads in the tackle, was a real handful for the Samoan defense, several times taking up multiple defenders and was centrally involved in both scores. Just because he didn't sparkle like Youngs or Lawes has on occasion, his contribution is being overlooked. Compare his game to Tindal's solid but lacking performances, where you could see the momentum of the attack slow in Tindal's hands and it's obvious Banahan is the man for that position next week.

  • Comment number 24.

  • Comment number 25.

    Just read my own earlier comment re Tyndal. I guess that being over four Centuries old and the effort of translating the bible into English would be too much for any international rugby player. Naturally I meant Tindall, who has been a fine England player over the years and deserves to be respected and give his proper name, I just feel he's past his best.

  • Comment number 26.

    I think England played a decent game, still tried to play with tempo, but we just werent clearing out those big lumps quickly enough at the rucks.... glad foden got a bit more ball as well.

    One thing I was really sad to see missed in all the after match reviews was the decoy line Banahan ran at the start of the line break... he made the samoan scrum half hesistate for long enough for Hape to get on the outside. As hes gonna get absoloutely slaughtered on these by his critics for being one dimensional I thought it would be good to highlight some of the off the ball stuff hes done

    Also, I think Nick Easter is playing consistantly well this autumn, smashing over the gainline every time, lovely stuff!



  • Comment number 27.

    "FB Williams was connected to the All Black wing who played on the other wing to Grant Battie, and then moved back to Samoa, on retirement to help the progression of Samoan rugby"


    Bryan Williams (born in Auckland) is Paul Williams's (Born in Auckland) dad. Paul Williams qualifies for samoa I beleive through his grandparents. Bryan Willaims did not move back to Samoa but coached them out of Auckland. He was a motel owner in the City for many years and has if my memory serves me correctly a law degree from Auckland University.

    Ben many thanks for you balanced views on the "Pacific Island question". I just wish some of your other journalistic comrades had such a resaoned approach.

    As I have pointed out earlier 13 of the 22 who played Engaldn Saturday and NZ born and a furtehr 4 grew up in NZ.

  • Comment number 28.

    falling TP

    Good to read you again.. and thanks for the facts about Bryan Williams.. All I remembered was that he had chosen to take on a role in promoting the development of Samoan rugby. Did he not travel with previous Samoan squads to the UK, or the RWC?

    And you will notice in the sentence that you quoted from me that I did not claim that he had moved from Samoa to NZ..

    Is your last sentence which is difficult to follow refer to the All Blacks team that played England in the first of the AI or to the Samoan team that played England two days ago?


    In view of our previous exchanges on the haka, I must regret that the expansion of the rugby crowd to 70-80,000 seems to have gone along with a decline in standards. This singing over the haka and the lack of silence given to place-kickers is deplorable. The English must learn to have confidence in the 22 players who have been selected to uphold the national honour.

    Cass

  • Comment number 29.


    Cas

    Yes indeed good to hear from you.

    "Did he not travel with previous Samoan squads to the UK, or the RWC?"

    Yes he travelled with them but he continued to live in Auckland.

    Sorry yes my last sentence was full of typos. 13 of the 22 in the Samoan team that played England on Saturday are New Zealand born. Another 4 grew up in NZ incluing Mapasua who came to NZ when he was 4 and Mahonri Schwagler who came to NZ when he was abut 10 years old.

  • Comment number 30.

    Falling TP

    Thanks for that clarification.. I think that this whole business of places of birth and countries to play for is a bit fraught.. But here in the British Isles there are so many people born in England who chose to play for Ireland, Wales or Scotland that I think we just have to respect the system and the choices that people can have in a free country.. My children being half-French I have never yet faced the need to be reconciled to the question of which of their two countries they would play for..

    As an aside are you still "hedging your bets"?

    Regards

    Cass

  • Comment number 31.

    Yes, I think that individuals exercising freewill is the crux: it seems to be overlooked by the British media when they comment on people of Pacific Island lineage chosing whether they play for Samoa, Tonga or NZ. To me in runs deeper than rugby though: it is important to NZ society that immigrants are assimilated and thus NZ born and bred Pacific Islanders I hope by and large considser themselves to be New Zealanders (as well as of course having pride in their Smaon heritage). What I see in the UK press is often very divisive.

    Yes no progress there - still hedging my bets. Seems I'm getting too long in the tooth to change. I still have your e-mail though and read it from time to time. My son is developing a love for history. I must thus introduce him to William Cobbett.

    Kia Kaha
    TP

  • Comment number 32.

    BEN

    I think you should have a word with Jerry Guscott who repeats the mantra on the BBC blog today He says:

    "It's their national sport and even though the population is relatively small they have a never-ending conveyor belt of talent in all positions. It also helps that a lot of South Sea Islanders go to school in NZ and qualify to play for the ABs. "

    Boy oh boy I get sick of this. What does it take for a journalsit to do a little research rather than this repeating the same old same old cliches!

  • Comment number 33.

    falling TP

    Perhaps he is thinking of contempories in English rugby who seem to have been funded by Nigeria's "black gold" so that they attended English boarding schools, and in at least one case Oxbridge.. At the risk of spreading the kind of misinformation that you have criticised I think that this applied to Adebayo Adedayo, Victor Ubogu, and Steve Ojomoh- among others.

    Cass

  • Comment number 34.

    Indeed Cass.

    Am I right in thinking that you have a liking for William Cobbett's works/observations?

  • Comment number 35.

    falling TP

    You remember correctly.. one of these days I may get back to my project of postulating what Cobbett's economic ideas might have been if he had ever got round to making a coherent whole..

    Looking back it was probably back in 2008 that we exchanged thoughts.. right in my first ventures on to the net... Starting with 606.. Since then I have largely been on the BBC History site- and even more on H2G2 where I have placed a whole lot of personal pieces on my "Space"..

    Without wishing to abuse Ben Dirs thread I think that, in view of your professional expertise and the current Irish crisis, you might be interested in this piece I wrote in October 2008.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/brunel/A42560057

    Apologies to Ben - for blog-abuse

    Regards

    Cass

  • Comment number 36.

    As a Scot, it slightly pains me to admit this, but England look to have a bright future and could do very well at the World Cup next year based on their recent performances. New Zealand seem to be far and away the team in the best position to win it but England, along with Australia - provided they're on top form -, France and South Africa should also all be in the mix. Somewhat patriotically of me, I also believe Scotland have their best chance yet to make a real impression, the last few results being a good indication of this.
    Johnson looks to have shifted the dead wood that was hanging on to past glories or old friendships with him, or those that have simply been found to be overrated. In this bracket I would include the likes of Steve Borthwick, Jamie Noon, Louis Deacon, and dare I say it, Jonny Wilkinson. I do also still have question marks as to why he perseveres with Mike Tindall, though. Exciting players like Foden, Youngs, Ashton, Croft and Hape are doing well for them and making them the attacking team we've not seen from England in a long time, but I would still push the merits of players like Tom Varndell, Nick Abendanon, Matthew Tait and even the reliable Dave Walder for the side.
    Well done Martin Johnson on sort of converting a stubborn Scot to admit that England aren't terrible!

  • Comment number 37.

    rainbowflashyboots

    I would agree with much of that.. But I think that one would need to analyse carefully the last two games.. I suspect that Foden, Ashton, Youngs, and Cuetto were all more penetrative and effective against Australia in part because Tindall gave more shape to the back play- in part because of his limitations.. He knows that he is never going to run the length of the pitch so his game is very much about punching holes or making spaces for others- and he has learned by experience- and from a long and successful partnership with Greenwood, like Trevor Woodman one of the World Class players from the 2003 squad that people too often forget.

    Cass

  • Comment number 38.

    rainbowflashyboots

    Thinking further about Wilkinson - I would not rule out a similar pattern to that other great obsessive admittedly in another sport- Geoffrey Boycott.. At something like the same age Boycott absented himself from international cricket. The reasons were not the same; but I suspect that the fun had gone out of the game, and like JW he had become the number one target for the hostility of the opposition. I always think that JW's injuries have been increased by the quite deliberate and cynical targetting he has received by massive ball-carriers quite apparently under orders to "take out" this key player.. Other place kickers like Rob Andrew were similarly targetted. In the case of Boycott he is now proud that some of the greatest fast-bowlers in the game were motivated to bowl their best when he was facing them.. But these things can take their toll-- especially in losing teams.

    But Boycott came back, and that famous Headingly test won by Botham, was initially saved by a Boycott innings of the old familiar resolution that England had often lacked.

    It may well be the same story with JW.. Over recent seasons too great an expectation has been placed upon JW. When he was the highest rated number 10 in the world, he was playing (like Carter) in the highest rated team in the world- or one that was in the process of becoming so.

    Perhaps we will yet again see JW enjoying his rugby.

    Cass

  • Comment number 39.

    With regards to Tindall, there is no doubt that he was a great player but I feel that currently he is definitely on a downwards slope, his ability to punch holes and do the basics certainly stand up to international test rugby but I would argue that he doesn't quite have the ability or spark of a player like Conrad Smith or Ma'a Nonu or Jean de Villiers, or even Adam Ashley-Cooper. Tindall, whilst not being detrimental to the team at all, surely must just be a temporary fix until another 13 is found.
    With Wilkinson, I don't believe he has been overrated but at times he seems to have been picked just on the strength of his name. If he was consistently playing at his best and injury free he would undoubtedly be one of the first names down on the team sheet, unfortunately that's not been the case. Despite showing glimpses of his awesome defensive and match winning abilities amongst other things in the last few seasons, he's still not what he was.

  • Comment number 40.

    rainbowflashyboots

    I think that we are largely in agreement.. and the selection of Charlie Hodgson on the bench must give JW assurance.. Hodgson was the competition in his generation, and he knows he can beat that.

    As with the Tindall situation, however, it is a case for those who aim to compete for places to make out the case for themselves..Often, however, like Barclay who I seem to remember was not sure in his teens whether he was a scrum-half or fly-half, and has subsequently to my mind shown promise at centre, it does not always pay to be so diversified and to be a useful squad member who never forces his way into the starting 15. Austin Healey suffered from this when Mat Dawson- a junior English centre- decided to target scrum half. Foden seems to have finally decided to become a specialist full-back, and in recent matches has shown a capacity for ball retention that shows that sheer bulk is not always crucial.

    Cass

  • Comment number 41.

    I quite agree, however with Hodgson I believe there are a number of other English fly halves who could deputise more than ably for Flood over Hodgson; people like Ryan Lamb, Shane Geraghty, Stephen Myler and Dave Walder.
    And as mentioned before, I still can't see why Tom Varndell's been overlooked by Johnson?!?

  • Comment number 42.

    Cass

    Haven't read it all yet (will print off and do so) but the views of Macaulay have a certain relevance today. Look forward to reading in full.

  • Comment number 43.

    falling TP

    Yes. I read Macaulay's miscellaneous speeches etc that year and found much interesting material... I am glad you seem to be enjoying it.

    rainbowflashyboots

    I totally agree with your FH's... I particularly like Lamb's vision of passing and distribution... As for Varndell, can MJ understand someone leaving Leicester? Seriously though his try last week-end showed the kind of sheer speed that I fear is going out of the game.. As with Lamb physicality seems absolutely essential. It seems that it is impossible for a team to "look after" a FH the way that Leicester used to look after that genius Les Cusworth.. I think that Rugby is the loser.

    Cass

    Cass

  • Comment number 44.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

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