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England still searching for another gear

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Ben Dirs | 13:39 UK time, Sunday, 18 September 2011

Dunedin

At the end of a week which taught us that booze, bar-room bundles, blonde 'stunners' and England rugby players do not mix - unless you are a headline writer for a red top rag - Martin Johnson's men would have hoped for an emphatic display against Georgia in Dunedin to keep the critics at bay. But on a weekend when some of their biggest rivals revealed high-ranking hands, England kept their cards close to their chests.

Georgia, it should be noted, were magnificent, especially in a first half when they had 75% of territory and mangled England at the breakdown. With Montpellier flanker Mamuka Gorgodze - voted best overseas player in the French Top 14 last season - running riot, England's back-row, as against Argentina, was made to look pedestrian at times.

And if it were not for an off-beam display from fly-half Merab Kvirikashvili, who looked as if he was kicking with a beach ball, England might have been behind at half-time.

As it was, England's superior conditioning told in the final quarter against a side which played Scotland only on Wednesday. While the International Rugby Board must be praised for ploughing money into the sport in less-established countries, burdening the so-called minnows with such short turnarounds only heightens the sense of a them-and-us attitude: come and join the party, have a good time, but we don't really want you to win anything.

Ben Foden and Toby Flood in discussions

England must improve if they are to challenge in the knockout stages. Photo: Getty

"We need to get better," said Johnson after the game. "It just annoys me. I don't want to be that type of team. If I am happy with those standards then we will go home quite early - and if we are happy with those standards we will go home early. We have to be tough on ourselves."

The question is, can the players he has at his disposal get that much better in time to be able to challenge in the knockout stages? Given their recidivist nature - they gave away 11 penalties in the first half, six in the first 15 minutes - it seems doubtful.

There were signs against Georgia of a good side desperately trying to get out. When play began to break up in the second half, England's three-quarters served notice of what they are capable of, with the back three coming looking for the ball and outpacing and outmuscling the opposition. As for 38-year-old lock Simon Shaw - someone check that man's passport - he played with the energy of a man half his age.

However, the first 60 minutes will have made for worrying viewing for Johnson, who must feel like the driver of a big truck, desperately waggling the lever in an attempt to find another gear - a gear his side proved they had in this season's Six Nations and in victories over Australia last year.

With a hard-fought victory over Argentina in the bag, Johnson would have been looking for signs that his side are congealing into a more cohesive unit, finding a rhythm, putting together patterns of play. However, any structure was undermined by indisciplined forwards, a lack of accuracy and a Georgian side that, at times, looked like they wanted it more (although I should add, I am sure that is not the case).

England scrummaging

There were signs against Georgia of a good side desperately trying to get out. Photo: Getty

There will be those, as after England's narrow defeat of Argentina, who will accuse me of not understanding the nuances of tournament rugby, who will say that England do not want to be peaking too soon. But while other sides - Wales and Ireland among them - at least look to have a set game-plan and a structure in place, the house of England remains shrouded with scaffolding two games in and the suspicion is that more clinical sides than Georgia will be able to bring what appears to be a rickety edifice tumbling to the ground.

"If ever we needed to understand what the game is about at this level, the big game of the weekend - Ireland v Australia - indicated what it is about," added Johnson. "The bigger the game you play, the more simple it is - maintain possession, don't give away penalties, build pressure in all aspects of the game and you will give yourself a chance. We need to be rehearsing that."

England, lest we forget, were humiliated 36-0 by South Africa in their second match in 2007 and eventually reached the final. But one wonders if they have enough leaders in New Zealand, enough big characters, to turn their form around. And if Johnson has a game-plan, who is going to be the one to tell him that it might need tinkering with?

With one more 'rehearsal', against Romania next Saturday, before they face Scotland in the final group game, England need to find that other gear. If not, this could be remembered as the World Cup when England went loco in Queenstown. Or not, whatever the truth may be.

PS. I have spoken to several people who were in the Queenstown bar where England were supposedly up to no good, and the consensus is that they were all pretty well behaved. I suppose one man's 'couple of sherbets' is another man's 'out of control'. But it seems a sad day when any rugby team, England or not, can't go out for a few post-match lagers. Personally, I don't think they should be allowed to smile in public after a below-par performance. The cheek of it!

Comments

Page 1 of 3

  • Comment number 1.

    Completely agree, England need to stop giving away so many penalties, conceding so many turnovers, and just find that extra gear! They've been lucky with a fairly easy group (compared to Wales), and these 'warm up matches' will probably do them good. Hopefully they can come out in the quarters with all guns blazing.
    On a side note, I thought Georgia played brilliantly at times! Could have been alot closer.

  • Comment number 2.

    Couldn't agree more about the comments in the PS. I cant help wondering how much of the fuss is because Tindall is married to the Queen's grand-daughter. It certainly makes it a story for the gutter tabloids and their feral readership.

    IMO rugby players should only have to defend themselves against accusations of NOT drinking beer on a night out.

    As for the England performance, it was far from convincing, but Georgia are no mugs, particularly up front, and even going back to the 2003 team, England often struggled to win games where the opposing pack got anywhere near parity. I cant see England performing well at the business end of the tournament, largely because the back row is not good enough (put the holy trinity at their peak into this England team and they would have a chance of winning), although I still think questions need to be asked about the forwards coach.

  • Comment number 3.

    Most people know that in tournaments such as this, the eventual winners tend to start off slowly easing in to it.
    Lets hope that is the case with the England team!

    As for having a beer or two in a bar, so what? Leave the guys alone!

  • Comment number 4.

    Conceding so many penalties will hurt England against the higher ranked teams but I thought there backs looked sharp (until Banahan came on!). Georgians looked very good until the effort caught up with them. IRB need to schedule more matches for the minnows against the 6N/SH teams to improve standards between world cups.

  • Comment number 5.

    Good thing that the opposition couldn't kick. Most of the forwards player well, as did Foden. Hope Ashton doesn't break his wrist or Arm with the show off dive. Still not convinced about the three quarters, with HApe still watching the ball.

  • Comment number 6.

    did not see the whole match but penalty count should be a major concern....my concern is that Haskell comes out and says that they should point the finger at the players that are not playing the system.....whatever system they are supposed to be playing does not work....I agree with certain pundits who say the coaches are coaching the side to death.....for god sake let let the players express themselves....the irish beating the aussies was a fluke and will not hapen again....running rugby will win this world cup!!

  • Comment number 7.

    Let's be honest guys, if the boys had blown argentina away on the field, then the off-field story would have a completely different angle to it... However, we can't undo the past, so the boys have just got to deliver results, and let's not forget we've got 2 from 2 at the moment.... Cast your minds back to 2003, a vintage year for english rugby, and I don't remember a particularly effervescent start to the campaign down under. I was in sydney with a couple of mates and I remember the press calling us boring and 'running around like headless chucks!'. Results are the only thing that matter, and the team need to remember that. I would rather see 5 more ugly wins than flamboyance and losses.

    Credit to georgia though - some awesome athletes in there! Does anyone know if any of their players are in the eng premiership?

  • Comment number 8.

    Top-tier arrogance by the media and commentators is getting irritating. Georgia were magnificent, Canada in the first half the equal of France. Had it not been for Rolland who was, IMO, top-tier biased (pushing early when Samoa were threatening to score? I don't think so) Samoa who were the better side on the day, would have at least drawn. All the introspection because it is assumed that the top teams have some sort of right to just turn up to win and when they are pushed to the limits it's assumed to be their failings rather than the opposition playing out of their skins is disrespectful to the whole ethos of rugby.

  • Comment number 9.

    Not quite sure why Ben's in such a nitpicky mood here. Georgia are clearly much improved from '03. England were a bit messy in the first half but we still got a WBP out of it - job done!

  • Comment number 10.

    Good blog, Ben. You give credit where it's due and reasonable comment where required.

    I agree with much of what you say. If we win this world cup, Shaw on this occasion will have earned his winner's medal.

    As for the penalties problem, you would think that it would be fairly easy to rectify. Now I know that front five forwards have a reputation of being a bit numb, that many of the laws around the breakdown are open to interpretation, but it's fairly simple to grasp that if you're off your feet, you don't take part in the game until you get up. Simples! If they can only grasp that, things will improve no end.

    As for the shocking revelation that rugby players have a beer from time to time, well let the tabloids do their worst. I feel anyone with any sense of proportion should ignore the matter totally. No doubt Tindall will be the subject of people seeking sensational stories, but he'll know that. Who'd have thought such journalists would try to make something from nothing? Go figure!

    I suppose from this point forward, you can only hope that England will kick on and improve. Being a glass half full type of feller, I really think they will. They're winning without that improvement, so look out!

  • Comment number 11.

    Conceding that many penalties might be fine against Georgia, Romania and Argentina (Once Contepomi was injured!) but with Jackson, Parks and Paterson, Scotland will make any team pay for giving away penalties.

  • Comment number 12.

    I really am getting fed up with all the negative press that England are receiving. Scotland beat Georgia 15-6 and it's a wonderful performace. Why is it no matter what England do our press find negatives in all there performances.
    Can we stop being over critical and for once support our national team!

  • Comment number 13.

    Absolutely agree with Roy. It's not just the commentators and media too, it's the bookies. I don't know about anyone else but I've made an absolutely killing with some of the ridiculous odds on winning margins between the tier 1 and tier 2/3 teams.

    It's not just me, either. Rugby fans up and down the world, a good majority of them, have understood and known that a)Minnows play better in World Cups and b)The Minnows are better than they've ever been.

    And yet, for some strange reason, all the supposed authorities in the game are surprised and shocked when they play well. Of course that's being too fair, most of them don't even credit the minnows for playing well - Instead it's just us good teams having bad days, round after round, team after team...

    What Roy says about attitudes, especially from referees, is spot on. I'm not quite sure why but the Pacific Nations in particular seem to get a bum-deal when it comes to the set piece. Which might have once made sense, these nations aren't traditionally strong in the set-piece, but lest we forget it's 2011 and professionalism is rife. The Samoans, Fijians and Tongans are just assumed to have weak scrums and anything that happens in the scrum must therefore be from them either cheating or being inferior at scrum time. A prime example was last years game between Fiji and Wales - Wales were getting hammered at scrum time, with Adam Jones consistently collapsing the scrum. The problem was that there's a perception amongst fans and referees that Fiji can't scrummage and Wales can, and therefore it must have been Fiji to blame for the collapsed scrums. Fiji didn't lose, but the inept refereeing cost them a victory(game ended in a draw).

    There are so many examples like that. It happens in the ruck and mauls too - lineouts not so much as they're easier to ref - teams deemed no good(rightly or wrongly) get a very raw deal.

    This is very damaging to the game as minnows are often kicked out of the game with penalty after penalty going against them for imaginary crimes.

  • Comment number 14.

    @7 - not sure about eng prem but they have a big presence in france, Dmitri Yachvili who is on off France scrum half is Georgian, his brother played for the Georgian team in 2003 / 2007.....

  • Comment number 15.

    Hmmm....to those of us who have been around a while this all sounds very familiar. Woe, sackcloth and ashes follow England through any sporting encounter. It's a combination of a natural slightly depressive national tendency, allied to lazy, formulaic journalism.

    "ENGLAND MAKE SLOW START AGAINST FIRY TOP10 ARGENTIANS"....shock horror! We chaps should walk 60 points in against such trivial opposition without breaking a sweat. "ENGLAND FAIL AGAINST FIRY GEORGIA BY RUNNING IN SIX TRIES!"...all of whose players play their rugby in the top French League and who were playing the game of their lives....shock horror...how could we win by such an unconvincing margin???

    "RUGBY PLAYERS GO OUT FOR DRINK AFTER GAME"...no s*** Sherlock! Another scoop by the Daily Mail, hot on the heels of "RUGBY PLAYER SWEARS ON PITCH!" This may raise heartbeats amongst the curtain-twitching classes but it is desperate, barrel-scraping journalism!

    This all complete and total poop! There are people in the press, and God knows you don't meet them in real life, who believe that England should really expect to win comfortably every game they play and that the opposition should have read the script before the game. To not run out as effortless winners is a sign of massive failure and inexorable national decline etc etc.

    England didn't play well against Argentina...but still won. England played better against the much-improved Georgians, winning 41-10 for God's sake. For those, other than the daft "effortless-supremacy" people, who follow the game, the situation is OK! Not brilliant...but OK and heading in the right direction. But that's not a very exciting headline is it?

  • Comment number 16.

    One positive I reckon we can take from today is that selection has been made a bit easier in some positions. For instance, Dylan Hartley shouldn't be on the bench let alone let anywhere near the starting fifteen. Steve Thompson was excellent when he came on and Lee Mears should take Hartley's place on the bench.

    For all his doubters, Hape had a good game. And I'm glad he did because he has come in for alot of ill informed slanging. All our backs have looked ordinary since Dublin in the six nations because our pack has mostly been going backwards. Today, when our pack got onto the front foot (which was not nearly enough) he linked played and took his tries with aplomb. Most people who have been slating him forget that he was one of our centres during those impressive victories over Australia (the other being Tindall, who has also been slated).

    The back row is still an area of concern with both Easter and Moody very short on game time, but Tom Croft really put his hand up when he came on and Haskell looked good at No. 8 (but they really shouldn't let him anywhere near a microphone though- name and shaming players will really help squad unity James, nice one...)

    However, that is the positive I can take from this. There are still plenty of negatives, but I believe that England were guilty today of not being "up for it" from the start today. They did enough, but they didn't look hungry and they were taken by surprise by how effective the Georgians were. Just as with the ineffective Ireland vs. USA compared to the magnificent Ireland vs. Australia, you haven't seen the best of England yet and I don't think (or is it hope?) we will be found wanting when the time comes.

    Please God prove me right...

  • Comment number 17.

    Lots of tries, penalties, wins and beers - and even a swan dive. Arg are a good side, Georgia pretty decent. And we roll on.

  • Comment number 18.

    Georgians have a real strong presence in French Rugby at all levels. Less so at the top, but there's quite a few Georgians about in the Top 14. They(Georgia) have a real knack for producing big burly forwards.

    I'm not sure why Rugby in the UK hasn't taken to signing Georgians in the same way, they're obviously talented. With a few x factor players in the backfield the Georgians could be a very serious team come 2019. It seems producing forwards is more there thing, for now.

    Just wait till the likes of Canada, America, Georgia, Russia, Japan etc get more professional players in the top domestic rugby competitions. You only need 100 + quality pros in the best comps in the world and you've got a really strong international team capable of beating any tier 1 nation on their day. There's so many minnows knocking around that are ready to do an Argentina 2007. That's without mentioning the already established Pacific Island nations who are always dangerous on their day.

    Where these nations will exceed I feel is having that underdog outsider mentality. The way Rugby is in these nations just breeds very passionate players with a lot of heart.

    I'd like to think England have the same passion when they pull on the white(or black lol) jersey, but I'm not sure I buy it.

    (sorry for my long posts)

  • Comment number 19.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2010/nov/19/wales-fiji-autumn-international

    I really cannot agree with 13 at all. Wales completely mullerred Fiji in the scrum that day gaining a penalty try in the process, with Adam Jones especially winning his battle. Admittedly Wales on that day were rubbish and didn't deserve to win.

    As for the Wales game today, Samoa had a lot of the game but continually went over the top at the ruck and most of the time had a lot of people illegally in front of the ball/blocking etc. A competent ref would have seen his more heavily penalized
    .
    Of course if we were to go on about refs favouring bigger sides we only have to go back to the penalty decision last week by a certain Mr Barnes.

  • Comment number 20.

    Hi. Can't sleep, might as well get involved. To those accusing the media of being negative, I would refer you to the quotes from not only Martin Johnson, but James Haskell - and pretty strong they are, too. "The days of brushing it under the carpet are gone. It has got to that stage, got that serious," said Haskell. "It starts with identifying individuals.People have got to start pointing some fingers and saying 'this is not acceptable'. Johnno is not happy, the coaches are not happy - the players need to look at themselves and realise they are not working as hard as they should be... we are letting ourselves down. We are stuck in a bit of a mire."

    Yet, despite this, the media still aren't allowed to be critical in some people's eyes. I have to ask the question: what do people want journalists to write? That England were great? That they are playing to their potential? As for the person who claimed the media lauded Scotland for their win over Georgia, David Campese and Andrew Mehrtens were actually laughing at Scotland on NZ telly the other day.

  • Comment number 21.

    I'm not sure what the fuss is about. My own view is that the press have built England up to be a better team than they are, and at the same time, underestimated their opponents.
    Argentina have some great players, and an awesome team spirit. They are only held back by lack of playing time together. Georgia showed against Scotland what they are capable of, and played exactly as expected. England won both games, so things went pretty much to plan.
    As for the high penalty count, it seems to have blighted the whole Jonno era, and in my mind is primarily due to the lack of ball winners in the pack putting pressure on the breakdown. Loads of great ball carriers in the back 5, but without the ball, that's irrelevent. This (along with half backs who take a step before passing) leads to slow ball, and subsequent criticism of the midfield for a lack of creativity. If you have slow ball, even Quade Cooper can't work miracles (see Ire v Oz)!).
    Finally, in how many games of the past few years have England found this extra gear, and what has happened in the following games? To my mind, England make themselves difficult to beat which always gives them a chance, but wouldn't have me rushing to put money on them for the WC.

  • Comment number 22.

    @anglophone

    Endorse everything you say and more. I too am sick of our negative press and arrogant mentality. I think we need to get behind Johnno and the boys and lump it. A win is a win in the world cup and no one cares how you get to the top as long as you get there!

    As for Haskell, I like him as a player as he works hard for the team and puts his body on the line, this doesn't however give him the right to start shooting his mouth off about team mates. Just wish he'd concentrate on his rugby and leave the interviews and publicity stuff for his retirement!!!

  • Comment number 23.

    If you'd watched the highlights on ITV4, you'd have been forgive for thinking England walked it, as the 'penalty' issue wasn't shown during the match, only commented on afterwards.

    However, there are signs that the backs are starting to click a little - the handling looked pretty good.

    If the forwards can sort out the handling in the rucks, then there's some cause for optimism.

    Personally, I don't care what the pundits and media say, England have won their first two matches, which is more than can be said for both Wales and Australia ;o)

  • Comment number 24.

    Absolute hogwash on both counts, Jack 19. The referee favored Wales in both these games. Anyone who wants to can find the Wales - Fiji game from 2010 online and see Wales savaged in all facets of the game, including the scrum. And most of us remember the game that took place only this morning!

    It was once again another case of Wales winning games they didn't deserve on penalty kicks and questionable refereeing. If Wales best kicker was Merab Kvirikashvili they'd lose to most tier 2 nations.

  • Comment number 25.

    For Georgia, as for Argentina, it was *T*H*E* big game, but for England, both of those were lesser hurdles. I don't say that it's impossible to trip on lesser hurdles, but few sides burn off their emotional fuel on those. (Well, excepting perhaps New Zealand, but they do their own arithmetic in these matters...)

    I'm not too worried if that's the case. From a coaching point of view, I expect that it is to be welcomed if teething problems come to the surface in these games. Tactically, England are showing nothing, and I hope and trust that's not accidental. The side has been playing dreary, crash-up-the-middle, ball-in-hand-regardless-of-where-the-tryline-is, get-in-the-traffic-and-don't-mind-the-loss-of-control stuff and that won't serve fo the big gmes, but I don't think we'll see it in the big games.

    One speculates, of course, but consider this possibility. New Zealand (quite obviously the team to beat) rehearse their top game in every game, polishing it to the point that crash-up-the-middle, ball-in-hand-regardless-of-where-the-tryline-is, get-in-the-traffic-and-don't-mind-the-loss-of-control stuff actually looks quite exciting, but perhaps they haven't done as well in World Cups as the punters think they ought to have precisely because everybody knows exactly what's coming in the big games, and sooner or later somebody gets a handful of sand into the New Zealand sump. The European teams don't do that, and so are capable of raising their game and pulling off surprises. Maybe we're seeing what we're meant to see.

    And then, of course, maybe we're not. I too was dismayed by the complete absence of support from the centres when Foden got his line-break against Argentina, and could not fathom the need for all the penalties which England has been incurring ('though heaven knows it's better to have had Bryce Lawrence than to have him in prospect!), and I don't know why the backs have to take the expression "standing flat" quite so literally. One just doesn't know: all part of the fun.

    I'll say this much, though: The Georgia-England game did a lot for rugby (if mainly in Georgia). The New Zealand-Japan game was downright unedifying. I don't really care whether England's low gear was a question of accident or design on the day: I had a ball sputtering my way through those Georgian surnames as I cheered them. Come the quarter-finals, I'll wipe the television, Georgia won't be a concern, and England had better have a clinical cocktail of passion, organisation and brutality to dish up...

    ... the very one which it would have been quite unbecoming to lay

  • Comment number 26.

    England ran in plenty against a combative Georgia side. The back three looked lively and were always trying to get involved in play, Tuilagi and Hape were always looking for the half break.

    The penalty count is a serious negative. England seem unable to comprehend basic rules like offside and just do some absolutely blatant and retarded things around the break down giving away pens.

    Generally I thought it was a decent performance, to argue this was unconvincing is unfair. How many points/tries would Mr Dirs like? would 100 do? or perhaps we need a RWC record 136 points to satisfy him? Perhaps a second half shut out would do? The only basis Mr Dirs gives for this unconvincing criticism is that England took until the second half to run away with it. Presumably the article condemning Australia and South Africa to eviction in the group stages are coming seeing as they have been drawing at half time, who cares that they win comfortably, its the half time score that counts not the score after 80 minutes.

    What sort of performance would Mr Dirs feel suitable against Romania? how many points would satisfy his standards for a group game?

  • Comment number 27.

    So...question to all bloggers who are still reading this rather than (or at same time as) watching downton abbey(!)....Assuming no other injuries, and assuming we win (ugly or otherwise) our next two pool games, who would be in your starting 15 for the QF match?

  • Comment number 28.

    Agree. IMO England just lack the spark and pace especially in the second phase. I watched the Wales v Somoa game before the England game and it was a least one gear up! Seem to also lack a bit of passion but hey two wins in a row, 9 pts, possibly miss Australia in the semi's now (thanks Ireland) - life could be a lot worse. Can't wait for the Scotland game!! :-)

  • Comment number 29.

    I remember in 2007, that the english forwards linked together and pushed in the rucks. It seems that with the new rules they need to start playing this basic rugby: two forwards link together on their feet, overturn the ruck without going for the ball and the fly half picks it up afterwards. Thats how we beat France and Australia and very nearly SA. This going in solo business seems to be reason for most penalties... and please can they just step back a meter instead of conseeding an offside penalty every two minutes?
    If they picked up on these two practices taught to most beginners then they may be able to play longer than a minute before the next offence.

    Also Ben, in regards to your last comment I watched the England match and then the French one on French TV and they were quite similar. However the French showed 'patience to wear down the difficult opposition' and England 'couldn't find a solution to beat an obviously inferior team'... I think with most foreign countries hating England, at least the english media could be a tad more encouraging, even if England aren't top notch, as a fan it gets a bit much sometimes! (by the way I enjoyed the article so thank you)

  • Comment number 30.

    As usual the glass is half empty. Living in Australia, not sure who the commentators are back in the UK, but this week we had Stuart Barnes and his side kick, they were so negative compared to the Kiwi or Aussie commentators are when their teams are playing. Even during the Aussies loss to Ireland they were not as scathing as Barnes was during England's 41-10 win against a Georgian team that played exceptionally well. Ok, not everything was great, but I bet Australia would like to bet sat at two from two, so stop the moaning and get behind the team.

  • Comment number 31.

    A view from the stands. England couldn't get out of our end of the ground in the first half with all of the stupid or imaginary penalties, depending on your viewpoint. They also appeared to be trying to play within themselves - don't know if that was part of the gameplan. And the Georgian forwards, especially 6 and 7 were very effective and it was taking two or three of our forwards to knock them over.
    It wasn't just the opposition tiring, England played better rugby in the second half.
    The big difference to last week was the threequarter play. They set up deeper and were running onto the ball with some pace. I'm surprised that no-one has mentioned Flood's performance. He passed very accurately and got the line moving far more smoothly than last week. Wilkinson may have been able to stop the Georgian try, but other than that Flood was excellent.
    Incidentally, the night out in Queenstown was a docile one according to the locals. There was, however, another team there a few days earlier that drained the bar dry. The same one that produced one of the performances of their lives on saturday...

  • Comment number 32.

    Having had my run ins with Mr Dirs already in this World Cup I was fully expecting a whinging blog on how awful England were and how poor the whole set up was. I was delighted to find a fairly reasoned and balanced article. England were not as good as they can be but some part of that "failing" was attributed to the good quality play of the Georgians. England do need to buck their ideas up around the scrums and for offsides. I've moaned frequently about how it always seems to be England who get Southern Hemisphere refs in the 6 Nations. Surely they should have come to terms with the different style of refereeing by now! Being plain dozy (or a bit numb to quote a previous poster) does not cut it in a World Cup. Positive points were 6 tries, negative points, sorry but Banahan looks a lump with no reason to be there (hopefully I'lll be proved wrong). Schadenfreude moment France's struggle against Canada who for 60 minutes were at least as good as Georgia aginst England. Worrying point, sorry Segnes it is still possible to have Bryce Lawrence again. That should worry MJ more than a lot of other things!

  • Comment number 33.

    PS 29 Pete wrote

    Also Ben, in regards to your last comment I watched the England match and then the French one on French TV and they were quite similar. However the French showed 'patience to wear down the difficult opposition' and England 'couldn't find a solution to beat an obviously inferior team'... I think with most foreign countries hating England, at least the english media could be a tad more encouraging, even if England aren't top notch, as a fan it gets a bit much sometimes! (by the way I enjoyed the article so thank you)

    All true. It's hard enough living in France with all the wine, cheeses, wine, great food, wine etc without havein everyone want to beat you. (Did I mention the wine?)

  • Comment number 34.

    I was quite pleased to see some movement in the backs for a change. I dont remember too many matches where we scored six tries against such a commited opposition. I did find all the penalties inexplicable. I would like to know who has the highest penalty counts in the England team too (although I think I have a pretty good idea already) and I think they should be hauled over the coals. If they cant understand that they may lose us a clutch match maybe they shouldnt be playing at all. Come on England.

  • Comment number 35.

    my personal opinion on the amount of penalties is that players don't fully trust each other in defence. or there is not enough communication on the field from players. you can understand a couple of penalties to get a feel for the ref but they are not listening to the ref.

  • Comment number 36.

    Good Q Tighthead #27... my starting 15 for Scotland and QF would be:

    Stevens / Thommo / Cole
    Lawes / Palmer
    Moody / Croft / Haskell
    Youngs / Flood
    Armitage
    Hape / Tui
    Ashton
    Foden


    Any advances on the above....

  • Comment number 37.

    could not agree more this time but at the end of the day Eng won and had to fight hard against arguably the best minnow side in the tournament. I still think refs are harsher on Eng than they are on other teams when it comes penaltys but the SA ref is probably one of the best in the game.
    Because there is no forum for this next comment, I post it here, Why cant Stuart Barnes have anything good to say about Eng, I say get him of the air,he is an embaressment to Eng rugby and took the gloss of a very very good Georgian side who with a few more days rest and a better kicker could have deservidly won that game, but thats rugby.

  • Comment number 38.

    Roy

    Spot on what is going on here? England's performance was not the best they have ever had , and I was there, but they won by scoring 6 ties.

    BEN, what is your problem with anything England do? I agree England have to improve as do Ireland Wales and Scotland but the latter 3 are all doing very well according to you and others Blogers. I just do not get it.

    Scotland were poor against Georgia, Wales were good against SA not so good against Samoa but won, Ireland were Great against Aussie, but not in their first match.

    But all were totaly out scored by England last night.......Georgia were very good it parts and are a vastly improved outfit as they showed against Scotland through out their game and England in the first half last night. Most of they players play professional rugby.....Yes England must improve and I believe they will. Will they win the RWC unlikely but I would not mind betting they will finish highier than the other home nations....and that is not bagging the others as my other posts will support.

    I am just so sick of all this negative press and BEN you are one of the worst.....

    BTW well done Wales good win

    Come on England

  • Comment number 39.

    on another note does anyone know who is flying out to replace sheri? they could do with a fetcher fourie/robshaw.

  • Comment number 40.

    Churguys - I take it you've read the quotes from Johnson and Haskell? Coaches and players telling the public they're not good enough at the moment, and still the media are accused of being negative. Bizarre.

  • Comment number 41.

    Dirs this blog is top drawer

    However, despite all the rhetoric of the comments on your previous blogs, World Cup victory comes down to two factors:

    1: Having a world class team with experience and talent

    2: Lady Luck

    England won in 2003 due to ticking the boxes on both the above factors.

    This year I believe England have number one sorted.

    Nonetheless, number two sits firmly with the Irish.

    Re-mortgage your house and put it on the boys in green.

    Keep up the good work son

  • Comment number 42.

    Hi Ben,

    Agree with your blog although I only watched the second half thanks to setting my alarm for Saturday....

    I find it amazing that people feel you need to come down one side all the other, either england are so poor they have no place in the tournament. Or they are brilliant and you can't criticize them. I ask this

    Have England played well? No
    Have England won all their game so far? Yes

    Why can't we ask more of the team and support them without coming down on them like a ton of bricks? I don't think you did but it seams like most people think any criticism is doing exactly that. We have way too much of reactionary culture which is exactly what we do with Football team all the time(one day we were the best in the world merely 4 days later we were the worst). Are we the best Rugby team world? Probably not. Do we stand a good chance at competing and beating the top sides? Probably yes if we play at our best.

    This isn't a 2003 side it's a 1999 or 2007 side. Good but they aren't going to be the best and they do need to work out what their problems are now before the QF's and we have two games to work that out!

  • Comment number 43.

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

  • Comment number 44.

    realistically englands world cup starts when they play scotland. in the groups you need momentum and england are 2-2 so the momentum is slowly building romanians will be another physical challenge and again i can see much off the same arm wrestle for 50 min then finish them off. scots game will be the same as another eng vs scot game a scrappy affair. but then should be 4-4 then we have been here so many times its not about the way you play but the end result a win nothing else matters.

  • Comment number 45.

    #27 & # 36 I would go with the following to start the QF:

    Corbisero, Hartley, Cole
    Lawes, Palmer,
    Moody, Croft, Haskell,
    Youngs, Flood,
    Armitage,
    Tindall, Tuilagi,
    Ashton,
    Foden.

    Bench: Stevens, Thompson, Shaw, Easter, Simpson, Wilkinson, Cueto

    Hartley and Corbisero get the nod in the front row because I'm not sure about Stevens at loose head he gave a lot of penalties away at scrum time (to do with binding according to the ref) and he didn't look to comfortable. As for Hartley he didn't have a good day at the office today but neither did Thompson against the Argies and if the pack is getting good go forward ball Hartley is more dangerous in the loose (but this position will ultimately be decided on the next two games).

    Tindall or Hape was the only other tough question Hape performed well today especially in defence but I'm not sure he'll get the nod as I think Tindall is first choice - but still up for grabs IMO.

  • Comment number 46.

    I dont know what all the fuss is about, England In RU world cups are as Italy in the football equivalent.

    Come the big tournaments you will find them there or thereabouts the final, despite, aparently, being pretty rubbish all the way through 'just doing enough', written off, then, come the big game, the reverse pshychology kicks in with 'hated boring underdog' status duely secured which brings out our packs grinding bulldog best on the day, amplified by our opponents terror of losing to 'boring underdogs past colonial masters England' from the home fans.

    Thus do we secure our long established presence in the semi final or final unless we meet france before that stage to whom the above dynamic does not apply .. because.. well they are French.. nuff said.

    No one ever knows quite how we got there but get there we will.

    Long may it continue.

  • Comment number 47.

    BEN

    I said that this was not England's best game and yes I have read the quotes. Have you ever had any coach say "yes that was the perfect game" if the coaches comments after a match half way through a tournament are the foundations of your blog why are you here you could do that from home.

    You have been asked a number of times what exactly do you want from this England team in terms of their performance? All I and other posters are saying is be balance. As one other poster stated

    However the French showed 'patience to wear down the difficult opposition' and England 'couldn't find a solution to beat an obviously inferior team'... England scored 6 tries for heavens sake!!!

    You are so obviously biased against England why?


    that is your

  • Comment number 48.

    If England were in any other group they would not have had 2 wins. Scotland will probably beat them but Scotland are playing awful as well so maybe not.

    England have no chance against France let alone one of the top 3. The camp seems to be unsettled and all over they place...no leadership at all.

  • Comment number 49.

    england always just do enough, that has always been the case.i believe england can beat any team at this world cup. and i do believe they will reach the final for a record thrid time. the sleeping giant is starting to wake. on another noted not enough credit has been given to the so called 2 tier teams. they have come here and all of them have played well above what everyone thought they would and its dam right disrespectful to them to say they should have been beaten by 70+ points.

  • Comment number 50.

    Red Rose

    well said although not sure I am totally of your belief :)

    James Mathew

    Now come on I know you do not really think Scotland are playing well enough to beat England :)

    Sadly think I agree about the top 3 though :(

  • Comment number 51.

    Liked this article Ben, good points raised, and credit given where its due.

    Haskell's comments today indicate that there is a plan, and that it should work. It obviously involves a control of the breakdown, and strong forward play to secure a platform to either defend effecively from or attack quickly and open the spaces to work in.

    Some of todays first half penalties were unforgivable, Hartley fully deserved his yellow, how can he not know he's in a ruck, and not listen to the call which came at least twice to leave the ball alone?

    I thought Kaplan tried hard to keep the game alive, and to keep England legal, but some players were beyond helping, has anyone seen a breakdown of penalties conceded by player?

    Once this needless indiscipline is eliminated England will play good rugby, but as Haskell, Johnson and yourself alluded to, this will not be possible if forwards are continually giving away stupid penalties. Its hard to criticise accurately Englands game plan until we see it in action, unless of course the plan includes coughing up cheap penalties for 40 minutes a game.

    We had a discussion today after the game as players and referees, and agreed that sometimes being safely onside at a ruck gives the defense an opportunity to attack the ball carrier better, and choose how and where to make he contact. Standing in the back feet is law breaking for law breakings sake.

    Thanks for getting an on the ground opinion as to the Altitude bar non events, I think we all know its a press thing, but good to hear this confirmed to some degree.

    Thanks again for a good blog Ben, I may have raised the odd little criticsm before, but this was a good read.

  • Comment number 52.

    I can scarcely imagine how bad the press would have been if England had won by a narrow margin with all the points coming from the boot. (It seems to be OK for Ireland, though ;)

  • Comment number 53.

    Hey Chun...yeah Scotland are playing pretty bad and I think Argentina will beat them as well as England. But England need something to change before the France game if they want to make the semi finals.

  • Comment number 54.

    Well, Ireland were playing Australia, a top 3 side. But "England struggle before despatching Georgia" (41-10) and "Welsh character beat Samoa" (17-10) - both in the Independent - doesn't seem like particularly balanced comment.

  • Comment number 55.

    James

    I assume you are addressing me. I agree England must improve I think they will (God please) with France who knows one day they are the worst NH side the next easily the best.

    The frogstar

    You are so right if the Home press and in particular this blogger are anything to go by England will never be good enough. Ben raise some points but the whole tenant is knock knock knock. It is not just this blog it is the whole attitude of the Media at home England are the best/worst in a day....I grave balance and god is it too much to ask inform reporting??

  • Comment number 56.

    Ben, sorry but I dont think your article is well thought through, and not your best blog

    in one paragraph you start with Englands superior conditioning, and end it by kind of going into a kind of conspiracy theory about the fixtures
    and talk about a 'rehearsal' against Romania

    this is the world cup mate, not a rehearsal, Georgia have improved no end, big respect for these guys
    for you to use words like superior conditioning, or rehearsal. i feel is not needed
    to make your point, it feels a bit dismissive to me.

    Georgia played to thier strengths, they looked pretty structured, and even when out on thier feet, they still had the guts to keep coming at England That is what makes test matches, they tested England!

    I do agree with your pointsd on discipline, and feel you might be more critical here,
    discipline should have started the minute after the Argentina game, but clearly did not, and that is unforgiveable of England,

    lets move on to Romania next, and lets really analysis the game itself not the frills round the edge.

    Ireland. big big win, fantastic!

  • Comment number 57.

    I love your blog Dirs.

    I am disappointed to read that Campese and Mehrtens were making fun of Scotland. Can you offer anything more specific?

    I think Scotland are still not to be dismissed. They are on a 5 game winning streak, possess a range of attacking options, several kicking threats and the best coach in the NH.

    In mitigation, against Romania, Scotland played their weakest pack against the physical Romanians and scored 4 tries [should have been 5 as Paterson's effort was wrongly disallowed] despite spending much of the game 'away with the fairies', while Argentina beat Romania by a slightly more comfortable margin, scoring 6 tries.

    The Georgia game was played in a deluge, and I believe drier conditions would have seen us make less errors in possession and rack up a substantial try count.

    As it was, Parks was right to kick everything away and force Georgian errors. The Scotland pack fronted up very well against a hugely physical Georgian side. Our backs, especially the back three were very dangerous. If our pack can match Georgia, then they can match Argentina and England and we will see very close contests.

    If our pack can match the opposition pack, then Parks will win the game for us.

    This was a great day of rugby. Unfortunately for three amazing countries with huge performances, Georgia, Samoa and Canada are still 60mins sides, while England, Wales and France are 80 minute sides.

  • Comment number 58.

    I totally agree regarding the schedules.

    New Zealand are the World No1 seed, while Canada are 16th.

    New Zealand get 24 days for 4 games while Canada get 18 days, almost a week less?

    Stay classy New Zealand.

  • Comment number 59.

    Ben

    Not sure where you are but a group of us are in the Mazagran in Moray Place having Breaky come and have a coffee and a chat. You will recognize us we are in White :)

  • Comment number 60.

    Thats an honest invite some of the group agree with you :)

  • Comment number 61.

    England will win the world cup. In the final against Australia, Stevens, Hartley and Cole will absolutely demolish the scrum. Flood will kick some pens and blogs like this will be all lulz.

  • Comment number 62.

    I know the performance was not up standard, however, the tournament is not a sprint. The winner is not the one who scores the most tries, or most points or even plays the nice rugby. England have not lost yet, they are still in the reckoning. SA have struggled at times, Australia have already lost. Wales have had great performances and still lost. Scotland play badly against georgia and still get praised by the press. Unfortunately, english sport has become an easy target for critics. This england team are not at their peek yet, but need to be ready for the big boys which comes later in the tournament. Criticise when they loose. Englands superior fitness won the game, which should be a positive. Some of the emerging nations should be competitive. A lot of their players are now playing in higher leagues and play a good standard of rugby day in and day out. Come on England!

  • Comment number 63.

    Ben, do you have any influence with the BBC? Please ask whoever chooses the camera shots to watch the ITV's coverage of this World Cup which has been excellent. Heresy I know, but they don't seem to be as obsessed by celebrity as the BBC, constantly cutting away from live action to B-list celebs in the crowd, showing slow motion replays while missing live action, or close ups of Johnny's face after a kick while missing the opposition running it back up field. You are quick to criticise players' performance, perhaps you will acknowledge that the BBC's performance is often worse than the players?

  • Comment number 64.

    Ben, what do we want to media to report? It's called "balanced journalism". Yes, Haskell was grumpy, but Hape wasn't ("Two from two. Onto the next one").

    I was thinking the same when I was reading a report of the game in New Zealand that made reference to Georgia almost scoring a try but they put a foot into touch. But then there was no mention that England did exactly the same. They had one try disallowed due to a foot in touch, and another due to a forward pass. Mentioning one country's "near misses" but ignoring those of the other side isn't balanced.

    The same in regards the Argentina game. The New Zealand Herald wrote an entire article on how England cheated, ignoring the fact that Argentina actually conceded the most penalties in that game. But then an article entitled "Wants Cheats? Look at England" was never going to be balanced.

    That's all I'm after: accurate, realistic and balanced reporting.

  • Comment number 65.

    D69

    Well said but I fear we are pushing it up hill...".balanced" is not a word oft heard in media circles .............

  • Comment number 66.

    I'd like to submit that young Ashton's try scoring style is obscenely distasteful and very rude. It smacks of Manchester United's in-your-face brand of ugly unsportsmanship.

  • Comment number 67.

    66

    Agree but I truly wish we could score as many tries as they do goals :)

  • Comment number 68.

    balothello, #66,
    I take your point, but at least Aston hasn't used his head to attack Tuilagi's fist (yet):
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izcKWYL_BDE&feature=related

    (Yes, I am from Northampton :)

  • Comment number 69.

    Churguys - Thanks for the offer, but had made other plans! Also, in the interest of balance, here's another quote from Hape to go with the one you mentioned: "If we play like that against other teams, we will get buried." In hindsight, maybe I went too easy on them...

  • Comment number 70.

    Ben,

    In fairness you are critical of England, without mentioning the fact that the other major nations (with the possible exception of the All Blacks) have struggled against the apparent "minnows" for large parts of each game before running clear at the end.

    Yes, England were poor in significant aspects of the game, but the second tier nations have performed well so far this World Cup and I think this result needs to be placed in that context.

  • Comment number 71.

    Churguys - Apologies, that wasn't actually you who quoted Hape, it was Dizzee69, but anyway, you get my drift...

  • Comment number 72.

    Ben

    I think you are fair too critical and I am not sure if you do that to get a response maybe you are on some sort of commision from the beeb. You know 10 posts pennies 1000 post Pounds.

    Anyway as you will have seen there are a number on this post that have asked what it is you want from England can you answer this please?

  • Comment number 73.

    I find it funny that Haskell is saying players that aren't performing need to be dropped. The biggest weakness I can se in the side at the moment is the lack of a back row.
    In the 1st match I thought Courtenay Lawes was the best backrower (and obviously he was playing second row). Indeed in the Argentine match alot of the penalties would have been removed if there had been faster and stronger breakdown support. Furthermore because we could only get people there for the 1st two phases we then resorted to kicking due to a lack of confidence in the breakdown support (my take on it maybe!).

    I do think the side could mae it far in the tournament. But i can't see a team taking the cup without a strong back row (maybe as a backrower I'm biaised!) and I don't think we have that at the moment.

    having said al of that I'll still confidently tell al Aussies and Kiwis that we are the sleeping giant and tha without the ball they can't win the cup!!

  • Comment number 74.

    Ben

    The thing that upsets me and a number of us here is this. Scotland struggled against both Romania and Georgia. England first up game against Argentina was very close and England did not play well but won. Argentina came 3rd in the RWC 2007 and are joining the Tri Nations (Quad?? Nations next year)
    Argentina then thrash Romania England beat Georgia easily in the end scoring 6 tries and again did not play to their potential but you trashed England......But Scotland are brave where is the balance.

    A lot has been said about the penalties given against England in the first quarter of last night.

    So here we go

    First penalty given 1.30 into game "not rolling away" Stevens was on his knees head into the ruck with 3 Georgian players on top of him no chance to roll away. Not a penalty

    Second penalty 4.36 Moody deemed to be off side. But Moody came around the back of the ruck and through the gate not a Penalty

    Third penalty off side I agree with

    Forth Penalty dubious diving on player on the ground Ok I will just go with it

    Fifth apparently hands in the Ruck who can see.

    Sixth handling the ball on the ground in the ruck. Was in fact a maul and the ball was propelled forward by a Georgian hand EG onto the England side.

    So instead on 6 penalties at best I see 2 maybe 3 so then the yellow card. It was a penalty but had the penalty count been 3 not 6 would he have been binned??

    All subjective on my part but I have watched the game 3 time now and at the end of the day the ref saw it another way. But maybe those of you who know about such things you could have a look and see what you think

  • Comment number 75.

    Ben

    And in my 72 post a meant to say far too critical not fair but I guess you knew that ;)

  • Comment number 76.

    Churguys - Yes I know, you think I'm far too critical (despite the fact that England players and management have fronted up and said their performance was unacceptable). I would like to see England play like any successful team plays: first, don't give away so many penalties at the breakdown, or anywhere else for that matter, or decent sides will punish you; more dynamism needed at the breakdown, committing men, clearing opposition players out and creating quick ball for the backs to work with; more aggressive countr-rucking; more clinical with ball in hands - it's an age-old problem with England's backs, that they lack that clinical edge and accuracy - just look at some of the offloading in the tackle against Georgia and the inability to take advantage of gaps in the opposition's defence; angles of running in attack, decoy runners, so that the ball isn't just shifted right and left and then right again. Oh, and they missed quite a few tackles against Argentina as well. As Johnson says himself, "it's a simple game", but these are just some of the things the best teams do well.

  • Comment number 77.

    Churguys - I have absolutely no idea why you keep going on about Scotland, I haven't even written anything about them, and certainly not how "brave" they were. I think they've been very ordinary so far. As for the refereeing, I thought he was spot on - it's not as if he wasn't warning the England players first.

  • Comment number 78.

    Ben I will deal with your 77 posting first as I want to think about the other one . First posting 74 was the first time I have mentioned Scotland. Secondly I was talking about the media in general, who are very very hard on England when I am talking about you I say so.

    If you play the tape you will not hear JK say anything to the English players until he warns Moody. Look I do not want to get into a slagging match about the ref its a no brainer. I was just making the point that England were IMHO hard done by on the field as well as in the press.

  • Comment number 79.

    Churguys - Actually, you also mention Scotland in post 38, claiming I've said somewhere that they're doing "very well". Also, you suggest in post 47 that I said France showed "patience to wear down the difficult opposition". I didn't say that either! Again, I haven't written anything about France. As for the ref, Phil Vickery certainly doesn't think they were hard done by, either, he's written a column saying the ref was perfectly within his right. Oh, and neither does Johnson, which tells you pretty much everything you need to know.

  • Comment number 80.

    Given that England are likely to face France in the quarter finals I would be interested to know what people think is the likely outcome of this match? especially considering that Canada are of a similar level to Georgia and France beat them by a similar points difference, but with fewer tries being scored.

    Personally I feel that we are in with an even chance, but may lose if the penalty count remains high, as France are sure to punish us where Georgia failed to do so.

  • Comment number 81.

    "...a gear his side proved they had in this season's Six Nations"

    Did we really though? We started with a decent win against Wales. We thumped Italy, but they were pretty terrible that day. After that we had two decidedly shaky wins against France and Scotland, the second one being a particularly bad performance.

    Then we got destroyed by Ireland.

    In hindsight we were distinctly unimpressive six nations winners, and we very lucky to have the three home games in a row.

  • Comment number 82.

    Having read through all the comments, I'm surprised not to have seen one word. Which is complacency. Personally I think all of the issues with England so far stem from complacency. The teams they have played so far are not the bigger teams, are not really percieved to be a threat, and so the players go into the games thinking they have the game in the bag already, meaning they don't try quite as hard and are ore likely to make mistakes.

    They are less inclined to go in for the big tackles because in the back of their minds they are worried about getting injured. Who wants to have their world cup dream end against Georgia when there is a chance to play the big teams when it matters later. So complacency can explain the issues with the way England are playing, and hopefully when they come up againstt he big boys they will show us what they can really do.

    But I think there is also complacency on the side of the press. They too think that England are supposed to just walk all over these sides, and in this day and age that rately happenes as teams become more and more professional. Yes, if England play like they did against Georgia when they meet the big teams they will be in trouble, and it's right to point that out.

    But we can't just expect them to obliterate people at will.

    It's similar to the FA Cup in football. How often do you see a Premiership team struggle against a lower division team until their superior fitness levels pay off in the last 15 minutes or so when they score a few goals and end up winning the tie comfprtably.

    This is what generally happens in rugby these days when the top teams play the so called minnows. But nobody seems to want to accept this and instead people think that these other sides are just as poor now as they were 20 years ago, when this is just not the case.

  • Comment number 83.

    Ben

    That is rubbish and frankly disingenuous of you. The first post made reference to all of the home countries.

    I wrote

    "BEN, what is your problem with anything England do? I agree England have to improve as do Ireland Wales and Scotland but the latter 3 are all doing very well according to you and others Blogers. I just do not get it.

    Scotland were poor against Georgia, Wales were good against SA not so good against Samoa but won, Ireland were Great against Aussie, but not in their first match. But all were totaly out scored by England last night."

    As you well know I was stetting the context of the bias towards England and how you can contend the above can be referred to as is "why you keep going on about Scotland" is beyond me.

    The second post quoted another poster as I made clear.

    I wrote

    "As one other poster stated

    However the French showed 'patience to wear down the difficult opposition' and England 'couldn't find a solution to beat an obviously inferior team'."

    Again pointing out the unbalanced view of the media towards England.

    I thought you were better than that.......

  • Comment number 84.

    Don't think there's anything wrong with this article myself. As the players themselves have noted, against most other teams England would have lost after that performance. Let's not forget that Georgia could have been in the lead at half time, and the game would have been very different indeed: England would have been under immense pressure to win, let alone look for the bonus point.

    As Haskell pointed out, you really don't feel confident watching this England team. they're capable of great rugby but also of going dangerously off the boil and letting lesser sides back into the game.

    My only hope is that England have somehow evolved into a kind of France - wobbly and uninspiring against the minnows, but able to pull some fantastic matches out of their hat against the big guns.

  • Comment number 85.

    PS the ref was fine, unlike Lawrence vs Argentina.
    He only got the card out once, which I felt was very restrained of him.

  • Comment number 86.

    A balanced article and some excellent comments.

    My concern would be around the number and frequency of penalties in the first half. Part of England's success in the past has been their Scrooge-like mentality to giving away penalties in kickable positions.

    When the pack is collectively giving away so many penalties in a match, I would expect the pack leader/captain to be pulling things together and tightening up discipline.

    Is there a case that, given Moody was playing only his second International game of the year, he was struggling with his own game AND captaincy? And if so, then should the more senior forwards should have been more vocal in bringing focus to that aspect of England's game?

    My reading is that this may be what Haskell is talking about. And if they do get it sorted then the team will be the better for the discussion.

  • Comment number 87.

    ScotsSevensNutjob...

    57.
    Excellent post and I'm sure this will not be lost on the England management. Scotland should and hopefully will not be easy beats for Arg and Eng and only time will tell. England have put themselves into the positon where the officials are looking at them maybe a bit too closely.... knowing our luck this will change when they face Scotland;-)

    58.
    You are directing you annoyance of the scheduling to the wrong place. It's a crying shame that the likes of Samoa, Canada and Georgia had only three clear days before having to face top tier opposition. Not sure if it would have changed the outcome of these games, but it would have at least been a level playing field.
    Scotland in my opinion did well to come through both tests given their propensity to lose it in these situations. Thanks to Robinson we have - not much - but depth and genuine options in the squad.

  • Comment number 88.

    IMHO I don't think this article is too far from the mark. As Ben is at pains to point out, it is after all pretty much what the England camp are saying themselves. I guess the difference is that people seems to accept people being critical of themselves a lot easier that someone, like Mr Dirs, on the outside. It does not however change that fact that for the most part he is correct.

    Comparing England's game to that of Scotland is irrelevant anyway. With no disrespect to Scotland, with England resources, infrastructure etc we should be doing a lot better than them.

    My main concern is that we can't seem to find the aggression in the back row that is needed to clear out and get things moving. Not that I think that is a selection issue, and maybe it is a 'saving themselves' issue as pointed out by some. I can just see them saving themselves for something that might not come ....

  • Comment number 89.

    "PS. I have spoken to several people who were in the Queenstown bar where England were supposedly up to no good, and the consensus is that they were all pretty well behaved. I suppose one man's 'couple of sherbets' is another man's 'out of control'. But it seems a sad day when any rugby team, England or not, can't go out for a few post-match lagers. Personally, I don't think they should be allowed to smile in public after a below-par performance. The cheek of it!"

    Tell that to Mick Cleary who has been writing constant nonsense on this one.

  • Comment number 90.

    I think that's about right, hermmy. Essentialy, BD points out that England won't beat the big guns with the game they've played against the minnows, and nobody seems to question that seriously. The question being debated is slightly different, namely whether something is rotten in the state of Denmark: to panic, or not to panic, whether 'tis nobler to cut through the cr*p and end it all, and all that - and of course whether it's the business of reporters to recommend despair or vain hope. I'm sure that BD appreciates that he's not really being disagreed with on the fundamental issue at all. As I see it, it's just that there's a lobby which suggests that the desperate noises emanating via BD from Johnson, Haskell et al. might be premature, if they are not deliberate spin-doctoring - or indeed that it's just a question of saving the big game for the big game: that England have somehow evolved into a kind of France - wobbly and uninspiring against the minnows, but able to pull some fantastic matches out of their hat against the big guns, as you put it.

    Certainly, the England side has its fans going. Think what it must be doing to the analysts of the teams planning to take England on! I'd love to think it's by design, but I'm not going to let that spoil the fun. Bring on the next round!

    Incidentally, if despair is needed, devote a moment to contemplation of Scotland's prospects. They HAVE to beat Argentina or England, and have yet to provide the least ground for confidence in that matter.

  • Comment number 91.

    All the hand-wringing, worrying and soul-searching... the press in every country is doing it not just England. NZ have scored over 120 points in 2 games and their press is not happy. SA beat Wales by a point and Aus got beat by Ireland. Their presses not happy either.

    This has been the most interesting group stage in a WC I can remember. Groups stages used to be somewhat dull and pointless, with the 5 and tri nations teams treading water until the QF. This time it really feels like the QF places have to be earned against a much improved line up.

  • Comment number 92.

    Churguys, (and some other bloggers)
    The quote from my comment about the view of the French and England team (quoted in #83) was from French TV. I was underlining that other coutries show bias towards their teams and it would be nice if England could do the same and be more upbeat about our team... so please use it in context.

    More generally people have quoted Haskell pointing fingers: I think that as a second string choice he is a bit out of line pointing the finger, especially since his own performance wasn't that good and he would do well to ask himself were he was, as a back rower, during the rucks that weren't properly cleared.

    Finally I would really like Banahan to be used properly. That guy is a battering ram, so, like the impressive Georgian (Gorgochi?), we should give him the ball a bit more to smack around the opposition... an opportunity only given to him once in the last match and he went through two or three tackles!

  • Comment number 93.

    What we really need at half time is Henry V to yell at the forwards: "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; Or close the wall up with our English dead"
    ;)

  • Comment number 94.

    England for some years now just don't seem to be able to compete properly at the breakdown. There are many possible reasons for this...a lack of a genuine number 7 since Neil Back retired? A lack of a world class 6 since Hill? An inability to really get over the gainline which means that we're never on front foot ball? Out of date coaching methods? A combination of all of the above?

    It is astonishing to see that a country with as many players as England is simply not able to produce a team that can compete at the breakdown with a country that has as few players as Georgia.

  • Comment number 95.

    So England score 6 tries against a powerful, well disciplined team who have improved markedly since 2003 and England still aren't good enough? No mention of the improved backs performance once Tindall is removed? No mention of Tuilagi running angles to break through the Georgian defence (when was the last time an English centre did that?)

    We scored 6 tries in a World Cup game, which is impressive whichever way you look at it, and a key player was Hape. He's has come in for a lot of criticism recently (as has Banahan) but he had a good game (as did Banahan) and I'd like to see him and Tuilagi start against the Scots.

    Agree with #92, Banahan needs to be made to run at people, try and draw the defenders and offload as he was trying to do against Georgia. He has the strength to suck in 2 or 3 defenders and against the better teams, that could prove invaluable.

    The penalty count was appaling though and needs to be dealt with before the Quarters if England are to progress any further.

  • Comment number 96.

    Whilst it may have been a step in the right direction, I find it incrediable that some of the best paid professional rugby players from the uk still have not taken onboard the lessons of the previous match. With the exception of Manu's harsh penalty for lifting a player of his feet! Most were basic mistakes. Hartley has taken on the mantle of Tommo for giving stupid penaltys away. A number of these were at times when England had made good ground and building some good positions only to put themselves under pressure again.

    My big concern is that against a better team (no disrespect to Georgia) we would be in serious trouble.

    On the plus side I thought Manu played well and did a lot graft at the breackdowns.

    On the down side Banahan did nothing to help himself and Stevens was lucky not be pinged more often for not binding properly!

  • Comment number 97.

    The most alarming thing for me, which doesn't seem to have been picked up upon in your article is the lack of support running. England's play is so one dimensional compared to the Southern Hemispere, or even France. There were plenty of line breaks yesterday - Haskell, Croft, Hape, Flood - and you could see the England player looking for the pass but there was no one on the shoulder of the ball carrier - they were all 3 metres back - so the ruck forms and play is slowed down allowing the defence to reform. It is poor from England and they should do better. IRB has ploughed so much money into levelling the field in terms of defence, scrummaging and organisation for the lower ranked teams, there are better ways to unlock them than smash smash smash - NZ, for all their dissatisfaction, showed this perfectly with their support play. You have to say England would have got no where near that score had they played Japan. Until they learn to support the ball carrier in the tight and make the ball available instead of continuously going to ground and slowing play, they will continue to ask questions of themselves and the frustration will remain evident.

  • Comment number 98.

    I agree with much of what BD writes. The press is entitled (indeed obliged) to constructively assess and, if necessary, criticise performance. The fact that it's a world cup makes no difference. What worries me is that Haskell's outspoken demand for naming-and-shaming (not his term) may reflect a rift within the team/squad. IMO Haskell is pre-empting Johnson's role.

    In the England Test cricket side player-based évaluation (aimed at peers) is SOP, but Strauss and Flower have implemented the policy so effectively that it works well.

    I hope there are no rifts or unspoken grievances affecting England. But I suspect there are.

    The egregious concession of penalties is potentially fatal to England's chances of going well beyond the pool phase and should have already affected the likelihood of our finishing top.

    Beer and bungee jumping is, frankly, none of our business.

    I'm concerned because Johnson had England looking really promising before and even during the last 6Nations. But we have deteriorated dramatically. That in itself is newsworthy.

    Last point: has the competition ball changed markedly since, say, the last WC?

  • Comment number 99.

    I dont think it's a dire as you make out.

    So far they've played 2 very muscular sides, hell bent on taking it to the English pack, this type of rugby is almost a throw back to the days of old. The top nations (England included) pick a more athletic set of forwards these days, who are going to find it tough when going head to head with a very committed, big old fashioned pack.

    Im not knocking the way they played, Georgia certainly impressed. The main area they showed the way was the balance of their back row .. and this is Englands problem. We dont have a scavenging, linking, ball winning 7 and we dont have a decent, controlling 8. Our back row were out played by the Georgians, until superior fitness told and we brought on fresh legs.

    The backs looked ok, much better performance from Youngs and Flood, but that was true of the Autumn internationals and the 6 nations (conveniently forgetting Dublin)... so thats not a surprise, I think England rely on the boot of Jonny too much when he plays, too many players have the mind set that we can win this with Jonny kicking the goals.

    BUT .. the biggest worry is the penalty count. As happened with Argentina, the ref pings them in the rucks and that puts them on the back foot. Some players (Hartley) were guilty of crass stupidity ... with the ref giving clear instructions do not carry on ! The offsides .. thats another simple fix, they're not helping themselves.

    So far 2 games and 2 southern hemisphere refs, and a lot of penalties ... I think there is still a divide in the application of laws, and the players have got to get used to what the refs want to see at the breakdowns.

    Lets not forget the scoreline and the quality tries we scored .. 41-10 is a decent result, and an improvemnt on last weeks performance .. we're moving in the right direction.

  • Comment number 100.

    My first comment so be gentle :)

    The penalty count in the first two games was alarming - whether from nerves or lack of faith in the system who knows but its something that can be worked on an hopefully minimised.

    The other negative is that the back row is not playing as well as it can. I am not sure Moody will have enough time to play himself into form (or that on form he will make much difference, we are missing a proper 7).

    If took some positives from the performance. Simon Shaw has got to have put himself in contention for a starting spot. Croft showed some glimmer of a return to form when he came on, we scored six tries and some of them were very good.

    I am glad that there is recognition that they have got to play better - and during the last year they have shown that they can play well. I don't think they are the finished article, nor do I think they are hopeless.

 

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