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Progress of sorts but England remain in flux

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Bryn Palmer | 21:59 UK time, Saturday, 21 November 2009

England manager Martin Johnson was in no doubt. Despite scoring a solitary try and tasting defeat in two of their three matches, England have made progress in this autumn series.

"Although maybe it doesn't seem so to some people, we are certainly making strides forward," he insisted, almost daring his inquisitors to contradict him.

Statistically he is right. A year ago, England lost 32-6 to the All Blacks, so halving the losing deficit to 19-6 on Saturday was progress of sorts.

As the only Englishman to have tasted victory over New Zealand three times, Johnson knows that such claims have to be put into some perspective, however.

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After what he admitted had been a tough week for players and coaches after the turgid display against Argentina, the irony of a morale-boosting defeat, if that is how Saturday's events at Twickenham can be couched, was not lost on the manager.

"We won last week, we lost this week. Everyone seems to be happier when we are losing," he noted.

Certainly the crowd were appreciative of a combative England effort, which ensured they remained in the game for the best part of an hour before Jimmy Cowan's solitary try settled the outcome.

After the booing that greeted them at half-time against the Pumas last week, the rousing chorus of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" during a stoppage in play with seven minutes left at least showed the Barboured brigade were back on side.

But when a 13-point deficit, and an eighth consecutive defeat, by the All Blacks is cause for some kind of cheer, surely it only highlights how far English rugby's stock has fallen.

Johnson's men competed well up front, scrambled well in defence and maintained their energy levels for the full 80 minutes against a side that has not conceded a try now in their last seven Tests on European soil.

But despite becoming embroiled in a close contest, ultimately New Zealand still won with something to spare, even if they were frustrated in their attempts to give their attacking talents full rein.

They might reflect that had not Daniel Carter inexplicably missed two first-half penalties he would normally have slotted in his sleep, or the superb Mils Muliaina been foiled in the left corner by Ugo Monye's last-ditch covering tackle, they could have been out of sight by half-time.

But Carter's misses, which book-ended the first half, and the intervention of video referee Nigel Whitehouse, served to keep spirits high on and off the pitch, even if England never threatened to extend the visitors after the interval.

Individually, there was plenty of sustenance to see Johnson through the next 12 weeks before England open their Six Nations campaign with the visit of Wales to Twickenham.

Much-maligned captain Steve Borthwick had far more of an obvious influence on proceedings than usual, Simon Shaw played his usual expert hand on his return, while James Haskell continued to run hard, even if his decision-making at the back of the scrum let him down at times.

Scrum-half Paul Hodgson was also a busy, galvanising presence who deserves another chance, while Mark Cueto was a solid presence at full-back and Monye was far more at home, and a threat, having been restored to his familiar station on the wing.

The returns of Lewis Moody, in particular, and fellow World Cup winners Jonny Wilkinson and Steve Thompson, have also added an extra layer of experience and quality in key positions, even if Wilkinson's was a mixed bag on Saturday.

It was Moody, followed by a fired-up Thompson, who addressed the England players in their post-match huddle on the pitch afterwards, emphasising how the flanker has become one of the team's leaders, on and off the pitch.

"When he speaks, you listen," noted Haskell afterwards. "He is very clear and concise, a no-nonsense guy you can follow. He puts his body on the line and makes everybody want to go over the top with him."

So what was the thrust of Moody's post-match address? "It was basically that we showed we can compete with these guys, that we have the ability," Haskell said. "It is about putting the polish on now, the finishing touch."

That, unfortunately for those of a red rose persuasion, was the glaring difference between the sides, even if New Zealand only scored one try, which is all they managed against Wales and Italy as well.

But the clinical efficiency and expertise with which they seized the moment, after 57 minutes, spoke volumes.

A series of patient pick-and-drives took them to within metres of the England line before man-of-the-match Richie McCaw spotted the opening, put wing Sitiveni Sivivatu into half a yard of space, took the return pass and sent Cowan over in the left corner.

When Carter banged over the conversion from the touchline, you sensed a 10-point lead would be enough.

And so it proved, with England spending large parts of the final quarter in fluster mode whenever the New Zealand try-line came into view.

The lack of patience was highlighted almost immediately as Wilkinson, with England on the attack in the All Blacks 22 having kicked a penalty to touch, opted for a hurried drop-goal that missed its target.

blogwilkogetty.jpgJonny Wilkinson is off target with his hurried drop-goal attempt in the final quarter


Other grisly moments followed. A hospital pass from Haskell saw Monye enveloped by greedy All Black tacklers. A Shane Geraghty cross-kick to Matt Banahan was knocked on to groans.

But even when another Carter penalty took New Zealand out to 19-6, England had further chances.

Three attacking scrums in the final third were criminally wasted. From the first, 10 metres out, Haskell hesitated and replacement Louis Deacon lost the ball in contact. The next saw a dismal pass from the number eight to Banahan, who knocked on again.

Finally, with the crowd rousing them for a scrum 5m out, Haskell opted for a flipped pass between his legs that Danny Care, standing almost right behind him, also knocked on.

If Tom Croft's barnstorming run to the right corner was only denied by one of several superb Carter tackles, the lack of attacking nous and 'game understanding' - the phrase Haskell used to underline New Zealand's try - between the sides was profound, if not exactly a new phenomenon.

New Zealand coach Graham Henry was happy enough, feeling his side had delivered some "quality rugby" in their best performance of the tour, ahead of a potential humdinger against France in Marseille next week.

He also proclaimed himself "very impressed" with the way England played.

The question now is how they will play when they reconvene in the new year to prepare for the Six Nations.

While Saturday proved England can still compete physically with the world's best, tactically they remain in flux, struggling to find a coherent pattern and sense of purpose.

While Johnson took solace from the imminent return of some of the injured players unavailable to him over the past three weeks, it is doubtful they will still start the Six Nations any higher than third favourites at best.

"Ultimately we need to decide how we want to play in the tournament and pick accordingly," said Johnson as he concluded his post-match debrief.

If that wasn't quite an admission that England haven't settled on either their optimum personnel or game plan yet, it certainly hinted at it.

But then maybe it summed up the prevailing mood after a defeat that restored pride but reminded us of old failings still to be addressed.

Not all black by any means, just different shades of grey.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Was sat in the stand on the line and the final pass looked forward for Cowan's try, NZ were the better side however, esp in second half. Much better than last week however, some positives
    1.The scrum looked better, esp when Wilson came on, two against the head not to be sniffed at.
    2, Shaw proved he's probably still the best lock in England, at 36; should be playing with Borthwick? perhaps time to try Lawes and/or Kennedy? would rock the boat to change captain now though.
    3 Wilkinson tackled like a flanker, as usual, as did Hodgson; JW didn't look like creating anything though, looked as if he missed Geraghty.
    4.Back row went well in first half, Croft one superb line out take. NZ more physical at breakdown, the try came from better driving play around fringes, England would have scored from one of their 22 visits had they been as precise, but better than Arg/Aus matches
    5 Cueto superb under high ball, and kicked well from hand

    However;

    Hipkiss- if he's in for beef, he should tackle, and low; Carter handed him off twice which nearly led to NZ try in first half.

    Banahan- felt as sorry for him as Monye last week, doesn't look like an international player.

    Please can we pick Tait, we might score try from our own half

  • Comment number 2.

    Bryn Couple of points
    1. That looks like a drop goal attempt in the picture, not a penalty
    2. Martin Johnson beat NZ 4 times as a player, not 3, if you include the Lions in 93.
    3. Please please can you get off the fence and have an opinion. Your Lions Blogs over the summer were equally bland. This was another horrible performance by England against a (by their standards) poor NZ side. Despite the overwhelming evidence of the last 2 weeks we saw players picked out of position, some astonishing selections (still Banahan, Erinle, although Borthwick was better than usual) and a continuation of the slow ruck ball which we lead the world in. The drop goal attempt in the pic summed up the gameplan. England have bored their way through to damage limitation for the last year, and excellent player that he was, Johnson is no coach.
    We have essentially 18 months of International rugby until the World Cup - allow a new coach the 6N to trial their new approach and we have the players to compete. Continue with Johnson, and we can expect returns for Goode, Noon, Flood and Deacon. We have the players as Woodward showed - all we need is a coach that can harness them

  • Comment number 3.

    What drivel, this team in no way represents the cream of English rugby, it was picked from the leftovers after 20 plus injury withdrawls, has had no real competitive time on the field as opposed to the tri-nations teams,who've just completed their competition and are as good as they can be, so for a third string team thrown together, they did ok, as a guide to the state of English rugby, it's a non starter and anyone trying to extrapolate anything meaningful from this game is wasting their time.

  • Comment number 4.

    Blind leading the blind I'm afraid. I was hoping Mr Fordyce might contribute so I could collect my earlier laughs as Mr Well's expense.

    "Sometimes you've got to win ugly," forwards coach John Wells said on Wednesday, unapologetically. "No-one wants to do that - we'd all like to put on a good performance, but the weekend's about getting the win.""

    What was that then? I'll tell you that was, losing ugly. England looked about as threatening as my mum and she's 62 and has an arthritic knee. On the other hand the all Blacks looked very very dangerous each and every time they had the ball. Damage limitation is a tactic has an obvious limitation. It's about losing by less. England put their bodies on the line for this reason. the system they played never considered that they may win. Now I commend the bravery and spirit of those that played but the coaches had conceded defeat before they set foot on the pitch. England should aspire to better.

    What is better? To lose having tried or to lose not having tried at all?

  • Comment number 5.

    It was a better performance than last week although I think it would take a lot of effort to play worse!

    Looking at the autumn series there are very few positives, the main one being lewis moody who has been by far englands best player in all 3 games.

    It is now time for martin johnson and the rest of the coaching team to make some big decisions. The first one should be to remove the captaincy from borthwick. Admittedly he had his best game of series today but based on his last 2 games he shouldn't of been in 22 and he should be replaced by nick kennedy who is more dynamic athletic and also a far better lineout man. Shaws prescence today was well noted partly for the way that deacon who played last 2 has contributed. Deacon does not appear test quality and lawes should be tried. He may not be good enough but having been on bench last 2 should of been there again today, the management see something in him so should be given a chance.

    The back row appears to be coming together, croft was solid when he came on moody already discussed and haskell is better option than crane and has shown some quality but needs to improve his decision making.

    Hodgson was lively although I'd like to see ellis in when fit probably with danny cipriani at 10. He has bags of talent and will improve with game time and the confidence that sticking by him will give. Whilst wilkinsons tackling has been outstanding as usual and goal kicking decent his kicking from hand has been poor at best and whilst the drop goal is good to have up your sleeve he overuses it with today being case in point

    I like monye on the wing an whilst cueto was good under high ball he doesn't have the pace needed at this level as his failure to convert last weeks golden early opportunity showed and armitage should come in when fit with possibly sackey on the other wing.

    Our midfield today showed no creativity which was likely to be the case and I would go with riki flutey alongside matthew tait which has both lightening pace and some much needed invention

    Hopefully this side would solve a lot of the problems we have one being the lack of any sort of quick ball for the backs to work with. I'm struggling to think of any quick ball we had today and at times it was painfully slow

  • Comment number 6.

    AI were pretty poor both in terms of results and performance. But there were a few positives heading into the 6n. Firstly, the backrow was fantastic throughout, I think we have fantastic strength in depth in that department. Also I was glad to see Wilson and Hartley givern a runout.

    More negatively we have found out that Gerathy is not a 12, Hipkiss is not good enough to be an international player, Monye is not a 15 but cueto can cover the position ok and that Banahan needs to add to his game if he wants to start in an England shirt again.

    Assuming all are fit the team I'd want to go into the 6n is this:

    1. Sheriden
    2. Hartley
    3. Vickery
    4. Shaw (old but if hes fit we need him)
    5. Borthwick (people call for Kennedy but I think its a bit like asking Easter to be replaced with Crane)
    6. Croft
    7. Moody
    8. Haksell/Easter (Haskell has played well but not sure if hes done enough to take Easters spot just yet)
    9. Hodgeson
    10. Wilkinson
    11. Monye
    12. Flutey
    13. Tindall/Tait
    14. Cueto
    15. Armitage

    16. Thompson
    17. Wilson
    18. Worsley
    19. Lawes
    20. Care
    21. Flood
    22. Tait/Strettle/Banahan (Banahan to give us cross field option and/or extra forward to close out a tight game)

  • Comment number 7.

    I said it a couple days ago, and I'll say it again. You can't beat NZ at their game. You can't throw bigger and bargier at them in a blow-for-blow contest and expect to win. You can't play kick-and-chase, attacking, and counter-attacking rugby with them. The most you'll do is stay with them until their fitness, skill, and mastery of that game for 80 minutes overtakes you at a critical point, and then they close the door on you. That's why they consistently beat Australia, who try to play their game. You have to force them into a different game, into a slower game that ties them up and ties them down, that frustrates their outside attack, that lets them burn up their fuel in the middle and between the 22s, because they are death near their own goal and death near yours. Then - and this is critical - you must not waste even one opportunity that you are given, or that you gain. All great teams make mistakes. The All Blacks will make them (Carter missed two easy penalties). When they do, you must execute your best. Either this, or you have to have dazzling talent, fitness, and invention - and some luck. England would have been very well-advised to study how SA beat NZ this past Tri-nations season, and taken those lessons to their training, game plan, and execution. 19-6 . . .not out of sight.

  • Comment number 8.

    Also, England could have taken something form how France beat SA. SA won the Tri-nations. France beat them by playing France's game for 80 min, not trying to "match" SA. That says a lot about how France can stack up against SH teams. Some lessons from SA over NZ and from France over SA would have benefited England.
    Carter may have brought some "French lessons" back to the All Blacks and, if so, may lead them in a blinder. They'll need it to win. Look for France to have a good game and beat NZ by 10+.

  • Comment number 9.

    How can Erinle expect to steal any ball like the top class centres do when he can't bend his legs is beyond me. So many times he was first to the breakdown-applaud for that- but pushed out the way with relative ease.

    Hipkiss shouldn't be considered for england. He is neither big/strong enough to be a runner eg Nonu,Adam-Ashley Cooper or skillful enough to be a creative influence eg Conrad Smith.

    Flutey/Geraughty/Tait all have that creative spark but Johno decides to leave that out the team.

    Banahan just like Vainikolo b4 him seems wasted stuck on the wing use his size as a ball carrier to get across the gain line.

    Y r we still looking 4 our backline to do something creative, when we r obviously picking boring straight-line (predictable lines at that) runners.

  • Comment number 10.

    Agree with petoria first post.
    Monye played better, but is not really making good tackles. Hipkiss is not for me an international player, not enough to offer in attack and he missed two crucial tackles (with his hands out....wrong body position)and at this level its a no-no. Cueto was simply great, he did tremendously well under the high ball, kicked well too. There thankfully some heroics from England, Shaw, Moody, sometimes Haskell taking the fight to NZ, great to see. But inevitably the AB's took control in that oh so important area, the breakdown. Nobody could stop it, Mcaw started to dominate. It was shocking to see England in attacking positions simply unable to secure their own ball, and getting knocked back in the tackle etc.!Apart from a couple of desperate breakaways, England never really threatened to score. The AB's however could have easily won by a bigger margin. Towards the end we saw the re-emergence of the basic error syndrome that was so much a feature of the Argentinian display, dropped passes, knock ons etc. The tackle count told its own story; 120 tackles by England to 60 odd by the AB's, they just had the lions share of the possession and pressure. Johnson must be clinging to the fact that he has some first choice players coming back from injury, but really if England cannot solve their breakdown/scrum problem they will in for more frustration and heart ache, and us England fans will be too.

  • Comment number 11.

    progress get out of it, god help england in th 6N may be we get the women to play got to be better than the current mens set up THE WHOLE SET UP top to bottom Mr Andrew , Mr Johnson and Co the lot must GO

  • Comment number 12.

    I think you're being very optimistic about starting as third favourites. France, Ireland and Wales will all be above England in that pecking order and a rejuvenated Scotland may put England down in fifth

  • Comment number 13.

    Its pretty straight forward. A great effort from the players but today New Zealand were not at their best yet we weren't really in the game for the second half. We know we can send out a grizzly team that defends well - it tends to lead to a performance of effort that ends in defeat (eg Wales & Ireland 2009 6N) occasionally a suprise victory (France 2008 6N). However, playing this type of game at home is slightly depressing. Large lunks are picked instead of giving other promising plyers a run out, little is learnt and we don't develop in attack which as everybody who has been watching the last few knows is where the real problem lies. England have not been effective in attack.

    Review of Coaches
    Wells - defense was good yesterday but we had based our whole game around defending - players picked, marking, organisation, kicking tactics... it only adds to the feeling that Wells is too loud a voice in MJs head and attacking play doesn't stand a chance.

    Smith - They may as well have given him the week off. There was no attacking intent from England. I'm pretty sure this can't of been his preferred game plan.

    Ford/Rowntree - Scrum was pretty impresive in the circumstances. A large chunk of this might be attributable to the presence of Shaw though. Backrow had a decent feel to it.

    Callard - kicking better than previous weeks.

    Players

    Frontrow - good performance from the stand ins. Glad Hartley has had a decent run out we need his fire - developing well. Thompson - good to see him back, playing well and being a pack leader.

    Second Row - Shaw had a big influence on the game. I hope he stays fit for another two years!
    Borthwick - the only improvement in performance was that you noticed him perhaps twice during the game, ok in the lineout. A poor series for the hapless captain. There seem far better leaders around him now - didn't anyone else note that Thompson led the post-match huddle with the team whilst Borthwick went off to sip his Ribena next to his masters side.
    Deacon - Lawes a better impact sub surely!!!

    Backrow - promising performances all round. Croft provided better pace and support around the park than Worsley would have and we already had enough tacklers on.

    Hodgson - a stand-out performance for me. He looked international class yesterday. Good decision making, great tackling, defence and support, used quick ball when he could and made the odd effective snipe. Care was OK when he came on too.

    Wilkinson - tackling aside, an average to poor game elsewhere. Didn't get the backline moving again. Turning down a simple three points and following it with a poor drop goal attempt whilst we had attacking momentum moments later was a desperately bad decision. Does JW actually know how to attack?

    Monye - much better back on the wing. A few glimpses of his class.

    Erinle - did the job he was picked for a s best he could. Another centre in the uncreative lunk mould. I'm not sure this is good news.

    Hipkiss - I had high hopes for him over these three weeks. Alas, he has not looked good enough at this level. Neither solid enough in defence or bringing anything in attack. The opposition all seem to have worked out what he does already.

    Banahan - 6 caps now and looks a long way short at this level. The All Blacks are rarely troubled by size alone. Terrible handling continued with his attack ending knock ons from simple catches and passes. Strettle & Sinbad would be better options for me - or the saxons guys. Cueto will take his place here when Armitage returns.

    Cueto - much needed reliable presence. Just wish he had an extra yard of pace.



  • Comment number 14.

  • Comment number 15.

    Forgot to add -

    Geraghty managed to provide some spark in his short cameo. Good improvised cross field kick that should have been taken. Lively in broken play and remains a key player for England to develop. I hope he isn't returned to the saxons when Flood returns.

  • Comment number 16.

    Having watched goal-kickers developing styles and long preparation down the years, it seems that Wilkinson's praying mantis approach seems to have become favourite.
    By way of contrast, I'd love to see any "footage" of Peter Brown, turning his back on the ball, then plodding in on his size 14 kippers, and wellying one over.
    All in ten seconds.
    Any chances please?

  • Comment number 17.

    I watched the Scotland game made me think of England under Robinson ie: 15 in defence and hope for penaltys. In three games England have come a long way and are on the UP.
    England scrape a win everyone on earth except the best team on earth moans. Scotland get a win Heros going to challenge for the sixnations.
    England for me are the best team going forward from the AIs.
    I wold rather take Englands performance yesterday with the strongest NZ put out to date than Wales NZ or Scotland Austrailia.
    Only Ireland have impressed me so far. Still at least the England performance is on the UP.
    NZ came her to win against England and France thats why they saved their players for the last 2 games.

  • Comment number 18.

    A nixed bag I feel yesterday...

    Tight 5: well done (including borthwick), winning 2 scrums against the head and very rarely lumbering slowly to breakdowns, as they were against argentina. Though I still dont think that when we start to put the ball through the hands that Hartley has any place in the midfield, we tried that 2 or three times yesterday and didnt make the gainline once...if your going to crash ball then make sure its earlier on! Shaw was magnificent, and despite Borthwick playing better he is 4th/5th in my list of second rows in the country, and about 8/9th as captain for the england team, I just dont feel he brings enough at lock, or presence as captain to merit a place anymore.

    Backrow: good performances all round (again!) ok, some of Haskell's choices at the back of the scrum were interesting, but other than that he had a very good game, moody was superb as usual, and Croft had another good game when worsely went off (that covering tackle from carter was pretty good eh?)

    Half Backs: hodgeson = well done lad. wilko = not so much, that drop goal attempt brought tears of laughter from the kiwi's I was with in the bar, awful decision! Did anyone see patterson's winning drop goal for scotland? THAT was a good one to hit!

    Midfield: Erinle, despite my doubts, didnt drop the ball once! so a good mark for him! Hipkiss, unfortunately, doesnt look like he can make the step up to international. good at Leicester: poor for england. Geraghty...looked better when he came on, and having the guts to attempt that cross kick is more than i can say for johnny wilkinson!

    Backs: played better today. Banahan i think has got some unfair criticism, this was his best game of the series, he attacked at pace, and defensively he looked much better today, I still fancy him losing out to Strettle/Sackey come the 6N's though. Monye played well, as did Cueto, though he's beginning to look a little slow...

    my obligatory team for the 6N's (fitness dependant:)

    Sheriden
    Hartley (if he stays out of the ruddy midfield!)
    Vickery
    Shaw
    Lawes (I know that Borthwick wont be dropped, but he should be)
    Croft
    Moody
    Haskell (c) (just ahead of Easter, Haskell is one of the only game breaking forwards we have, and I think we'l need that)
    SH...im not sure yet actually! Ellis returning needs some games, Care played well, Hodgeson also played well...definately a position up for grabs, but Hodgeson in pole position atm.
    Wilkinson (needs to get back to playing some attacking rugby though)
    Monye
    Flood
    Tait
    Strettle
    Armitage

    Thompson
    Wilson
    Kennedy
    Rees
    SH
    Geraghty
    Sackey/Cueto

    I've gone for Geraghty ahead Cipriani on the bench because I think that he offers better all round options, Tait and Flood can cover fullback if need be, opening up a position in centre that Geraghty can occupy better then Cipriani can. I also think that if Cipriani is going to play his way back into the team it will be in the place of Wilkinson.

    Better performance this weekend...still a LONG way to go though!

  • Comment number 19.

    I think as a no 10 Wilkinson kcking has been very poor I would rather see Flood take his place.

  • Comment number 20.

    Geraghty's cross field kick wasn't deliberate! He was aiming in behind the all blacks but because he was being tackle he sliced it(luckily you would think) to Banahan who then dropped it!
    That passage of play summed up England over the past few years! Poor pass, driven back 30 meters, poor pass again, panicked kick and then a knock on!

  • Comment number 21.

    Flood doesn't sort out the main problem of being able to kick start an attack. It needs to be Geraghty, Cipriani or Lamb. Young attacking players. Back them.

  • Comment number 22.

    I don't think Martin's the problem. I think Rob Andrew is. All the way back to Woodward there've been clashes between him and the England manager. I think we need someone more diplomatic and more forward-thinking in charge of English Rugby.

  • Comment number 23.

    I not sure about Geraghty he only seems to have one way of playing pick up the ball and run in a stright line into a brick wall of players.

  • Comment number 24.

    I disagree Silkeskills - it was a very deliberate cross kick. He clearly looks where he kicks it. Improvised thinking - something we don't expect from England these days. It caught Matt Banahan napping.

  • Comment number 25.

    At last, things are becoming a little clearer.

    OK, it's mainly the 2nd XV, but now we know:

    Wilson a find - scrum muich improved when worthy but out-gunned Bell went off. A keeper.

    Hipkiss not quite up to it - clearly a third-string choice. Neither inventive nor a tackler at this level.

    Monye thank goodness not ruined by his insane selection at full-back. But if Sackey was in full form he would be a second choice.

    Cueto - intelligent, brave, safe, but maybe now lacking a little in pace.

    Erinle - a big lump who is ok but no real find. Gerapghty looked mych better when he finally got on the pitch.

    Geraghty - why is he in ahead of Tait? Mystifying. Both very good, tricky players but why give Tait a run then and then switch to Geraghty? Both in the side might be a luxury unless Geraghty is at Stand-Off or Tait is on the wing.

    Shaw - streets ahead of anyone else in his position - handling, power and a rugby brain. Made Deacon look like The Invisible Man. Got Borthwick to pull his socks up yesterday - how sad when the best England players on the park are the veterans Moody and Shaw.

    Hodgson - showed signs of playing his natural game - will he now be dropped?

    Wilkinson - like Cueto, seems a fraction past his best. His kicking compared well with Carter yesterday but the passing and tunning were light years apart. He is holding the side back now - they rely too much on him. Would still pick him ahead of Flood but as with Tait, why has Cipriani been so badly treated? Maybe he should move to Leicester.

    Hartley - ahead of Thompson (another steady Eddie these days) and Mears (by a street).

    Finally, was deeply impressed by the way Croft buckled down to a tough afternoon when Joe went off early. Showed real class, at last somewhere near his Lions form. Thank God Easter wasn't available (was he?).

    Johnson seems to be inching forward like a WW1 general. Modest improvement against a rather un-confident All Blacks who were there for the taking at one point. It's just that England were even less confident.

    Allowing for some improvement I reckon they will be lucky to beat Ireland and Wales in the New Year and as for the French - who the hell knows? Even the Scots moght be a problem - can we have our coach back, please?



  • Comment number 26.

    I just do not see Wilkingson as an automatic shoein at no 10. Hooker_Armpit Ihve just watched the higlights again I do not think it was a cross kick.
    Iam sad about BBC radio coverage on radio 5live it was rubbish. More about soccer and horse racing. I have asked the BBC to explain why. Scotland get Uniterrupted coverage of their match on radio 5live xtra and the full match live on the TV whereas the England supporter gets half the match on radio 5live a program where rugby union is given lip service.
    I have made the same complaint for the last 3 week. I think the BBC go out of their way not to cover England Rugby Union matches.
    I will not get a reply from the BBC all they sayis thats the way it is but I am getting tired of their bias against England.

  • Comment number 27.

    Far better performance. We looked...dare I say it... dynamic at times. Ha!

    The backrow looked aggressive and scrambled well. Shaw brings a lot of power and nous. Does the hard yeards around the fringes too. Considering the front row is missing maybe 4 guys, the pack is looking up.

    Hodgson looked game. Cipriani is an England Saxon for a while. Wilkinson not only controls the game well but makes his presence felt defensively positionally and in the tackle. The centres are waiting for Flutey's guile to come back. Really not convinced by Gerathy. He makes bad distribution decisions, looks lightweight and constantly runs into brick walls. His job is to take the pressure off Wilkinson but right now he almost always puts the team under pressure. Cueto should always have been full back in present circumstances. Neither winger convinces me.

    And the guys from the bench were important too. Fairly deep there considering the injuries.

  • Comment number 28.

    Geraghty 'constantly runs into brick walls.'

    Thats because Wilkinson was calling for him to take crash balls - even though he was only just on the pitch. Another of JWs dubious decisions yesterday.

  • Comment number 29.

    Thanks for all your comments.

    The Moog (No 2)- while I don't like to lay the blame with colleagues, someone else took care of the pics for this blog from the office last night, and obviously didn't spot the difference between a penalty and a drop-goal. Happy to say I've rectified that now. And yes, if you include the Lions, Johnno did indeed beat the Blacks 4 times a player.

    In reference to your third point, I think I reflected what many have said here. That it was an improved performance for an hour but still showed very few signs of any attacking nous, which I addressed later on.

    Must admit that when Johnson was talking about the players to come back, I was struggling to think of many - apart from Flutey and Armitage perhaps, who were England's two best players last season - who will make a difference to the attacking side of things. Especially when he seems to have decided that others with instinctive flair - Foden, Tait, Cipriani - are not to be trusted. I also have sympathy for the likes of Hipkiss when the whole England backline - led by Wilkinson - is standing so deep. Makes it easy for defences like New Zealand's to cope with.



  • Comment number 30.

    Ok

    All seem fairly confident that the 1st choice back 3 are comfortable (Cueto, Monye and Armitage) - don't know where the Sackey comments stem from, he's long off form. More likely to see Varndell and Morgan come into that trio.

    Front 3 now has options, Hartley, Mears and Thompson represent a good choice for a couple of years. Props seem to be stepping up.

    2nd row remains compromised by captaincy commitments, however there are options (of which Deacon remains the least exciting).

    Back row is starting to take shape, with Rees to join Moody, Haskell, & Worsley in contention. When I say back 3, maybe I mean flankers. 8 remains a problem. Haskell's our current best bet, but in the same team as Parisse, how much time is he gonna get there in te next couple of seasons? And it's game time he needs to improve there. I don't like Easter one bit, but who else? Narraway and Crane look a bit limp at international level. Could be a major flaw of this growing team.

    Which leads me onto the other major one... Midfield.

    It's generally greeted with derision (by me too) when 2 of Tindall/Noon/Erinle/Hipkiss are chosen. Everyone says needs more flair/pace, and people suggest 2 from Flutey/Flood/Geraghty/Tait. That lack of bulk and solidity scare me equally. With the lack of a Greenwood (big and creative)the only solution seems to be change the style of play: i.e. ball carrier at 12, runner at 13. Flutey is a little of both, but needs a big guy with him still. With Wilko not getting things moving, this is compounding the problem (if only he had a little more pace, he'd be a great fullback!). Until this is sorted, England won't go from valiantly competing but losing to scoring enough points to win. Maybe Flutey and Tait need a go. I'm not sure, be interested to hear thoughts.

    If you take half backs as fairly assured, what I suppose I'm saying is in the key attacking positions of 8 and centre, we lack any serious attacking options. Is this going to change?

  • Comment number 31.

    Flutey definitely a first choice, and he is a fearless tackler though not a big man. I would team him up with Tait. Question - why are we persisting first with a non-existent full-back (Monye) and then with a part-time one (Cueto) when a perfectly good one (Foden) is sent back to the Premiership? Is it because Johnson was scared of having too little experience in the team? Worked really well for Ugo, didn't it?

  • Comment number 32.

    OK, the view from West Lower.
    We STILL seem unable to string a series of passes together while running forward onto the ball. Why??
    That said, we looked hungrier - Hodgson, Moody + Haskell especially.
    Banahan + Hipkiss + Care (knocked on on their 5 meter line) have been tried + failed, in my view; bring on Sackie, Flutey and Ellis / Simpson.
    Borthwick is simply not a leader at this level. I have yet to see him pull players around him + give direction. If he is not there as captain does his form warrant being picked?
    We were reffed out of the game at the breakdown. Southern Hemisphere interpretation is something MJ/Borthwick should have sorted before kick-off.
    We will be lucky to come 3rd in the 6 nations at this rate. We need line breakers a la Jason Robinson, + we need a pack that can maul and rumble like 2003.

  • Comment number 33.

    I forgot - JW clearly doesn't trust his centres - there was no need to go for that late drop goal attempt (which he missed) - 3 points was not what we needed + the attack was on. HE just didn't fancy the pass. We need to work on basics like passing + catching while running forwards. It's that simple.
    Reactively moderated? Why am I 'awaiting moderation' then?

  • Comment number 34.


    England will never win against Southern Hemisphere teams until their game strategy changes. This strategy should be a simple one, start by running with the ball! Stop trying to kick at every opportunity run with it and punch big holes in the oppositions defence. In addition it has become so predictable to use the fullback or Wilkinson to kick and often gain no ground. So abolish the use of players less than 15 stone and start running the ball and we might actually start winning!!

  • Comment number 35.

    Most of you keep talking about this great back row? How many turnovers against us. I lost count. Present lot are just showboaters who charge around without a clue what they're doing. Where's the man to get to the ruck and create the quick ball. Where's the man to supply the links with the backs. Oh for a Robinson a Back a Winterbottom. These three together would only make half a McCaw or Smith but at least it would be better than nothing which is what we have now.

  • Comment number 36.

    Quite agree with Eric Martel. All the talk about th half backs and midfield, and back 3 is somewhat academic if you don't have the ball. Even worse, even when you win it from set piece you just can't keep it. What do the half backs do (any choice) when they see the ball going into contact and then being turned over and run back at them? Who has to sprint across the pitch to make a covering tackle? We can all moan that its given the boot but the reality is that when you dont trust running, you go for some field position to relieve the pressure. Was it the refereeing? Well Kaplan has dealt pretty harshly with England on other occasions, but in all 3 tests we struggled with the breakdown. We have to solve this problem, before we start having unrealistic expectations of half back and centre performance especially in terms of their attacking performance. Half backs look pretty good (like Cowan and Carter did) behind a dominant pack, and can look poor behind a dominated pack.

  • Comment number 37.

    Either Smith is being over-ruled in selection or he is incompetent at this level. England have consistently picked backs out of position this autumn,which apart from being naive and unproductive cannot do there confidence any good nor those of players overlooked, such as Foden. Clearly Johnson's understanding of back play is limited. Selection in the backs has been hopeless. Wilkinson is past it at this level, as is Cueto, Banahan is not an international winger(I bet Shane cannot wait to play against him), Moyne is an out and out winger, Erinle and Hipkiss both outside centres through and through. Hipkiss and Banahan fit Johnsons macho obssesion,but will never make it. A beter back line would have been,given availability
    Hodgson
    Flood
    Moyne
    Gergahty
    Erinle
    Sackey
    Foden
    with Tait on the bench.

    Erinle

  • Comment number 38.

    "But when a 13-point deficit, and an eighth consecutive defeat, by the All Blacks is cause for some kind of cheer, surely it only highlights how far English rugby's stock has fallen."

    Well, they did a lap of honour at Old Trafford in the late 90's after losing by 20 points, so only losing by 13 surely merits a ticker-tape parade down Regent Street.

    England were mediocre at best and competitive for only 60 minutes. They never threatened the All Blacks line (other than from a knock-on early in the match) and fluffed their chances when they at least got into the red zone. It was obvious that their score would be divisible by 3 and but for some rare Carter misses at goal and Muliaina failing to put the ball in his left hand to score in the corner, the All Blacks would have won by closer to 30. England toiled hard but are short of fitness in the final quarter, and tactical nous throughout the game. Ireland and Wales are much better at present and I expect Wales to beat Australia comfortably. Scotland showed England how to do it and the biggest test for the All Blacks has always been France in Marseilles this weekend. That will be a cracker.

  • Comment number 39.

    England were mediocre because they ARE mediocre.

    Decent defence, decent physicality but no flair whatsoever. Whenever they come up against a bigger team they will struggle to get anywhere.

    This isn't a huge problem in itself, teams can play witha lack of flair if they pick the right players and strategy, the problem is that England seem to be stuck in the middle somewhere. They are playing a very negative direct game as individuals but are still tying to pick players without the attributes to play that kind of game. They need to decide which route to go down, either the crash bang route in which case they need to pick the biggest, fittest, strongest side possible, cut out the fancy moves, miss passes, chips and play liek a RL side or they need to get a better attacking tactician to work with the more skillful players on worked moves and broken play.

    Given the players and coaches they have then crash bang would look a better bet right now, which means a backline of powerful runners in the middle and finishers on the wings. Armitage needs to come back purely because he's the only quality full back, Cueto and Monye on the wings are OK though Cueto should be replaced if anyone with pace steps up. Flutey at 12 is a cert and I would consider looking at Banahan for the 13 slot. I know he's not a centre but his size and power made him an excellent 4th back row type player, on the wing his size is wasted and his poor handling exposed.

  • Comment number 40.

    Now while i admit that the performance against the all blacks was a huge step up to the argentina game and the forwards competed extremely well. but i have to say i just can't believe that professional international rugby backs have such poor ball handling, attacking flair and nouse. You could a watch a colts game and the backs handling would of been better than the england backs in all the autumn internationals.
    please please please jhonno can we get some ball players in the side and not just people who happen to be physical freaks. i'd much prefer to see foden, JSD, tait than banahan monye and hipkiss.
    Also as much as wilkinson is an amazing player i think he has started standing way too deep. carter was taking the ball flat and coming onto it when the AB's got decent ball. we get similar ball and JW is sat 5m behing the ruck and static.

  • Comment number 41.

    As an NZ'er here in UK, I find it unbelievable that Strettle is not one of the first choice wingers for England. He's still got a bit to learn but is by far and away the most talented winger in the country. England also need a new centre...perhaps Cueto should move (Tana Umaga did it successfully for the AB's) although must admit I'm doubtful about his distribution ball skills (but that was also a concern before Tana switched). Borthwick must go..just not good enough. Wilkinson must make more of an effort to run...even if to just put doubt in the defences minds. Gerahty must be given time.

  • Comment number 42.

    The real point is the both England and Scotland would have been demolished this weekend if the Southern Hemisphere giants could have played to even half their potential. England lacked pace, power and imagination, and people have forgotten that Johnson was only captain because Dallaglio couldn't shut up.

    We have made progress, but the world's best progress all the time, and at this pace we'll never get close.

  • Comment number 43.

    I don't usually post but I feel I have to as I keep seeing Cipriani being the man and Jonny is passed it...

    Wilkinson needs to play flatter I agree but lets be honest England are and always will be better by playing predominantly 10 man rugby as they did in 2003. I'm not saying they didn't have the backs outside them - they did when they needed to but tindall wasn't the most creative or the quickest but he rarely missed a tackle.

    Cipriani cannot make tackles and therfore will never make it at International level unti lhe can tackle.

    The reason why carter is such a good fly half is because first and foremost he is excellent defensively, he unfrotuantely is then excellent in attack and pretty good at kicking out of hand. but don't forget first and foremost he is excellent defensively. Modern day fly halves need to be and I don't know any great fly halves now who miss tackles. Cipriani will not make it until then. International rugby is built on defense. Attacking comes later.

    Jonno is doing the right think, building the team on defense and then bringing in the odd attacking player.

    My team for the Six Nations would be:

    Sheridan
    Thompson
    Wilson
    Shaw
    Borthwick (c) (Don't 100% agree but he should groom Lawes off the bench)
    Croft (Would still try to convert him in to a 2nd Row - only requires an extra stone)
    Moody
    Easter

    Hodgson
    Wikinson
    Ashton
    Flutey
    Hipkiss
    Cueto
    Armitage

    Bench:
    Vickery
    Hartley
    Lawes
    Haskell (Needs to improve his vision and passing - no doubt he is talented)
    Care
    Geraghty (More for a 10 replacement but can play 12)
    Tait (covers wing, centre and full back)

    Injury returns need to prove themselves: Rees, Flood etc.

    Guys that could easily come through:

    Joe Simpson (Wasps 9)
    Micky Young (Newcastle 9)
    Alex Goode (Saracens 15)
    Richard Blaze (Leicester 5)

  • Comment number 44.

    Agree captainlazytim, this rate of progress will be actual regression in world terms, particularly looking at the way Scotland played at the weekend. To make so many tackles and give away so few penalties for starters is a lesson England could heed.

    Back to the centres debate, Banahan as a 13 would mean no ball ever gets to the wings so don't like that. Cueto has a bit more sense, although Tait would surely be a more natural choice. I like Cueto's assurance and game playing mind, but agree if such players as Strettle or Varndell come into form and improve their all-round game that extra yard (or 3 with Varndell) will be silly to ignore (meaning the current set-up probably will. I suppose, if you're confident in the solidity of your backline, you can carry one non-tackling/defensively naive winger. We're obviously not at that stage.

    Something Woodward tried to do and got lamabasted for with the Lions, is Wilko at 12. At worst, it could teach him to stand flatter as he wouldn't be there to primarily kick, but to tackle, make breaks and give quick ball; virtues he's lacking at fly half at present.

    All these positional switches though, are we REALLY that short on midfielders with an all-round game? When you look through the top European teams with D'arcy, O'Driscoll, Mauger...no-one even in the same galaxy as them. Maybe a bit harsh on Flutey there.

    How's Ollie Smith playing these days? A talent that seemed to just roll on by...

  • Comment number 45.

    and you can't just 'play flat', regardless of what you have outside you. i daresay jonny would be a little flatter if there were any decent runners outside him (Tait, what did you do to MJ/RA? they hate you)

  • Comment number 46.

    Midfield answers - i like Shontayn Hape, if he's free. He has everything you need to be a world class 12.

  • Comment number 47.

    Ah back to the good old days of debating on Bryn's blog, that summer break was too long. I do feel the necesity to point out that I am from Northern Ireland, before I start though.

    Anyway time to add my own thoughts. Contrary to many of you I actually thought England played relativly well. Moody in particular looked awesome, and was defiantly England's man of the match by far. They were never going to win against the All Blacks, anyway and at least they made the scoreline look repectable.

    Good to see Croftilicious back on the blogging and again wholeheartedly agree with him, on what will surely be a major point with regard to the side. Why oh why oh why is Mr Bothwich starting for England (never mind captaining issue), an explaination please?

    Also with regard to point 3 colin and others who posted with similar threads, I really am getting tired of this injury crisis nonsence, which you and the English media appear to be obbsessed about. You have by far the biggest population in the British Isles. More people = more players to choose from. There must be some fundamental problem with grass roots rugby in your country if you cannot develop sufficient talent given the massive demographic you have to choose from.

    Also good to see Wilkinson back to top(ish) form, hopefully this will put an end to all the boy wonder (Cipriani) 'best thing that ever happened to English rugby' etc

  • Comment number 48.

    Re: No 38 (AllBlackandBlue). I agree, Ireland and Wales are much further down the track in their development than England, while Scotland appear to be on the right path under Andy Robinson and France seem to have rediscovered the best of themselves. Had to raise a smile then when Lawrence Dallaglio said he thought England would probably win the Six Nations. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/rugby_union/english/8373043.stm

    Im also intrigued as to how the ABs go in Marseille next Sat. Suspect we'll see a few changes in the NZ pack - tight-head? lock? blind-side? -but it's got the potential to be a classic. Feeling confident?

  • Comment number 49.

    47. At 12:33pm on 23 Nov 2009, WillyGilly wrote:

    Also with regard to point 3 colin and others who posted with similar threads, I really am getting tired of this injury crisis nonsence, which you and the English media appear to be obbsessed about. You have by far the biggest population in the British Isles. More people = more players to choose from. There must be some fundamental problem with grass roots rugby in your country if you cannot develop sufficient talent given the massive demographic you have to choose from.

    This is utterly wrong. Population size in general has nothing to do with the success of a national team. If it did then China and India would be world champions across the board. Maybe think for a second about other factors, including other sports, economic factors and historical example. Go on, try.

    Your comment shows that you don't understand rugby recruitment, or the challenges faced compared to those in Ireland, Wales and Scotland.

  • Comment number 50.

    Excellent my provocative comments have got a response.

    Population must have some effect on the size and quality of national teams across the spectrum of sports. Why does no one take the challenge of San Marino or Malta seriously in football matches, low population, less players to pick, low quality game. With regard to China and India, their development (in sporting terms) as countries is still way behind the Northern hemipshere. Oh and with regard to China I refer you to arguably the biggest sporting event in the calender - the Olympics, who's consistently been in the top 4 over the past number of years and indeed topped it last time out - China. Are you honestly going to tell me that ain't got anything to do with population? I fully admit there are definatly other factors involved as well, but rugby is pretty high up in the agenda in terms of England's national sport, second to football. Not to sure what you mean by economic factors, but the way labour have been spending money over the past 12 years some of it must have gone into developing sporting talent. With regard to the historical example, have you not shot yourself in the foot? Didn't a little team by the name of England win something called the World Cup 6 years ago? Did that not encourage any young, up and coming players to push that little bit harder in the hope that 1 day they could be in such a team? I guess you could also argue that the influx of foreign players into the GP may have also afected the emerging new talent, if that's the case you have only yourselves blame.

  • Comment number 51.

    My starting XV for the Six Nations would be: -

    1. Sheridan
    2. Hartley
    3. Wilson
    4. Shaw
    5. Kennedy
    6. Croft
    7. Moody
    8. Easter
    9. Hodgson
    10. Wilkinson
    11. Monye
    12. Flutey
    13. Tait
    14. Cueto
    15. Armitage

    16. Thompson (experience in the front row)
    17. Vickery (as above)
    18. Lawes (strong in the tackle, line out and running with the ball)
    19. Haskell (versatile and dynamic presence to come off the bench)
    20. Care (against tiring legs will be a danger around the fringes)
    21. Geraghty (can play at 10 or 12, dangerous off the bench)
    22. Strettle (experience cover for either wing)

  • Comment number 52.

    First, you, yourself, yourselves...i am not the RFU.

    Second, do you know much about the change in methods and circumstances leading up to the 2003 WC? This was not the 'historical' example, but i'd be interested as to what you know. The historical relates more to the way you were comparing us to Wales, using population size.

    The point is that there are uptake figures that make a difference, but the overall population size won't in an individual sport (try to avoid dropping morsels of rubbish in about the Olympics). Secondly, you have to look into the competition (how you can say RU is definatly number 2 to football is interesting, do you have the figures).

    Also, China is behind the northern hemsiphere? this underlines the lack of knowledge again. the sports they value are far beyond anything any European can achieve, but they don't do well in 'Our' sports, so the silly and small minded think they are underdeveloped.

    The England rugby team has suffered. The players are working with less, sometimes for less, but some people expect them to get as far.

  • Comment number 53.

    How long til Hape qualifies? Never seen much of him play, but read a reasonable amount about him and he's not short of an pound or 2!

    Just imagine an England WC try with the combination of Hartley, Flutey, Hape and a reborn Vainikolo finishing through 3 players in the corner! Then see who has the gall to say our grass-roots aren't intact...

  • Comment number 54.

    Okay okay maybe my final 'yourselves' was out of order, I meant the individual club directors who sign the foreign players, not the fans.

    After your riveting attack on my lack of knowledge about the subject I can't help but notice you didn't exactly back up your claims with anything either. Anyhow.

    No idea what you mean by changes in methods and circumstances leading up to the WC in 2003, I can admit that freely without blushing. Contrary to what you may have been told I am not actually the fountainhead of all knowledge. Please elaborate...

    Without a doubt rugby in Wales is massive (200 lower league clubs), and by far more popular than football. Accordingly the uptake figures for it are going to be much higher than the rate or percentage in England (cannot find actual figures for either). However given the population of Wales is (at last count census 2001 so these figures are going to have changed a bit) 3 million and the population in Engalnd is 50 million are you honestly going to tell me that doesn't have any bearing on a national team's range of players?

    And regardless as to whether or not you meant the 2003 WC or not it still must have surely increased the uptake of rugby by people in England. The 1st line of your second paragraph makes no sense at all, yea the uptake figures are the ones that count but if your population is greater then it follows that your uptake figures are going to be greater - common sense.

    Interestingly enough cricket is your national sport is it as popular as football or rugby? No. That's quite clear to see through match attendences, tv rights etc. In England football is far greater than rugby, it's plain to see. Average attendance at a GP match less than 20,000. Barclay's Premiership 35,000 plus. Football's top 4 devisions (Premiership, Championship, League 1 and League 2) have a far bigger audience than English rugby's top 4 leagues (GP, Division 1, 2 and 3N/S).

    Yea okay again another ammendment to my previous post, China's sporting achievments, in our sporting terms, are way behind, and probably will remain so as well. This doesn't mean they are underdeveloped, far from it, and they along with dozens of other countries represent what a diverse, multi-cultural world we live in - everyone likes different things...

    In what way has the England rugby team suffered? 2 world cup finals in the last 6 years, winning 1 of them. A grand slam in 2003. Coming a good second in the 6 nations this year. Working with less? Less what talent? Resources?

  • Comment number 55.

    i agree with sd1001, he's a kiwi and they know a bit about talented backs! strettle is one of the best attacking backs we have and is the kind of player that england need, same with Tait. we don't need big lumps that are essentially quick forwards on the wing. we need skilful footballers that can beat other players, not try and run over them. you're not going to have much luck trying to smash through a Southern Hemisphere defence.
    England seem to be going backwards in many ways in there selection.
    Hipkiss didnt have a good game but he will come good given the opportunities. Has been consistently good for Leicester the last few years and gets over the gainline when given the chance, another thing noticeably lacking in England performances. Shame he's only touched the ball about 4 times through in the last three matches.
    I think Ashton from Northampton also looks like an exciting player.
    We need to develop these players and not resort to safe choices like Mike Tindall and Cueto.

  • Comment number 56.

    Loads of people keep naming sheridan in there six nations team but to my understandings sheridan wont be back until after the six nations!!

    But if i was to have all the players back from injuries before the six nations, this is my team!

    Sheridan (i think he just need a break and he'll come back fighting fit)
    Mears (Good little runner and hes got the best throw)
    Vickery (he's a walking yellow card but hes good)
    Kennedy (Great hands, good running, just needs to thicken out)
    Shaw (The finished product, what Kennedy will be soon)
    Moody (No need to explain)
    Croft (He's just like south africa, tired)
    Rees (Great rugby brain, good speed and good hands)

    Hodgeson (Personally im a bit lost with scrum half, better than Care thou)
    Wilkinson (No need to expalin)
    Cueto (Really come into a great all-round player)
    Flutey (Great speed, hands and rugby brain)
    Tait (Needs his time to shine!)
    Strettle (Lightning feet, he just hasnt had a long enough run to prove it)
    Armitage (Better than every other full-back we have)

    Lawes (Great new talent, reminds me of Johnson)
    Flood (Ahead of Danni because he can tackle)
    Sackey (Whats wrong with him??)
    Hartly (Nice idea with Thompson, but lets look to the future)
    Payne (Good support)
    Worsley ('The Frog' jumping form person to person! Great tackler)
    Simpson (To be groomed to start!)

    I would have Rees as captain, call me nuts, but hes got a fantastic rugby brain he always leads by example, hes young, and will have a long run to make this England side world class!!! Look at McCaw!!!

  • Comment number 57.

    As most aspects have been discussed already, I thought I would provide my views on the look of the team (fitness permitting) that should appear for the 6 Nations.

    To start with the forwards, which I admit I am not as knowledgeable as some.. Sheridan would be an easy choice alongside Harltey and Vickery, the latter obviously needing someone to take over the reigns at some point in the near future, and this is where I start to get out of my depth on who would sufficiently replace him? Any suggestions? In the 2nd row I think Shaw still has the ability and should have the job of providing Kennedy some valuable knowledge who can then be subbed during the 2nd half to blood in Lawes who I think is a great prospect. My Flankers would be Moody and Croft with Rees as the current replacement and as for the No. 8 shirt, I think Haskell has the potential, but for the time being I think Easter being the bulldozer he is should take it.

    In the back line, Hodgson impressed me during the last few matches and for me doesn't dawdle as much as care around the breakdown and scrum leaving little time for the opposition defence to re-position. I still think Jonny still has it but can easily be replaced by Flood who has the same skills, just a little quicker. Fluety would take the 12 and I feel he has experience to voice the back line. Armitage should have his jersey back and putting Tait along side Fluety with Strettle at 11 and Varndell at 14 these 3 guys have all played 7's with each other and so should have a good defensive awareness along with their blistering pace and jinks they produce in full flight. They would wreak havoc on even the best defences out there and give the much needed flair that everyone is looking for.

    I have omitted Cueto (as much as I think he is a very safe pair of hands) due to the fact that he is lacking in pace these days as shown when he made that break either during the 1st or 2nd international (I forget), that should have been finished by most other wings.

  • Comment number 58.

    1. Make Moody captain. Borthwick is beyond a joke and doesn't merit his place anyway.
    2. Stop this aimless kicking game (note there are 2 types of kicking; the aimless punt down the field that England specialize in and the 'up and under' which is pressured by follow up attackers).
    3. Hope like hell that some of the hospital cases recover in time for Wales game
    4. More widely let's hope the IRB dream up rules to make the game interesting again; such as (1) penalize crooked scrum feeds (2) when the ball is sitting at the back of a ruck or maul in full view of everyone it is OUT and fair game for anyone to grab (3) allow a rolling maul to stop and restart as often as needed - to drag in defenders and make space (4) allow rucking so the berks that lie over the ball learn its not a good idea (5) teach Refs what a front row is and how the laws operate in a front row. In summary do anything to make the game more different to Rugby League because over the last 10 years the laws have made it more and more like League.

  • Comment number 59.

    I've thought about the England performances over the last few years, and we're really not up to the mark. We have the largest playing base in the world, on paper we could all agree/ disagree a 30 man squad, but what are we doing?

    As a traditionalist, I still think England success will be derived from a big front 5, winning consistent first phase ball, pressurising the 'oppo into errors and allowing quick phase possession out to backs, prepared to trust themselves.

    During the last 20 years we have been played with forwards in combinations, which worked well together Dooley and Ackford, Johnson and Bayfield etc. Not to mention the riches in the back row from Winterbottom, Teague, Richards through to Hill, Back et al.

    The current team just seems bereft of ideas or talent, but when I watch Heineken Cup games, I'm amazed at that talent across Europe on display, some of which English qualified players contribute.

    I just want Martin Johnson to come out and say trust me to the World Cup, I will over two years build a team to win; but I know that won't happen. He seems pretty bullet proof, but has reverted to type, surrounding himself with ex-club colleagues, surely there's another way?

    Tom Croft, Simon Shaw and Andrew Sheriden were a credit to the Lions jersey in South Africa, but once back in an England shirt poor Croft looks shorn of all confidence, do England not know what to do with him?

    I don't think Johnny Wilkinson is the man to deliver England; his return from injury, which is not to be belittled, has shown him for what he is. A manufactured player, who applies his limited natural skills, to the best of his ability; his drop goal attempt on Saturday smacked of panic, a natural player may have given it 'a lash' - not he sadly!

    Eight weeks or so to go away and think about it before the 6 Nations ; what does our national team coach believe this team can do?

  • Comment number 60.

    After these autumn internationsls - I'm so looking forward to the 6 nations. It will be the closest ever. Italy aside -every team should win their 'home' fixture. The away fixtures will be the telling point. I reckon Dallalio is not too far wrong that England have a chance of sneaking the 6 nations title this year. Bring it on.

    On another point - I was watching re-run of Lions tour to NZ on ESPN channel. Somethings never change - The AB enter rucks and mauls and tackle areas from every direction other than from behind the back foot !!

  • Comment number 61.

    I've really enjoyed the quality of this discussion.

    My own view, for what it's worth, is that England did well enough to make NZ look vulnerable - at least from the grandstand - and to whet appetites for greater things. I'm afraid those greater things are going to have to wait until greater players emerge, as a number of contributors have suggested.

    In the meantime, no doubt there will be fine-tuning, but I for one am grateful for Wilkinson's return; indeed much more grateful even than I shall be when Sheridan, Worsely, Flutey and Armitage come back and Tait gets a second look.

    Just a thought to the pundits who have bayed so relentlessly for the blood of Borthwick, and no doubt made his life less pleasant and even perhaps made his job a lot harder: it seems to be on the cards that someone - probably Moody - will soon replace him. What will you say when it turns out that Moody isn't the world's greatest flank, or when it turns out that the new lock is no more able to sweep all before him than Borthwick was?

    I don't consider it to be impossible that England will pull off the Six Nations, if the players and coaching staff keep their heads and with a little luck. It's an outcome which many people have worked hard to achieve, in the face of some pretty unkind criticism.

  • Comment number 62.

    Segnes: Some very apt observations I reckon mate, especially regarding Mr. Borthwick.

    Let me counter two issues I have regarding the captaincy issue:

    1) There are two things that a rugby team needs from its captain; calm influence, and leading from the front. Now, regarding calm influence, Borthwick tends to be VERY calm...so calm in fact that you never seem to notice him...when Englands' faces have been up against it, when you need the captain to be a reassuring voice and asserting his influence, tcontrol and direction to proceedings im afraid that Borthwick just hasnt been there. So his influence is minimal at best. Which highlights further that second point: I have yet to see him grab a game by the scruff of the neck and mash it for all he's worth. Has anyone ever been able to criticise Moody for not having that desire? yes he's mellowed (slightly!) with the years, but he still gives his absolute all in every situation. he was rightly regarded as englands best player in the autumn (ok he was sin binned yesterday, which cant help his case, but that fire is a key element to his play!), as the energy he displayed was immense.

    2) Your captain has to first merit his place in the side, and give the team something extra by his presence. and I truly, harshly or not, don't think that Borthwick is in the top 2 second rows we have in this country, and I think playing alongside him has negative effects on his 2nd row partners. I've seen Louis Deacon play alot for the Tigers, and he is a very energetic 2nd row for us, but for England he was awful

  • Comment number 63.

    for some reason that posted before i was finished: so I shall continue!

    (Deacon awful for england...) slow, undynamic and loose with the ball. Simon Shaw, against NZ, lifted the whole pack by his mere presence, and he DID grab the game by the scruff of its neck, he was leading the pack then, not Borthwick. So its easy to say Shaw is Englands number 1 second row. on club performances, I would, without any hesitation whatsoever, pick Kennedy, Lawes, Deacon, Kay, and quite possibly Tom Croft ahead of Borthwick as number 2-7 locks in the country. And there are some other guys coming through there as well, Blaze at leicester for example. We have a wealth of options at lock, and I feel that Borthwick is only included in the nation set up due to 'the armband', not through meriting his place.

    That isnt to say that I consider Moody, Wilkinson, Haskell etc to be the best players in their positions. Rees, Flood/Geraghty/Cipriani, Easter are all likely to be important figures in the national team for years to come in their respective positions, but these 3 players, along with Vickery, Hartley to name a couple more, all add something to their position when they play, and lead a team. This is why I think Borthwick should no longer be a captain, his charisma and leadership is, I beleive, lacking and he is not the best man for his position in the England side, so doesn't merit a place that way either for me.

    Re. the 6 nations, our chances are as good as anyones, but I think that a couple of key decisions need to made in the winter regarding playing style and personel. There's a reason Johnson is keeping the current crop of players together, he knows his rugby, very well, and he must be waiting for something to gel, but I think that come the 6N's, there will have been changes made in the England camp somewhere.

  • Comment number 64.

    Praise the lord for retirement: I can comment without consequence.

    You make your case very powerfully, Crofty, and you may well be right. Maybe I'm just not the type to go out on a limb. It's hard to tell whether Borthwick has been ill-starred, or England (in which case almost any captain would have seemed ill-starred). Tell you this for sure, 'though: Johnson isn't going to pick his captain on our say-so, and England isn't good enough at this point in time to win the big ones without getting behind its captain, whoever that soul may be.

    That leaves the vexed question of whether Johnson ought to be selecting the England captain on our say-so, and whether he deserves the slagging he gets from some fans when he doesn't. I'm inclined to advise him to do nothing on my say-so: I don't want that slagging coming my way!

  • Comment number 65.

    Segnes;

    I agree wholeheartedly! even more would I fear Mr Johnson's anger should I suck at the role! haha.

    yes, I know its easy to sit here at a computer and say "So and so should be doing these things", "This person isnt doing this", "They're not good enough for that"..., but I still cant help but think that Borthwick has had his chances, 14 of them under MJ, and we've come out on top in far too few of them, and at all times (win or lose) leadership on the field has been questioned, that is the captain's job. Take RFU PLayer of the Year Richie McCaw for example:

    Yes, he pushes the laws to their very furthest limits as an openside...(i'll say no more), but as a captain, he is the first one to drag people to where he needs them, he is the first face a try scorer looks for (and usually sees), and after a mistake he is the last person his teammates want to see...then he gets stuck in and leads the line by example...we haven't had a captain like that since MJ, and I dont think that i'm alone in wondering if that is also part of the reason our rugby has been going backwards at a rate of notts since 2003...(world cup final 2007 apart in what was one of the best revival stories in modern sporting history!)

    no I wouldnt like Johnno's job, especially not the pressure! neither would I like Borthwick's job, but I fervantly believe that change is needed on the field and off. Its only due to the captain's prominence that I think Borthwick will be first on that agenda.

  • Comment number 66.

    Sure enough Crofty: one would want to do better. Certainly, things have to improve if results are to improve. It's one thing to acknowledge that England is in a bit of a brackish patch and quite another to stop trying to get out of it. On the other hand, one can become more thoroughly mired by thrashing about. Well, let's see what the Six Nations brings. Enjoy the festive season, *L*O*V*E* the season!

  • Comment number 67.

    It shows how bad the Welsh are that it takes a team to go down to thirteen and give them a two man advantage to win, they might still win in the second half tonight if they can get two French players sent off

 

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