Despite all our excited preparation, Saturday turned into a big disappointment for me and George as England were crushed by Wales. It seems that Stuart Lancaster ignored my suggestions from last week and Wales were far stronger in every area I highlighted, even finding time to demolish the English scrum. It was the sort of game where all you can do is stand back and applaud the Welsh for a job well done. We aren’t too down hearted as my pre-tournament prediction was for England to finish second (albeit to France not Wales) and the squad is developing well. I enjoyed the four wins and George is even more determined to turn himself into the all action, ball carrying number 8 that England so badly lacked.
I’m not going into too much detail about how each player performed at the weekend but this wouldn’t be a blog post without a little amateur analysis. In most of the news reports I have read there has been too much emphasis placed on the victory being down to how experienced the Welsh players are compared with their English counterparts. While there is some truth in this I feel the biggest factor is that Wales had a better strategy and tactics to attack England and delivered it well. The responsibility for not producing a plan to counter this lies with Stuart Lancaster and his management team. For no extra charge I am offering them the benefit of my wisdom for the road ahead.
Work on Plan B – England started strongly but as the tournament progressed each side they faced found new ways to target their weaknesses and counter their strengths. At half time in Cardiff they were still in the game and could have changed their tactics to turn the tide for the second half but were out of options. Tournament rugby requires you to be adaptable and to have more than one way of winning a game. This could mean changes in selection for key games or merely being able to change the point of attack to keep the opposition guessing.
Balance – Moving swiftly on to my bugbear of selecting players out of their preferred position, a crime Lancaster committed far too often. The back row and back three were the most obvious places where this imbalance created a weakness but there were others. In the second row, Parling and Launchbury are great athletes but both lack the snarling, dogged element to their game that players like Jim Hamilton and AW Jones possess. Perhaps pairing an athlete with an enforcer in the second row would add depth and variation to the pack. And as most people are pointing out the centre combination needs work as well.
Emphasis on Attack – I don’t think England should throw caution to the wind and destroy all the good work they have done in defence over the last year but tweaks need to be made. It is time to end the ‘Brad Barritt’ experiment and select a more attacking inside centre to bring the runners outside him into play. Wales kicked to Alex Goode all afternoon knowing he posed the attacking threat of a sofa cushion on the counter attack. I’d like to see more dangerous broken field runners like Strettle, Wade or Sharples on the wing with Brown or Foden at full back. Most importantly we need varied and innovative tactics to bring these offensive weapons into play.
Continuity – I’m all in favour of building experience and showing faith in players but sometimes it isn’t the right thing to do. Chris Ashton wasn’t done any favours by being continually picked when he was so painfully out of form. Some time back at his club may have helped in this situation.
This is the end of my sermon for now but when I get a minute I will be picking my British Lions team to take on Australia. Comments in the usual place.