Good but not good enough for England’s Grandslam chasers

Saturday evening saw a disappointing climax to England’s 6 Nations campaign, but lets not get too down about it. Indeed, the Grandslam was there for the taking against a previously out of sorts Ireland side, but all in all to have won the championship with an injury-hit and inexperienced side is still commendable.

Ireland centre Brian O'Driscoll scores

The absence of England’s Captain, Lewis Moody, and Vice Captain Mike Tindall cannot be underestimated. A nervous looking England never got the bit between their teeth and struggled for a foothold, whilst the Irish turned the form-book in it’s head taking to the field in barnstorming fashion.

For the vast majority of the game the Irish appeared to have intimidated their opposition, with an admirably high intensity level matched only by their skill and clinical finishing. It was a performance of such high-class and control, epitomised by the young outside-half Johnny Sexton. His seeming lack of composure in pressure moments and inexperience have been highlighted in his more recent outings, but no such negatives were apparent this time out. What a luxury it is too for the resurgent Irish to have the hugely experienced dictator Ronan O’Gara there to call upon as the more than able deputy. His ten minute cameo demonstrated all you need to know about the Munster-man; passion, composure and a touch of real class under-pressure. His deft prod to the corner with the outside of his boot in the closing stages was nothing short of sublime, and conveyed beautifully the ‘midas-touch’ possessed by the Irish on the night.

England were however crowned champions of the tournament and have reason to celebrate this. It is an achievement perhaps not of the substance with which Grandslams are made of, but commendable nonetheless. The defeat itself must be taken as the Autumn defeat to South Africa was; a learning curve for an inexperienced squad striving to ensure they are ready to make an impression at the World Cup come this autumn.

The signs prior to today have been positive; the closing out of tightly contested matches against Wales, France and Scotland, and the clinical deconstruction of the Italians. Have no doubts that this defeat was a missed opportunity, but it was as much about Ireland’s rejuvenation as an attacking force as it was about England’s lack of nerve. All teams have good days and all have bad ones. This performance in isolation was well-below par, but Martin Johnson will do well to reinforce the positives to have come out of this campaign.

The fly-half partnership of starting 10 Toby Flood and class-act deputy Jonny Wilkinson has provided depth and balance, as has the emergence of youngster’s Tom Wood and Alex Corbisiero. Depth is so crucial when it comes to World Cup year and with the likes of Moody, Tindall, Tom Croft, Courtney Lawes and Andrew Sheridan ready to return in the Autumn it seems England have this base covered. The only major concern for the England selectors must be the consistently anonymous performances of Shontayne Hape, and the lack of alternative options in the centres, demonstrated by Matt Banahan’s pretty one-dimensional threat in the defeat.

Ultimately, it has been a good couple of months for ‘Jonno’s’ boys and it remains to be seen whether such promise can amount to a higher level of consistency. Never mind the disappointment of not quite finishing off the job, they have been leagues ahead of their Northern hemisphere competitors over the course of the tournament and appear to have to edge over the old-enemy Australia in recent times. The jury is out over whether we can compete with the All Black flair and the power of reigning World Champions South Africa, but with the exception of their most recent showing, England appear a force to be reckoned with.

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3 comments on “Good but not good enough for England’s Grandslam chasers

  1. You’ve wrote about the lack of cutting edge from Hape and the lack of options, so how about the form inside centre in the premiership with Anthony Allen? already proven to work well with Toby flood and constantly breaks the line. The other option of course is Wilko back to 10 and flood to 12, im against that because Flood at 10 is working and it would be a backwards step returning to Jonny at 10. And of course my specialist subject hooker! Hartley or Thompson?
    But its nice to read an article with some perspective, Ireland turned up for arguably the first time in the tournament and were inspired as they usually are against England. And frankly at the start of the tournament i think any England fan would have taken four wins. England in my opinion will learn more from this one defeat than they did in any of the four previous wins.
    Last question, will the 2011 WC come to soon for England and will this team hit its peak in 2012/13?

    • I don’t personally think Ant Allen cuts it. I know he was only young when he made his debut a few years back, but I haven’t seen him do enough to warrant a place. Like I said I don’t think Hape does either, what about Wilko at inside and Floody at 10? Or maybe it is time to blood some more youth, are Twelvetrees and Tuilagi too young for this World Cup? If they were Aussie they would probably get a go. I hope at least one of them makes the final squad anyway. I think the Hartley-Thopson combination is working well, I like Hartley’s aggression, I think it makes us as a team more formidable. Thompson keeps coming on and adding that sureness which perhaps Hartley’s aggression doesn’t allow for, I would stick with Hartley from the get-go and Thompson coming on for stability.

      I think the World Cup probably is going to come too soon in honesty, but don’t write us off. That is when we’re dangerous, 2007 could of been a complete disaster and we only lost it by Mark Cueto’s little toe!

  2. Or not his little toe if you believe like myself that we were robbed. I dont like wilko at 12, he’s barely played there since his very young days and the pressure would be on him to provide opportunities outside him which i think flood is better at. Allen deserves another chance in my opinion. But i think Johnson has set his stall out and Hape will start in the WC with Tindall (if fit) outside him.
    Its too soon for Twelvetrees and Tuilagi unless there are injuries. As I hinted at before i believe that Johnson has basically picked his WC team barring a few changes for injuries, catastrophic loss of form, etc. The chance for them two was to play in this 6 nations but Johnson wanted to get his midfield working in partnerships. Managing is so difficult though, any injuries and Johnson is going to get derided for not blooding more youngsters in the midfield but if the present midfield works then he’s going to be praised to the skies for keeping a winning team together.
    One thing i would say about Thompson is that i am not sure he is fully fit. Aerobically wise that is. So that is possibly the reason why he isn’t starting, however I think he makes the scrum a lot more solid and his throwing in is fine. To be honest i think its just my personal preference, i think both hookers would do a fine job and it doesnt matter who starts
    Any chance of a blog about Cappello, Ferdinand and Terry?
    Oh and the cricket world cup.

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