The worse case scenario for RWC organizers has come to fruition. England are dumped out of the tournament in the pool stage, the first host nation ever not to advance from this stage in the history of the competition. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at the reasons why England are planning a knees up end of tournament party next weekend in Manchester.
England Pack Fail to Deliver
It was illustrated in spades last night. Lancaster’s pack has failed to deliver in this tournament. The scrum which should have being a source of strength crumbled to smithereens against an Australian pack who let us be honest are not even in the top three scrum units in this competition. Who knew Joe Marler was so vulnerable in the set piece? Australia to their credit targeted the Harlequins man and did it produce the dividends; numerous penalties in the scrum which produced penalty after penalty. The writing was on the wall. The blame is not only for the front five. The England back row have being routed in the last two games. Wales and Australia’s back row units are excellent and their pace and ability to win and disrupt ball at the breakdown meant that England could not build any momentum to launch attacks. Tom Wood? The player is a liability, penalty guzzling machine who has a history of disciplinary problems. Lancaster leaves his post (probably) because he trusted individuals who simply do not produce at international level. Marler and Wood may have played their last game for their country.
Foreign Player Rule
Michael Chieka when installed as Australian manager reversed the ARFU decision to not select players plying their trade overseas. The decision resulted in the likes of Matt Giteau coming back to the fold. Chieka realized that he needed a bigger selection pool to increase competition in the squad. The performance last night emphasized the point. A pack which was much maligned twelve months ago is now improving with each passing game. Foley’s last penalty kick last night spoke volumes. The Australian pack pushing England all over the park in the scrum. Who could have foreseen that at the start of the game? England on the other hand were resolute. They refused point blank to pick England players playing their rugby other than England. Steffon Armitage’s exclusion will be the single decision associated with the reign of Stuart Lancaster. When you consider the performance of Robshaw and Wood during this tournament, would Armitage improve the team? Hell yeah. England RFU have to review their player selection policy urgently.
This tournament exposes flaws in England management. There was no identity to this team. What brand of rugby were England attempting to play? One week trying to play a fast uptempo back line orientated game (Fiji match), the next week back to the trenches and based a performance off the pack (Wales match). If management constantly change their philosophy, how can the playing staff be capable of performing to the highest level? England management were weak not to confront the mole issue in the camp. Several team leaks from the camp at the start of the Welsh and Australian games undermined their plans and no corrective action was apparent to resolve the problem. England management must carry the can in terms of selection during this tournament. What did Luther Burrell do so wrong to get dropped from the entire squad? What did George Ford do not to be the starting ten for the Wales match? How could England management think that Brad Barritt was an international thirteen? Sam Burgess? Project annihilation. Those decisions (only a small subset) are at the door of England management. Change is required.
This was a glaring weak point for England. Sam Burgess was in no win territory, came into the code late and after being tried as a back row for Bath, the experiment switched to three quarters which is an incredibly difficult position to master. Burgess as a rugby league player is top notch, great ball carrier and offloads with the best. The rugby union code exposed his defensive skills and his inclusion in the Welsh team meant that England management made the fatal mistake; deploying Brad Barritt as thirteen which led to Wales’ game winning try. Sam Burgess’ hard running lines also exposed England management’s inability to integrate the player into the squad. Not one England colleague was running alongside for a potential offload during this tournament when Burgess had the ball. Did any England player actually watch a video of Burgess best clips with the Sydney Roosters? Abject unit for England and it is a miracle that Watson and May scored tries when the three quarter line performed so abysmally.
Chris Robshaw will no longer be England captain. His decision to go for the line against Wales at the death will be forever associated with the Harlequins player. Robshaw at least try to lead from the front but there appeared to be little other leadership throughout the team. Robshaw is the scapegoat of the English sporting media but there are several other England players who when push came to shove offered meek resistance. The distinct lack of leadership must be linked with the several disciplinary issues which surfaced during the lead-up to this tournament. Dylan Hartley’s indiscretions on the pitch could not be tolerated anymore but his lineout throwing ability resulted in England without their first choice hooker. Manu Tuilagi’s appearance at MK Dons watching his brother playing for Samoa spoke volumes. Think of the impact that Manu would have had in the three quarters for England? Two massive players out of the squad due to their own stupidity. The fact that certain players appear to play as individuals (Owen Farrell’s goal kicking celebrations) said everything about the team setup – individual adulation was the be all and end all. England leadership issues and off pitch issues will take years to resolve regardless of whether Lancaster is there or not.
The English media, one minute they blow you up to the royal status and the next they knock you down like a rat in a sewer. Certain England players believed their own hype and when the Welsh defeat came, the media went to town on the squad. England’s mole in the camp gave the media a field day on team selection to prod at the squad and management in the last two weeks. Certain individuals within the camp crumbled under the pressure. The English media have contributed to claiming a mighty scalp – their own team.