England struggle for hangover cure
September 18, 2011
England's Shontayne Hape is congratulated on his solo effort by Chris Ashton © Getty Images
England's quest for Rugby World Cup glory remains on track but only after they finally shook off the hangover that has plagued the squad for the last week.
The fallout from a boozy night out in the wake of their opening victory over Argentina plagued much of their preparation for this latest outing and you could be forgiven for thinking that there were still some fuzzy heads within squad as they faltered in the face of a gutsy Georgia side.
The piercing shrill of referee Jonathan Kaplan's whistle will not have helped those still feeling the effects of their Queenstown sojourn while an alarming 11 first half penalties will no doubt have had manager Martin Johnson craving a stiff drink or perhaps the chance to bungy off a bridge. Thankfully they stopped the rot somewhat in the second half but that may have had just as much to do with Georgia's inability to sustain a superb physical effort.
With several players making their tournament bow you can expect a certain level of rustiness but this latest performance was simply sub-standard. England's failure to find any significant rhythm, or Georgia's stern resistance, cranked up the pressure on those players looking to make the most of their opportunity and as a result passes were forced that should have been held.
The likes of James Haskell, promoted into the starting line-up at the last minute, and veteran lock Simon Shaw showed a willingness to meet fire with fire in terms of physicality while winger Chris Ashton's usual industry brought him some due rewards. Fly-half Toby Flood made his mark but his efforts to pull the strings were undermined by the shortcomings elsewhere.
Six tries is indeed a healthy return but a little flattering with three tries in the last quarter saving them from yet more grief. Many more chances were created, as expected considering the opposition, but they were squandered and such a wasteful display will be punished by better sides. At this stage of proceedings, with the best part of three months of preparation behind them, you would rightly expect more but no - there is clearly work to do.
The return of flanker Lewis Moody was a huge positive but perhaps unsurprisingly he was not firing on all cylinders. The fact that his opposite number, the almost ever-present Mamuka Gorgodze, claimed the man of the match honours says much about the fortunes of both men and the story of the breakdown battle.
England rediscovered a little urgency after the break but in terms of intensity they appear some way from that offered by Ireland in their stunning showing against Australia or even South Africa in their dismantling of Fiji. That is unlikely to come against Romania here next weekend but should it not be present come the showdown with the Scots in Auckland then you fear for them come the knock out stages.
But at least we are back to talking about the rugby - no matter how error-strewn.
England may have been braced for such a brutal onslaught but they still had little answer for much of the game. Georgia, the so-called 'minnows', more than held their own at the breakdown, secured countless turnovers and forced their Tier 1 rivals to infringe time and time again. If their gameplan was so predictable the answer should have been forthcoming.
Georgia's impressive endeavour saw them dominate territory and possession in the opening period and despite their second half rally, England were only able to lay claim to a share of the honours in those key areas come the final whistle.
Let us not forget that the Georgians only played their opening fixture on Wednesday night and to have to re-group within three days and be ready to face one of the sport's giants is blatantly unfair. They are not the only developing nation to be treated so badly by the scheduling and their ability to compete, let alone worry England, demands utmost respect and must be applauded.
Had fly-half Merab Kvirikashvili brought his kicking boots this game may have turned out different but he was not able to deliver a performance to rival that of Gorgodze, No.8 Dimitri Basilaia or the bullish scrum-half Irakli Abuseridze and as a result they were unable to punish England's indiscipline. Coach Richie Dixon clearly has talent and muscle at his disposal but having secured the ball they struggle for penetration.
What they need now is a clinical edge and a reliable set-piece to complement that physicality. And a fair deal from the sport's powerbrokers would be nice.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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