Europeans still playing catch-up rugby
November 10, 2010
England face up to the haka ahead of their clash with New Zealand last weekend © Getty Images
Southern Hemisphere 3 Northern Hemisphere 0
No surprise there then but the devil is in the detail and there were worrying signs for Ireland and Wales in the manner of their defeats whilst England should be kicking themselves because they missed a great chance to dent the All Blacks' veneer of superiority.
Let's be honest, this was a below par performance from New Zealand but those two first half tries, both beautifully converted by Dan Carter, put them in the driving seat and there was no way England were ever going to make up 14 points.
How the TMO managed to give Hosea Gear's try is another matter. There was no camera angle that gave conclusive proof but it seemed impossible that his foot had not crossed the touchline before the touchdown.
He had a difficult afternoon because you could argue that all three of his decisions were wrong. I spent Sunday with Romain Poite and he admitted he referred the Dylan Hartley score because he had doubts as to whether the placing of the ball was immediate - many referees would have considered it a second movement - and, technically, Isaia Toeava's tackle was illegal but that really is clutching at straws - suffice to say England should have scored.
Whatever, England's real problem was that they took the whole of the first half to find some self-belief. Martin Johnson had identified their slow start in the autumn internationals as a problem but to no avail. They still wanted to ease their way into the game and by that time it was lost.
There were, however, plus points to take from the game especially up front. With Andrew Sheridan restored the front-row once again looks truly formidable. It was great to him carrying the ball so effectively as well as scrummaging Owen Franks into the dirt. Dan Cole's contribution was even more significant though. Tony Woodcock has 71 caps and a hard earned reputation as one of the best but here he was very much second best. I can't wait to see what they do to the hapless Wallabies.
Courtney Lawes also proved he should have been a fixture in the England second row by now. OK, I'm back on my hobby horse but how much better would he be by now with half a dozen more caps under his belt. A word of praise too for Nick Easter. He has obviously been working hard on his speed and it was he who led the revival in the second-half. Behind the scrum it does not look so rosy. Ben Youngs was well shackled and there was no threat close to the forwards because Toby Flood yet again showed little penetration as a runner. He has pace and needs to be much more in the face of his opponents if he is to make the No. 10 jersey his own.
The centres were also unconvincing - Mike Tindall butchered one golden opportunity to put in Lewis Moody and the selectors and coaching staff obviously see much more potential in Hape than I do. I hope they're right because this is not the time to have doubts hovering over the whole mid-field.
All that said it was a terrific fight back and England started to look like a good side when they played with pace and commitment in the second half.
It will be a very different test against Australia. They must now be expected to demolish the Wallaby pack and with that platform it is vital they show a cutting edge behind the scrum. If they fail and Quade Cooper, Kurtley Beale and their mates wreak the sort of havoc they are capable of even living off scraps England will be right back to square one.
Before this series started Johnson belatedly admitted England are way behind the clock. They made up a little lost time last Saturday but they need to come out and play with passion and self belief right from the start this week if they are to continue to progress. Wales, who were so exhilarating in their back play just a couple of seasons ago, looked horribly predictable and lacked an awful lot in commitment against Australia.
Winning enough ball used to be the real struggle but they murdered Australia in the tight yet never really posed a threat. James Hook was wasted at fullback, especially as Mike Phillips and Stephen Jones had no real stomach for the fight, and now that ageing back division looks a real problem.
Warren Gatland needs to freshen things up but resources are scarce. Gavin Henson will not feature until the Six Nations at earliest but Gatland must be praying he really has got his head together and returns to fulfil his undoubted potential.
Ireland have much the same problem but are even worse off because they do not have a front row. True they could have drawn with South Africa but it would have been a travesty. Strangely, it was the northern sides that looked rusty even though we are in the middle of our regular season. Let's hope they are now up to speed and we don't see another 3-0 drubbing.
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