Building on the opening win
February 8, 2012
Stuart Lancaster has started his England career with the all important win © Getty Images
Stuart Lancaster's reign as England coach has started with a win, and that's all that matters. You could see on Saturday in the Calcutta Cup match that there was a really good team spirit there and once you have got that then you have the bedrock that you can build upon.
While people have been saying on Twitter and other places that England were lucky against Scotland and Andy Robinson's side blew it - a win is a win. It was always going to be a difficult game but England were good value and they were a stronger and better side in the first half. Scotland created lots of opportunities and will kick themselves for not taking a few more of them but overall I think it is exactly what England needed with that young squad. It was a real confidence-booster.
And in regards to Lancaster - I am buying into what he is doing; he has been a breath of fresh air. Will he deliver the final product? It remains to be seen but he certainly is impressing through little touches like getting the parents of the players to write letters. This instils in the players that it is not just about them, it's about partnerships, it's about those watching in the stadium, those buying tickets, watching on TV - it's the whole nation you are playing for and there is a huge amount of responsibility that comes with that.
Of the debutants, Brad Barritt had a very good defensive game and had a couple of good ball carries but they need to use him through the middle a bit more to get fast ball in behind. Owen Farrell was also good and did not look like a new cap as he had a decent game. But the third debutant - Phil Dowson - had a poor match. He got turned over on numerous occasions, there were several knock-ons - including one from a kick off just after England had scored which put the Scots on the front foot, and you don't want those little mistakes from your No.8. So it will be an interesting selection from Lancaster this weekend - will he go with Dowson again or does he go for Ben Morgan who looked strong when he came on?
The back-row was completed by the new skipper Chris Robshaw. He never took a backward step and there was a little bit of feistiness here and there. He was putting a marker down and saying that you cannot get behind me and I thought he was excellent.
But while England got the win, it was yet another loss for Scotland. You can whinge all you like after a game but you have got to win it during the match. They had numerous opportunities but I don't think the players let Andy Robinson down. David Denton was one huge positive for Scotland and they played some decent rugby but ultimately their approach was flawed at vital times. There were breaks they didn't capitalise on and you can't do that in international rugby. If you make one break and back yourself, you have got to make sure you score.
One player who came in for the most criticism post-match is their fly-half Dan Parks. Regarding whether his performance was that bad, it depends whether it was Parks' decision to kick that much ball away or whether it was a pre-empted coaching call. When you play at fly-half you are always destined to either be the hero or the villain of the game because that is how it normally works out. His play in the first half wasn't particularly great and he kicked the ball down Ben Foden's throat too many times but he was just trying to gain territory. Scotland couldn't get out of their half in the early parts of the game.
Scotland now face the massive task of going to Wales and their clash with Ireland was a major step up in the standard of both attack and defence. Ireland did remarkably well to go in at half-time in the lead. Their defensive structure was really good, the way they defended their line under a huge amount of pressure from Wales was excellent. Then the Welsh showed how much they are gaining with experience.
They have a massive back line and George North is a great player. He has size and pace and doesn't make that many mistakes. The way he looks, he is almost the opposite of Shane Williams who effectively he is likely to replace as Wales' iconic winger. Jamie Roberts and Rhys Priestland were carrying injuries but were still solid and then you have Leigh Halfpenny who knocks over the winning points in the last couple of seconds.
But Ireland were guilty of giving Wales too much space. If you were going to play Wales again you would blitz them in defence because they like getting wide. They also like using the blindside and Ireland were short on the blindside on numerous occasions and that caused them a lot of problems. That is an area that the other sides will have been watching closely so it will become harder for Wales to attack as the tournament goes on.
However, ahead of the clash between Wales and Scotland - I think that is only going to go one way - a Wales win. But Wales should take note of the problems Scotland have given them problems in the past at the Millennium Stadium.
And looking back at the opening match of the Six Nations, Italy started off really well but faded in both halves and France looked very powerful, well-structured and clearly a real threat for the Championship. France now host Ireland on Saturday - a side who will be severely deflated. The Irish will come out fighting but France look way too strong.
England's opponents this weekend, Italy, showed signs that they are going to be a bit more expansive during their match against France. They obviously normally play a forward-orientated game and they may well revert to that when they are in Rome but they certainly expanded their game a bit, there were a few more offloads and people were running intelligent lines. They created a few problems for France, perhaps not a massive amount, but I definitely think it was encouraging for Italy.
And ahead of the clash at the Stadio Olimpico, I expect both sides to raise their game but England should win it. It will be a tough game in front of a packed stadium, but with the feelgood factor back in the England camp, you have to back Lancaster's men to come away with the win.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Austin Healey is Lead Analyst for ESPN Rugby
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