English rugby fans fear failure at World Cup
I’d better explain that headline. The fans who worry that England’s rugby team is not up to snuff are legion – talk to just about anybody in a London rugby pub, but specifically I’m referring to a group I belong to; ten guys and two chicks, all of whom work in the city of London in either law or finance.
All of us are red and white-wearing, Swing Low-singing supporters of Team England, and we’re all worried that Martin Johnson’s men are going to get crunched in NZ in September. We believe that, in order to avoid embarrassment in the RWC, the team needs some serious upgrades in several important positions.
Firstly, the pack. No way they’re going to be known as the Eight Immortals. On an international scale, the front row is not what you’d call hotstuff. Nobody in the first-choice three is as strong as the Beast or can run like he can, or influence the scrum like du Plessis can, or tackle with the ferocity of Polota-Nau. Just in the NH alone the England front row scrummage is inferior to the Welsh and French trios, although the French may have lost Domingo for the RWC.
We’re a lot happier with the second row combo of Palmer and Lawes, two first rate players who are going to keep us afloat in the lineouts and in defence around the park. As for the flankers, while Croft, Moody and Haskell will do a sterling job they’ll be more than a little overshadowed by McCaw/Kaino, Pocock/Elsom and Alberts/Burger/Stegmann.
But the big minus of the pack is this: we don’t have a No. 8 capable of doing what Parisse, Harinordoquy or Heaslip can do, not to mention dynamic SH eights like Palu, Read and Kankowski. Nick Easter is a hard-grafting plodder.
He was Man of the Match in Saturday’s Quins/Tigers game but he plays in a way that went out of fashion years ago although it’s still in fashion with Jonno, and it’s not going to be enough in NZ. So by our count that’s three in the pack who are a cut below where they should be, and one who won’t be very effective.
In the backs, Youngs is excellent and has a feisty backup in Care. And we admire Flood who’s a capable distributor and a reliable place kicker. Ashton and Foden are our danger men, and Cueto and Strettle are adequate. But, alas, we’re way short of attack dogs in the midfield.
Jonno insists on sticking with Tindall and Hape neither of whom could hold Sonny Bill Williams’ horse. What is Flood supposed to do, throw a cut out ball all the way to Ashton? When he passes to either centre nothing much gets accomplished.
Compare the T/H combination with real talent: O’Driscoll/D’Arcy, SBW/Fruen, Nonu/Smith, McAlister/Toeava, Steyn/Jacobs/Fourie and Barnes/Ashey-Cooper/O’Connor. Even Jauzion/Marty/Rougerie can get the job done now and then.
Our lack of thrust in the backs, and our so-so tactical kicking, is amplified by quality 10s like O’Gara, Carter, Cooper and Moyne Steyn. And we haven’t yet mentioned talent like Bowe, Earls, Pienaar, Aplon, Mvovo, Genia, Beale, Mitchell, Ioane, Dagg, Cowan, Gear, Sivivatu, Maitland.
You can see why we’re gloomy – we’re heavily outgunned. And it hasn’t cheered us any to learn that we’ll be playing Argentina in Dunedin which is about as far away from Twickenham as you can get. Our only chance, as we see it, is to resort to the old cliche that defence wins big games. And our defence is pretty good if you leave aside the Irish thrashing.
The best we can hope is for Wilko to come on, kick deep to the corners, and wait for the penalties to come our way. But even so, if Jonno stays stubborn in his selections we won’t make the semis. And with the erratic French coached by a man of questionable talent, it will be up to Ireland to carry the NH banner.
But none of this will stop the Balmy Army from invading the Shaky Isles full of hope and good cheer. They’ll be faithful, raucous and a tremendous asset to Team England. It’s a great shame but the supporters are likely to perform a lot better than the team they’re supporting.
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