England aren’t yet ready to trouble the All Blacks

Fionn Roar Guru

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    Are England really as good as some commentators have suggested? Are they worse? While the Six Nations has not definitively answered this question, England are still well below the All Blacks’ standards.

    After struggling to impose themselves for much of the matches against both France and Wales, England eventually squeaked past with points at the very end of the matches.

    Against Ireland, the English were completely uninspiring. After the opening few minutes, they never looked remotely capable of breaching the Irish try-line.

    In all three games, England reverted back to the 2004-15 attitude of running the ball through the forwards, kicking away possession more than they should, and playing for penalties.

    Aside from the fact that this style of rugby is truly a snore-fest, it is a poor gameplan against an extremely disciplined Irish side who possess fantastic defence. Despite being on such a long winning streak, and after having played so well in Australia and November, as well as against Scotland, England lack the confidence to pass the ball through the backs when the pressure is on.

    Given this, all of the talk of England troubling the All Blacks is premature. Whether England can hold onto their No.2 status also remains to be seen.

    Ireland were over-reliant on set piece
    Like England, Ireland are still too predictable on attack, rarely threatening to score tries.

    This has been the same story for most of the last two years – even most of Ireland’s tries against Australia and New Zealand in 2016 were off the back of the set piece. This is somewhat odd, considering they possess such skilful playmakers in Johnny Sexton and Paddy Jackson, as well as strong runners in the centres.

    Regardless, this needs to be addressed. If Ireland wants to win consistently, rather than continue to suffer poor losses as in the 2015 World Cup, as well as the 2016 and 2017 Six Nations, then coach Joe Schmidt should adopt a more pragmatic game-plan.

    Like Robbie Deans in 2012-13, Schmidt has a choice to make, between playing a conservative brand of rugby that produces a great performance every couple of matches, mixed in with a few average ones and a number of stinkers, and a proactive brand of rugby that will see Ireland consistently overwhelm their opponents.


    Ireland and England will make up the majority of the Lions
    That may come across as overly critical of England and Ireland, but they are very strong. Both boast excellent defences and powerful forward packs, as well as a number of talented backs

    Scotland have been much improved, but showed against England how far many of their players – such as the Gray brothers – have to come before they should be considered over their English and Irish counterparts. Wales, meanwhile, despite a brave showing against England and strong performance against Ireland, seemed to continue their malaise (or is it long decline?) against a resurgent French side.

    England and Ireland should make up the entire forward pack, with the possible exception of Sam Warburton at 7 and perhaps Alun Wyn Jones at lock.

    The back-row is a fight between a number of good English and Irish options plus Warburton. It will be a hard decision for Warren Gatland to make.

    It’s between Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell at fly-half, with my nod going to Sexton. Conor Murray, if fit, should start at scrum-half and Ireland and England should share the centres between Jonathan Joseph and Robbie Henshaw.

    The one place that Wales and Scotland will impose themselves is in the outside backs, with Stuart Hogg almost certain to start at fullback and George North and Liam Williams on the wings.

    Lions possess no clear area of dominance over New Zealand
    Some have claimed that it looks like the Lions, or even England, will have a superior forward pack to the All Blacks. This is mistaken, and unless significant injuries affect New Zealand, their starting XV will be stronger than the Lions.

    Owen Franks, Dane Coles and Joe Moody appear better in the set piece and around the field than any of their competitions in the British and Irish Isles, as are Ardie Savea, Jerome Kaino and Kieran Read better than any of their competitors up north.

    In the backs there is simply no contest.

    The only area where the Lions possess a significant advantage is their better forwards depth off the bench, particularly in the front row.

    I predict a 3-0 series win for the All Blacks over the Lions.

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    The Crowd Says (67)

    • March 21st 2017 @ 4:54am
      Darwin Stubbie said | March 21st 2017 @ 4:54am | ! Report

      One area the lions will have dominance is in goal kicking …. hence why I’m continually baffled by the pundits writing in Barrett as a lock for 10 – there is no way NZ could go into a test with him as their primary kicker

      • March 21st 2017 @ 5:05am
        taylorman said | March 21st 2017 @ 5:05am | ! Report

        Which Barrett, the 6’5 back one or the usual lock one?
        Goalkicking won’t be an issue this series. When’s the last time the ABs lost a test through missing goal kicks? And any old test kicker gets at around min 60. So Farrell gets 80.

        Over five kicks that’s 4 vs 3. Three points. If we lose on that, it won’t be because of goal kicks.

        • March 21st 2017 @ 7:06am
          Darwin Stubbie said | March 21st 2017 @ 7:06am | ! Report

          The younger Barrett is well over hyped for where he’s at in his development stage … wont be near the lions test series …. this series has the potential to be close and the last thing NZ need is a flakey goal kicker – no matter how you paint it the strengrh of the ABs over the years is to keep the scoreboard ticking over … Barrett currently is missing them in front – Cruden offers everything required to run the backline and is a better kicker …

          • March 21st 2017 @ 10:24am
            taylorman said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:24am | ! Report

            Like I keep saying, when’s the last time we lost, or won, a match on goalkicking?

            • March 21st 2017 @ 10:39am
              Jemainok said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:39am | ! Report

              Semi final against South Africa is the last I remember.

            • March 21st 2017 @ 12:31pm
              Darwin Stubbie said | March 21st 2017 @ 12:31pm | ! Report

              Wcup semi… id further argue the final also showed the benefit of needing a goal kicker … last years NH series were also close tight affairs … you are kidding yourself if you write of the need for a quality goal kicker based on the premise that the ABs will just score tries … at some it’ll come home to bite and sure Hansen will want a consistent goal kicker

              • March 21st 2017 @ 1:32pm
                taylorman said | March 21st 2017 @ 1:32pm | ! Report

                15 tests ago and the NH we scored 3-0 and 3-1 tries so they don’t count. So no I don’t see goalkicking in terms of having a better one than Barrett is an issue.

                NZ played Cruden or Barrett every test last year and the only test they lost had nothing to do with goalkicks.

                Yes Hansen will want a good goalkicker, but not at the expense of a good 10. If he thought that more important than it is, he would have started Sapoaga, easily our best kicker, but not close to Barrett or Cruden around the park.

                Some time it’ll come to bite? Still waiting…

              • Roar Guru

                March 21st 2017 @ 4:07pm
                Fionn said | March 21st 2017 @ 4:07pm | ! Report

                Darwin Stubbie, mathematically, goal-kicking doesn’t make as much difference (3 vs 5-7) if Barrett is 10% or even 20% a worse kicker than Cruden it probably leads to 3-6 points max per Test. If having Barrett at 10 leads to 1-2 extra tries per match then he has already proven his worth over Cruden.

                Also, I don’t think he is pathetic a kicker as you suggest, and I think he is so much more prolific than Cruden at scoring and setting up tries that I would be shocked if Hansen doesn’t select him at 10 unless his form collapses.

                How can you say of Barrett ‘there is no way NZ could go into a test with him as their primary kicker’ – New Zealand did it in all but two of their Tests last year and won all but one of those matches, and they didn’t lose that match through lack of ability to kick goals?

          • March 23rd 2017 @ 1:13pm
            P2R2 said | March 23rd 2017 @ 1:13pm | ! Report

            so do you not think they may go the route and have Barrett off the bench?? and what about his younger brother – Jordie—-big strapping lad who can KICK if needed

        • March 21st 2017 @ 10:24am
          R2D2 said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:24am | ! Report

          With regards to Farrell, with Sexton around I think he might not even get into the starting line up.

    • March 21st 2017 @ 5:22am
      Riddler said | March 21st 2017 @ 5:22am | ! Report

      Lions are looking very solid.. will be an amazing seres I think..

      Hoping for a great ab win but it might be close..

      Only howley so far as a backs coach is an interesting choice..

      Up here the English haven’t been talking themselves up at all.. not sure how that has been so badly misinterpreted down south..

      Eddie Jones et al were all very gracious after and before hand was similar. .

      Very enjoyable six nations that basically came down to one great try see rating 5 times..

      • Roar Guru

        March 21st 2017 @ 4:09pm
        Fionn said | March 21st 2017 @ 4:09pm | ! Report

        I don’t think England have been talking themselves up overly—but many other people have (such as the boys on the GAGR podcast).

        Hopefully an awesome series, and let’s hope it comes down to match 3 at Eden Park!

    • Roar Guru

      March 21st 2017 @ 6:07am
      Carlos the Argie said | March 21st 2017 @ 6:07am | ! Report

      Getting back to the Poms, Rugby World reported today that “Wales averaged 7.6 line breaks a game for the tournament as a whole – behind France with 11.4, Ireland with 9 and England with 8.4.”

      Which means that if you eliminate the outlier game for England, which was the Scotland game, they are not that good with the ball in hand, or they do not generate a lot of line breaks. I am not sure what the AB statistic is for comparable games, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is not much higher.

      So I now have more doubts about the BI results. The front five for the ABs are incredibly strong and skilled. It is not just a matter of brawn. The back three for the ABs are faster and also more skilled. And if the BI backs are primarily the English, this doesn’t look good…

      • Roar Guru

        March 21st 2017 @ 4:16pm
        Fionn said | March 21st 2017 @ 4:16pm | ! Report

        Yeah, the only way I can see the Lions winning is through set piece dominance and goal-kicking.

        Well, set piece dominance is possible but I think it is more likely that they are about parity.

        And they will have to kick a lot of goals, and have a really fantastic defence to win kicking 3s given how many 5s and 7s the All Blacks score.

      • March 23rd 2017 @ 12:58pm
        Samuel Honywill said | March 23rd 2017 @ 12:58pm | ! Report

        Surely then you have to argue the same for Ireland, who ran in nine tries against Italy but only five in their other four games? England were top try scorers and averaged four tries a game over the tournament – suggests to me they’re quite a bit more clinical ball in hand than then other 6N teams if anything.

    • March 21st 2017 @ 6:46am
      Tony said | March 21st 2017 @ 6:46am | ! Report

      Maxxlord you are delusional if u think that the backs from any six nations teams possess the same skill sets as the first choices who will make up the All Black backline. The scintillating back play on show in the recent Ireland v England game is a good example. As for thuggery please your having a laugh surely just ask Johnny Sexton

    • March 21st 2017 @ 12:54pm
      mzilikazi said | March 21st 2017 @ 12:54pm | ! Report

      I find your writing very interesting, Fionn. Thanks.

      Good topic to chose…for me ,helps to forget Aus. Super team’s awful start to the season .

      I think your analysis of England is very accurate.

      ” having played so well in Australia and November, as well as against Scotland, England lack the confidence to pass the ball through the backs when the pressure is on.”

      You are correct about that lack of confidence……a lack of self belief…..The backs are very good, and with such a strong pack, a more balanced approach is essential to compete against the ferocious defence and pressure that Ireland mount.
      Sadly for them, and indeed the game of rugby, they did indeed revert to type, and play as you describe.

      I would contest one thing, and that is that England played so well in Australia. Unemotionally analysing those games, I would conclude that got a very impressive 3 – 0 “whitewash”, but were not a good team, In the first game, they looked shaky and nervous, and had Foley’s try be given….(that was a very close call, as Joseph IMO made a meal of the situation and milked an obstruction decision), Australia would have been in a very secure position. Also in the first minutes, Pocock had to jump to take a poor pass, and was hit by Haskell ?? in a great tackle…but he was airborne, in a clearly visible situation, so an easy penalty kick.should have been awarded.

      Then Australia really self destructed…Folau’s crazy infield pass, which the excellent Joseph turned into a very well taken try.

      The refereeing played a big part too…a lot has been written, and this is not the place to expand further.

      Bottom line, going into the Six Nation’s, I wondered in a post on Roar, “could England lose up to 4 games”. Well they did not….but interesting to see a lot of comments now on how close the games were…and Scotland lost key players…and they just don’t have the depth to carry those losses.

      I actually wonder if that huge win did England a lot of harm leading into a wet day in Dublin.

      I do believe, though, that England have developed a lot since the Australian trip, and they and EJ are to be congratulated on a wonderful run.

      • Roar Guru

        March 21st 2017 @ 4:13pm
        Fionn said | March 21st 2017 @ 4:13pm | ! Report

        Cheers Mzilikazi.

        It’s a depressing time to be an Australian rugby fan, isn’t it?

        I do agree completely about the first Test, the Wallabies lost it completely after what should have been a virtually unassailable position. Folau’s pass particularly was the turning point in that match, possibly cost us the series then and there – yet people seem to only talk about how well he played?? I thought they played much better in Tests 2 and 3 though.

        Yeah, it’ll be interesting to see where England go from here, isn’t it? They definitely could be number 2 by the RWC, but I can also see them falling down in the pecking order, especially if South Africa get a new coach by then.

    • March 21st 2017 @ 1:49pm
      Nabley said | March 21st 2017 @ 1:49pm | ! Report

      Any team can beat the AB if the circumstances are correct. Look what Ireland did to them in Chicago. The ABs were at the peak of their power, but had been hit with an unusual list of injuries that in their confidence decided not to correct their squad for. In other words they disrespected their opposition and paid the price. Yes England is not great, but they have just proven they are the best of the NH. They can certainly put things together when circumstances are in their favour. They beat the ABs on the back of the Novo virus years ago, or they could beat them through injuries or bad refereeing, or just as the Wallabies have occassionally and the Irish did.

      • Roar Guru

        March 21st 2017 @ 4:15pm
        Fionn said | March 21st 2017 @ 4:15pm | ! Report

        Point taken, Nabley. Anyone can beat anyone on their day (Japan vs Springboks!). That being said I don’t think this English side yet has the quality to consistently beat or challenge the All Blacks unless England is have a very good day.

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