ENGLAND HAVE BECOME the first ever host nation to be knocked out of the Rugby World Cup in the group stages and the rugby world has exploded with reactions, opinions and basically a whole load of slagging to the 2003 champions shortcomings.
In this piece we will analyse where exactly it all went wrong and why we will not be seeing the English at the World Cup quarter finals.
Reason #1: Scrum Shambles
From the first blow of the whistle of the tournament it would become clear that England were far from the possession of a world class scrum platform. At Lancaster’s disposal instead was one that reflected riskiness rather than raw strength and power as Joe Marler, Tom Youngs and Dan Cole were his weapons of choice.
Throughout their first outing against Fiji worries were already piled on by the tonne as opposing props Ma’afu and Saulo offered the Pacific Islanders an astounding advantage at the scrum by winning three against the head to England’s turnover total of zero. Much to the delight of the onwatching pool rivals, Marler’s inability to retain a straight engagement was out for all to see while it would also be fair to say that Dan Cole hardly did enough to help out on the tight side.
Surely enough, Warren Gatland, Gethin Jenkins and Samson Lee did their homework on the vulnerable England trio for round two which would ultimately see Marler, Youngs and Cole concede four penalties between them leaving their back-play in limbo off of backtracking set-piece ball. In hindsight, such a problem proved pivotal as Welsh ten Dan Biggar was flawless with his boot on the night, capitalising on soft penalties by kicking 23 points as Wales won 28-25 in Twickenham.
To offer a bigger picture for the rest of the piece it is crucial to note that off the back of the Welsh loss, England simply had to defeat Australia or it was curtains. Scrummaging was just one of a few problems that needed addressing but by sending out the same men once again who were under the microscope of Michael Cheika, England were left in deep trouble.
Last night (3/10/15), the Aussies were in town for their crack at England but fortunately the Rugby Championship winners are likewise in the manner that their scrum has also been quite an achilles heal in history. However, this wasn’t enough to allow England to establish any dominance as the Wallabies did one better than their opponents in the scrum stats.
Overall this was very disappointing for the English coaches, fans and players alike as they look back on one such area where they could have so easily have done better. You have to ask yourself: had they a fit and firing Alex Corbisiero would things have panned out differently?
Reason #2: No Pack Leadership
Considering the weakness of England’s backrow, drawing in a group in which they would face the likes of Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric, Sam Warburton, Toby Faletau, David Pocock, Michael Hooper and Scott Fardy was not ideal at all. Between Wales and Australia, you’ve got about 50% of the planet’s greatest backrow players covered but as it turned out, Fiji were no slouches either and from a fans point of view, the way things have panned out always looked like the logical outcome as a Leone Nakarawa inspired Fiji team won an amazing 11 turnovers on the opening night.
From 1-8, what England lack immensely is an out and out ball winner of the Sam Warburton or David Pocock mould and have therefore struggled to battle at the breakdown which is not just a tactical part of play but a place where positive psychology is won and lost. Should you add this element to their forwards game England suddenly become a much more dominant force as at the moment they lack that calibre of openside.
Chris Robshaw has been the ideal leader for England in every respect from communicating with referees to inspiring the teammates around him by making all the hard hits but where he doesn’t benefit his country is in the decision making department and in the way described above – at the breakdown. If England had a rucking number eight or blindside at their disposal, captain Robshaw’s position would not be in question but because of the looming potential presence of Toulon’s beastly Steffon Armitage which is missing, England are unable to compete without a poacher as proven in all three World Cup games.
On the overall, an onslaught from David Pocock & Michael Hooper against Australia along with Robshaw’s infamous decision to turn down a kick at goal versus Wales is what truly cost them.
Reason #3 Pressure
I really believed that England had gotten their balance of expectation and realism right for possibly the first time ever in any form of World Cup but the whole so called ‘home advantage’ never exactly paid dividends.
What is interesting about this reason is that you can have two takes on it: the traditional and simple “The media put too much expectation on them and they collapsed” or the dismissive opinion of “They were never as good as they were ever made out to be and it was proven as proceedings played out.”
What do you believe in?
Ronan Calvert of Munster Haka