Criticism has deservedly avoided Stuart Lancaster over his three year tenure, however performances and results similar to the last two weeks’ will ultimately lead to increased scrutiny. In truth the performances since half time against the All Blacks have been nothing short of poor.
It’s difficult not to have enormous sympathy for the England front five, an understrength quintet have fronted up against the two best packs in world rugby and delivered. The scrum, lineout and maul have been faultless under the most testing of conditions and opponents and even considering a misplaced Dylan Hartley boot and an over delayed pass from Dave Attwood it is unjust to level fault on their shoulders.
Against South Africa Davie Wilson produced his finest 70 minutes for England as did second half replacement Ben Morgan who was a barreling pinball amongst the formidable Boks defense. Robshaw and Mike Brown are also exempt from criticism – Robshaw’s work rate was exemplary and to his credit his decision making was also good.
Full Back Mike brown towered under the high ball and his counter attacking was the sole spark in a lackluster backline. For years now, England have been crying out for a creative center partnership, and whilst Kyle Eastmond has shown some positive signs, his combination with Brad Barrit is just too predictable.
Far and away the most concerning issue currently is the form of halfbacks Farrell and Care. Despite his flawless place kicking Owen Farrell is struggling to distribute or control the game with any effectiveness, and his decision making in his own 22 on Saturday was incomprehensible. With Danny Care lacking his usual tempo and spontaneity in combination with atrocious kicking and rudimentary errors it’s perplexing as to why Lancaster waited until 66 minutes to withdraw them on Saturday.
Defences facing England will not worry when faced with 77minutes of Brad Barritt crash balls, which were finally dispensed with 3 minutes from the end, allowing for some welcome inventive back play and high intensity phases orchestrated by replacements Ben Youngs and George Ford; substitute hooker Rob Webber showed Farrel how to pass, releasing Jonny May with a fine flat ball for him to score in the corner and raise hopes of a grandstand finish.
Once again England waited for the game to get away from them before playing the rugby we know they are capable of. They are continually demonstrating a great amount of resilience, however Lancaster and Robshaw will both know playing half of a match with poor discipline, little direction and no accuracy will only result in extension of the current five match losing streak.
Only two complete performances, a comfortable victory over Samoa and a convincing win over a much improved Australian outfit will salvage some respectability from this autumn series. Anything less will undoubtedly be a disappointment and a big set back in England’s preparation for the World Cup.
Image courtesy of telegraph.co.uk