In the Autumn, after England’s 14 – 20 loss to Australia, it was obvious that England would be heavily criticised and yet there was much to be positive about in the performance. I wrote at the time that the The Story of the match was not in the scoreline. On Saturday I had the same thought after England’s performance but for different reasons. The result will ensure positive headlines and the performance has a lot to commend it but there is more of interest just below the surface.
Part of the story is reason for the dramatic change in fortunes of English and French rugby over the last six months. In the Autumn series France completed a clean sweep over Argentina, Australia and Samoa with performances that led to many predicating a Gallic victory in the Six Nations 2013.
England came into a storm of criticism following their losses to Australia and South Africa and no one gave them a chance against the All Blacks. Only a few months later England’s stock is the highest it’s been since 2003 and France are on their worst run of losses since 1958. And it’s leadership that’s made the difference.
I’m not going to add to the debate on Philippe Saint-Andre bizarre team selections except to say they don’t create an impression of a balanced review of their strengths last Autumn. From success French leadership bred confusion.
The pressure of media criticism didn’t deflected Stuart Lancaster. He focused on the emerging promise of his young side as well as the areas to improve. Importantly he publicly backed his players to make on field decisions despite the extensive coverage of the cost of choices made in the heat of the moment.
A team angered by criticism, supported by their leadership and believing in themselves overwhelmed the All Blacks. On the foundations of a cultural reformation England had developed a maturity and the ability to think on their feet. From defeat English leadership bred success
England are still no where near the finished article and in their eagerness to meet the French challenge started frantically on Saturday. Something like 13 missed tackles in the first half and the sight of Owen Farrell charging into Yoann Huget and nudging Morgan Parra off the ball betrayed the edginess that helped France to a first half lead. England’s second half is even more impressive because of this. They won that period 14 – 3 on the back of astute substitutions and their ability to think on their feet and change a game.
Lancaster’s comments after the match were very good. In impress Formula style he focused on the positives in a way that will build confidence, belief and mental strength. England’s try owed a little to good fortune and I liked the way Lancaster related it to a permanent quality;
You make your own luck with your intensity at the breakdown … we knocked them back and knocked them back.
He continued by highlighting other strengths;
It shows great level of maturity for a young side with 200 caps between them, playing a side that has been to a World Cup final and has 500 caps, to come through that. There was no panic. The ability to problem-solve and come out on the right side is a great skill to have.
Reported in the Tom Fordyce Blog on BBC Sport
Stuart Lancaster, however, will not be talking all about positives in his team meeting because in the cold light of day this wasn’t England at their best. And I wonder if one area Stuart Lancaster might find some leverage is to work on the mental state with which his team starts games, (Step 2 impress).
In their 2012 summer tour of South Africa England played three tests, losing the first two and drawing the last. Watching the start of the French game this weekend I was reminded of those first two tests. In Durban England started very slowly and looked as if they would be swept aside losing by a cricket score. In the end they lost 22 – 17 and had a very good second half. In Johannesburg losing 36 – 27 they shaded the second half 17 – 11 and how they must have wished they had started as well as they finished. As they did on Saturday, England seemed over hyped at the start, over ready to match the Boks physicality and not be caught on the back foot as in the first test.
So looking from the outside in I wonder if this is a theme and getting the mindset just right for the kick off might be an area of greatest leverage for consistency? Passion burning in their hearts but ice in the head?
The scoreline and second half performance from this Six Nations victory doesn’t tell the whole story. Stuart Lancaster’s England breed success from disappointment and it’s the below par performances like this that mean by the world cup in 2015 the England team will have 500 + caps, be focused, hungry and genuinely feared.impress Inspiration Survey
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