SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: England should be brave and go for pace over power
SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: To take their game to the next level, England should be brave and go for pure pace over power by picking the Simmonds brothers and Marcus Smith
- England have got their mojo back mentally after beating Ireland at Twickenham
- But they should focus on players with pace over power for the remainder
- Meanwhile, Wayne Pivac shouldn’t blame the officials post-match for defeats
- And the coronavirus effect can be compared to the 2001 foot and mouth disease
It’s been a strange old Six Nations campaign for England, not convincing by any means, yet it could still easily result in them winning the Championship which is the yardstick we must measure them by because you never win Six Nations titles by accident.
Take that win over Ireland last up. Were England really good or Ireland unusually sloppy especially in the first half when even Conor Murray and Jonny Sexton were just so poor at half-back? It was one of the worst Irish displays I can recall. If England had got their selection right it would have been a cricket score.
There were moments of excellence from England but overall I’m still undecided. What we can say with some certainty is that they have definitely got their mojo back mentally.
England have their mojo back after beating Ireland in the Six Nations at Twickenham
I now envisage them closing out this tournament with wins over Wales and Italy, assuming of course the final match takes place given Coronavirus concerns.
And that could be enough to take the title. Although I am extremely impressed with France this season, their young team face a battle royal on Sunday when they tackle Scotland and Murrayfield.
The Scots are a much better team than their results have indicated thus far. If they hit top gear, France will have it all to do to give themselves a shot at the Slam at home to Ireland.
Meanwhile at Twickenham I’m expecting a gear shift from England against a Welsh team who brought the English championship charge to an abrupt halt last season in Cardiff.
Wales beat England in Cardiff last year on their way to winning the 2019 Six Nations
But what will England’s modus operandi be? The latest strap line from England is ‘become the best team ever’. Well, the England and All Black World Cup winning teams of 2003 and 2015 respectively would take some shifting on that score but it’s a subjective call anyway.
A better mission statement for this group would be the more specific ‘become the fastest team ever to play Test rugby’. That was always my aim when coaching England and Eddie Jones is blessed with the players to make this happen.
On Saturday I absolutely loved the way Joe and Sam Simmonds, playing at fly-half and No 8 for Exeter, and Marcus Smith, the Harlequins No 10, went about their work at the Stoop.
To my eyes all three are international class players blessed with blazing pace, indeed much more gas than those currently playing for England in those positions.
Exeter fly-half Joe Simmonds impressed for his club against Harlequins at the Stoop
Harlequins fly-half Marcus Smith is known for his quick feet and is international class
Instead, England seem intent on becoming ‘the greatest team ever’ by becoming ‘the most powerful team ever’.
That approach is certainly producing a pack to reckon with again. At lock, for example, you can pick any two from Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes and Charlie Ewels.
England’s front five have the ability to make life fairly simple for their back row, no matter which combination Eddie Jones puts together.
And there is so much strength in depth that even world-class players like the Vunipola brothers are not noticeably missed. But does it have the real pace to take the game of rugby to a whole new level?
Sam Simmons should be unleashed in a Test arena for England in the next few weeks
So for example when looking to replace Mako when he is injured or unavailable I would go for the pace and X-factor of Ellis Genge as a starter.
Jones is in experimental mode at present and if that is the case I would like to see players with exceptional pace fast-tracked whenever possible.
The prospect of properly unleashing a Sam Simmonds on Test rugby off the back of that England front five really is one to savour if you are brave enough to make it happen.
NO EXCUSES FOR PIVAC
As for Wales, I’ve thought all along this would be a middling transition season for them after Warren Gatland, especially when they ran into major injury problems before the tournament began.
I don’t see them winning on Saturday. They don’t have the pack to combat a fully fired up England eight but Wales often dig deep so don’t expect them to go quietly.
Coach Wayne Pivac is learning the ropes and one lesson already is not to blame the officials in post-match press conferences.
Pivac had plenty to say about key decisions after their defeat against France and I acknowledge the temptation, I’ve been there myself.
New Wales coach Wayne Pivac is learning the ropes and he shouldn’t blame the officials
You feel much better for about five minutes as you get things off your chest. The journos nod sagely as you vent and of course you end up saying more than you should.
Then you read the headlines and it’s all about your knee-jerk reaction when nothing changes the harsh fact that your side deserved to lose.
It’s a lose-lose situation and over the years you learn not to go there. By Monday morning last week Pivac and his team will have been debriefing their side as to why they lost and it wasn’t down to the officials.
Wales lost against France, meaning they have lost two of their three Six Nations matches
That process can be more difficult when excuses have already been made.
I thought the referee was good. I thought it was a penalty not a penalty try, the excellent disallowed French try did feature a marginally forward pass and Dan Biggar did just about regather the ball in time to score his try.
As for the hotly disputed scrummage on the French line, to these eyes the Welsh loosehead prop seemed to be going in on the angle as well. That could possibly have gone either way but surely that’s the case at most scrums!
IT’S LIKE 2001 ALL OVER AGAIN
We are holding our breath as to just how serious the coronavirus outbreak becomes in this part of the world and the possible implications on big sporting events including the final stages of the Six Nations.
The first thing to say is that sport must take a back seat at such times — there are more important things in life — but I would be lying if I didn’t admit to certain feelings of deja vu regarding our 2001 campaign which was interrupted by an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in western Europe.
That was the season England were on fire like no other, we were playing rugby at the pace I had always dreamed of. We scored 215 points in four games with 28 tries en route to crushing wins over Wales, Italy, Scotland and France but because of the foot and mouth situation our game in Ireland in round three was postponed.
Our ‘Grand Slam’ game should have been France at home on April 7 but now became Ireland away on October 20.
That was awkward because as any side will tell you closing out a Grand Slam away from home on the final weekend is tricky and it was something we had failed to achieve in both 1999 and 2000.
Ultimately we lost that much-delayed match in Dublin 20-14 but it wasn’t the foot and mouth outbreak per se that did for us, it was the 2001 Lions tour of Australia that summer.
21 English players went on the 2001 Lions tour to Australia, where they lost 2-1
England ended up with 21 players on that tour in what I have always believed was the strongest modern Lions party ever sent out from these shores.
It is the Lions tour I would loved to have coached more than any other in a country I knew intimately having lived there.
How the Lions didn’t return with a 3-0 series win in 2001 will remain a mystery but the net result was a deflated and fatigued core group of England players who had lost all the energy and charisma of six or seven months earlier. Iain Balshaw for one was never quite the same player after his Lions experience.
England had to parachute straight into that one-off Six Nations fixture against Ireland while the Irish, who had three games postponed and rearranged because of the foot and mouth, had full-on Tests against Scotland and Wales before coming up against us.
The current effect of the coronavirus can be comparable to the foot and mouth disease in 2001
Ireland bombed first up, away to Scotland, but a couple of weeks later with that game at Murrayfield to work off, Ireland bounced back with an excellent 36-3 win in Cardiff where Wales were unprepared and off the pace. You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to predict England might struggle and so it proved.
Looking back you can be sanguine and see it was another staging post in our development and we put it all down to experience but at the time it hurt like hell.
That 2001 group deserved some sort of crowning achievement for the magnificent rugby they had played, some of the best I have ever witnessed, but sport and life sometimes throw you a curve ball.
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