14 Nov 2010

Swing low?

The performance of the English rugby team is finally improving after some rocky and erratic years, following the domination they showed during the build-up to their victory in the 2003 World Cup. It is fair to say that they were lucky (and gutsy) to reach the final of the 2007 edition in Paris, but their play was far from exciting and their loss there to South Africa came as no surprise to anyone who, like myself, had witnessed their 0-36 thrashing by the same team in the pool stages. At least the final game was fairly close (6-15), but the best team clearly won the game.

Since then (and ideed since 2003) erratic is about the only word that can describe their performances, despite an impressive pasting (34-10) given to the French during the 2009 6-nation series. The current series of test matches is interesting as, at least on the strength of the 2 games played to date, against New Zealand (16-26) and Australia (34-12), their play shows a somewhat new facet of English rugby, which harks back to that impressive victory over France in 2009 (and indeed to the closely-run match against France in the 2010 6-nation series) : they are playing and passing the ball, and not just the man in front or booting the ball into the back-field. The techniques of frontal wall-crashing and pick-and-go seem to have been used, in recent games, as tactical alternatives rather than sole options for the ball carrier.

Maybe playing under (almost) Toulouse colours helped England against Australia!

If the scrum-half Ben Youngs had a very impressive game against Australia on November 13th, and indeed won the man-of-the-match award, I would have given something to Mark Cueto (above is Cueto escaping from the Australian fly-half Qade Cooper) who regularly avoided several Australian tackles in his runs, producing considerable danger that was sometimes used to advantage by his colleagues. Other backs, like Hape and Ashton, played  especially well as did the two very mobile flankers, Moody and Croft. The English domination in the scrum was no surprise, but their excellent defense and more than usually creative attack were clear signs that this team has potential. They had not seemed ridiculous the week before againt the All Blacks, but their game against the Australians (recent winners against the same All Blacks) showed guts, talent, cohesion and creativity.

Samoa next week and South Africa in a fortnight will provide good tests of their regularity at this level. Keep it up boys!

I will post a general topic on the ensemble of the autumn tets match series in Europe one these are over.

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