Sunday, 23 August 2015

Countdown: Day Nine

Last night, England were the equivalent of a man who sits next to you on a night bus and promptly passes out and defecates in the smelliest, runniest possible fashion. There were plenty of other seats available, but no, England sat next to you and penned you in next to their effluent stained semi corpse. On balance, England really were that awful.

There are two ways of viewing such an abysmal display.

The first is that England were genuinely trying as hard as they could and that this might just be as good as they can play right now.

The second is that they were a little slack and complacent due to it being a pre-season friendly and that England can play a lot better than that.

The first is very worrying, the second is just irritating. We won't know until we see them play again, but I've seen a lot more teams look a bit lacking in pre-season than I have simply forget how to play rugby overnight. So I'm not worried. This could be wrong, because it can happen; Ireland's 2007 world cup showed that (and there's some parallels to be drawn in the build up). But the second seems more likely. So enough of that and onto something more interesting, namely Danny Cipriani and all he represents.

I thought Cipriani was comfortably England's best player on the pitch yesterday. That smells of damning with faint praise, so I'll rephrase - he was really good. He ran effectively, he created for others and he made good decisions. England looked twice as dangerous with him on the pitch. In terms of attack, Cipriani did everything he could to get into that squad. Whether he has, I don't know, and given the complexities, I'm fairly relaxed either way. Sometimes good players don't make it.

What I'm not relaxed about though is the prospect that there'll be virtually no players like Cipriani - that is to say, playmakers outside 10. At the moment, England are looking at four such - Cipriani, Slade, Twelvetrees and Goode - and I wouldn't be surprised to see only Goode get the nod. Which given that Goode's playmaking abilities have always existed more in theory than in practice for England, could mean no second playmaker at all.

That's beginning to look like a mistake. Last week, we looked dangerous with three guys capable of playing fly-half. This week, we only started making inroads once we had three guys capable of playing fly-half on the pitch. That's hardly conclusive evidence to say the least but it is a solid option for us. Consider too that both of our first choice fly-halves like having a second playmaker and play with one for their clubs. Farrell has Goode to work with at Saracens, Ford works very much in tandem with Eastmond. Both are young men, the sort of player who'd benefit from having a guy to share the burden. Farrell is still not the most fluent playmaker in the world and has played his best rugby for England with Twelvetrees at twelve. As for Ford, he may be as natural a playmaker as you'll see, but he's at his best running at the line and breaking himself or picking a short pass. At Bath, he relies on Eastmond to call the wide opportunities and release the strike runners, as first and best explained to me here. For England, he's been something of a one man show. He's had a lot of success with it so far, but there will be bad days and good days. We saw a bad day yesterday; it was very nearly turned into a good day by Cipriani.

Hell, go back to 2003. Wilkinson, then a better and more experienced fly-half, needed Mike Catt to help him get England over the line. Yes, that was much for his boot as anything, but the crucial thing was he took the pressure off a little. Yesterday, Ford didn't deal well with the pressure. Farrell does have a good big match temperament, but I've seen him struggle in big games too. The second playmaker isn't just about scoring mad tries y'all. It's about making life easier for the main man as he controls the game. Ultimately, it's a necessary option. Even if we don't start with it, we want it on the bench. But we might be about to all but give that up.

Going back to Cipriani - he would be an excellent option there. He brings a lot of experience and maturity to the role these days and his broken play running means he'll demand more attention than the other options. All of the options have their strengths, but Cipriani might be the strongest.

In fact, I think Cipriani might be our strongest fly-half. Of course, we don't know. We haven't played him there enough to find out. However, if you believe like me that Farrell lacks the instinctive creative impulses and skills needed to be the very best, and are worrying about Ford's defence and big game freedom, then maybe England need a better fly-half. Cipriani has done very well for Sale this year, in a harder environment than either of his younger rivals. His defence is much improved, his instincts and skillset impeccable - and his experience possibly invaluable. Could he been our man? I would like him to get the chance this World Cup, albeit in a impact sub role. I won't cry if he doesn't get it, but it's what I'd do. Cipriani for England.

Anyway - a quick look at the others. Attwood looked good, but he always looks good as an impact sub and disappoints as a starter. Might have definitely grabbed his slot from Kruis. Easter will be useful if Morgan doesn't make it. Jack Nowell continues to look a proper player. Haskell was our standout starting forward, which is a weird place. Discipline was awful, per usual.

Finally, the lineout. I'm sick of talking about the lineout. I'm sick of watching England waste possession.

Mostly though, i'm sick of watching people blame the hookers. Over the last seven games, it's looked bad. There's been five hookers involved. Five. If five guys use a system and all get bad results, why blame the man and ignore the system? There's been a lot of pundits sucking the air in between their teeth and going "Nah darling, that Tom Youngs' throwing can't be repaired, totally blown" and conveniently ignoring Youngs being the most accurate thrower in the AP last season. So, dear world, please stop blaming the hooker for everything and saying Dylan Hartley is the solution, despite last Six Nations, you dumb fucks. 


  1. Just followed the link in your sig from TRF - good assessment.

    Lack of playmakers is indeed a worry - Ford was a long way from good enough on Saturday, even taking in to account how badly beaten the pack was, because he doesn't have a reasonable Plan B for this scenario. You either need a very good, accurate kicking game (whether long and in behind the back three, or challenging to win the ball back) which he simply doesn't; or you want to play basic one-out rugby, punching ball carriers up, clear, round the corner, rinse, repeat - and England don't have the carriers for this game. Something that hasn't been talked about much in relation to Ford's problems on Saturday is the role of the scrum-half - when Youngs is bad, he is really really bad, ditto Care. I actually think Wigglesworth wouldn't be a bad partner for Ford, mainly because he takes a lot of pressure off his kicking game.

    Agree with you on the lineout as well. I'm no technical lineout expert, but I also picked up on the fact that every single hooker has struggled - that's clearly something that runs a lot deeper than inaccurate throwing. And yeah, Dylan was crap in the last 6N too. It seems to be a coaching / communication issue, surely.

    Every Time Ref

    1. Wigglesworth and Ford would be interesting. I don't much like Wigglesworth, and worry his lack of a sniping game would hold back Ford, but he's a different sort of scrum-half and may help him. It would also mean we had a sniping scrum-half on the bench to inject energy into the game, which I am a fan of. Wigglesworth doesn't seem to do that.