In the second part of our blogs exploring England Rugby’s early exit from their own World Cup, we look at what went wrong with their set-piece. Over the course of three matches the home side were unable to dominate at these key areas and it cost them dearly. England have a chance to bounce back from this bitter disappointment when they take on Ireland and Wales in the 2016 6 Nations Championship. Our superb range of Twickenham hospitality packages are available for these crucial matches which could shape the future of English rugby.
Scrum and Line-Out Problems
Just as with the three quarters the England coaches never seemed sure what was their best pack. They were chopping and changing personnel far too late in the day ahead of the World Cup kick off.
But also question how many of the forwards were fully match fit. Ben Morgan at No. 8 was a huge gamble after being out for so long with a bad injury.
At second row Joe Launchbury had been on the side-lines for six months, only returning in May. Geoff Parling’s Test career has been badly affected by a succession of setbacks since he toured with the Lions in 2013.
Parling and Launchbury performed heroics in the circumstances against Wales and Australia, but Morgan wasn’t himself. The first rule of all sport is – don’t play anyone who is not 100 per cent.
Partly because of the injury issues England went into the QBE internationals against France and Ireland still pondering their best line-up, further exacerbated by the defeat in Paris. The lineout was creaking.
Tom Youngs perhaps unfairly got much of the blame – but neither he nor Rob Webber have ever fully convinced at hooker. Dylan Hartley was rightly not considered for disciplinary reasons.
The pundits had reckoned that Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury would start the World Cup at lock. But head coach Stuart Lancaster decided to change it, arguably the first signs of panic. He brought back Parling for his ability to run the lineout and stuck Launchbury on the bench.
In the end the line-out went reasonably well when it came to the crunch. After all, they disrupted loads of Welsh ball.
Until of course that call three minutes from the end of the match when England were unceremoniously shoved into touch after a disastrous throw to No.2.
The Welsh had done their homework with coach Warren Gatland declaring: “They’d caught us out in the past throwing to the front of the line-out and we expected that.
“Those are decisions you make sometimes and you go there and you get a driven line-out and you win the game and you’re a hero, you make the wrong call and you’re zero.”
Poor Chris Robshaw. He will never be able to escape that moment.
Yet it was the back row, as many suspected, which proved the disaster zone.
England arguably went into their two most important matches in four years with two blind sides in Robshaw and Tom Wood plus a not fully match fit Ben Morgan.
Lancaster hamstrung himself by sticking by Robshaw. Hard-working, committed, proud, but no open side.
He should have bitten the bullet – either dropped Robshaw or switched him to blind in place of Wood in order to produce a balanced backrow.
So we get to the second rule of sport – pick people in their right positions.
You could have switched Lawes from second row to open side which would have allowed the useful Launchbury-Parling partnership to prosper. Many would say Lawes is best on the flank.
But of course what Lancaster should have done was insist that Steffon Armitage, exiled in France, one of the best turnover specialists in the world, was brought back into the fold. He didn’t and his goose was cooked.
Hooper and Pocock destroyed England.
By the end they had helped Australia achieve nine turnovers, and even Lancaster was big enough to acknowledge it. “Pocock was outstanding,” said Lancaster. “Every time we threatened their line there was a turnover that he was involved in.”
Even in the tight, where England expected to bully Wales and Australia, it didn’t go all their own way.
The performance against the Welsh was impressive. In contrast the Australians, routinely smashed by the England pack, made mugs of them.
How did the Aussies do it? They hired legendary Argentine Mario Ledesma as forwards coach and he transformed them, particularly the front row.
Joe Marler was pinged for not pushing straight, Dan Cole couldn’t make any headway.
Unable to dominate, England lost direction. The strategy was built on England winning up front and there was no Plan B because Lancaster had gone safety first with a defensive fly half and centres.
England were out of their own World Cup.
Twickenham hospitality guests will be hoping the side can turn their fortunes around in the Six Nations. But will Stuart Lancaster be in charge by then?