Saturday night saw England Rugby plunge to a new depth as they became the first host nation not to make it out of the group stages of their own World Cup. The team have a chance to get back on the track in the 2016 Six Nations when they take on Wales and Ireland at Twickenham, where Eventmasters are proud to provide Twickenham hospitality.
Admittedly no team has ever faced a group as tough as England’s, but after talking up the advantage of playing at Twickenham we all expected more from this team and the coaches.
Over the next four days we will look at some key areas where England were found wanting and how those problems can be avoided in the future.
Sir Clive Woodward once said that coaching is “90% selection” i.e. get the right players on the field and the rest becomes a lot easier. In this regard Stuart Lancaster and his coaching team got it very wrong over the last six weeks.
During the 2015 Six Nations there seemed to be a clear plan in terms of style and selection. That all went out of the window during the QBE Internationals and Lancaster didn’t even know his best XV for the two of the biggest matches in the countries sporting history.
A prime example was the centre combination for the Wales game, Sam Burgess and Brad Barritt had never started a game together. But Lancaster was convinced they were the right men for the job. They were the 14th midfield combination of Stuart Lancaster’s regime and against Australia, he fielded the 18th combination of fly-half and centres in just four years.
Burgess the high-profile rugby league convert, is going to be a huge player for Bath and England in the future. But he is not an international centre, his best rugby has come on the flank. Lancaster and co. shoehorned him into midfield where he isn’t as affective. If he wasn’t ready to play in the pack he shouldn’t have been selected. This glaring error made an explosive and powerful rugby star look second rate.
George Ford, the driving force behind England’s expansive style in 2015 which saw them score 18 tries in the Six Nations, was moved to the bench in favour of Owen Farrell. England’s style of play instantly regressed. Brad Barritt carried for just four metres against Wales in 80 minutes but was deemed too important to drop, meanwhile the impressive Henry Slade was sitting in the stands twiddling his thumbs.
In the forwards Lancaster backed himself into a corner by ruling Dylan Hartley out due to disciplinary issues. This one move changed the whole dynamic and balance of the side.
Hartley is by far the best hooker in the country, his power at the scrum and precision at the line-out make him invaluable to this squad. With him out the pressure was ramped up on Tom Youngs to reach those same levels. There is no doubt Youngs is a fine player around the field and gives his all but at the set-piece he isn’t at the same level of his Northampton counterpart.
During the QBE Internationals, Hartley provided expert analysis at our rugby hospitality facility for the France and Ireland games. While he understood the coaches selection stance, he stated he was fit and ready for a call-up. But unfortunately for England fans that never came.
In the second QBE International in Paris, England were shambolic at the scrum and line-out. As a result the outstanding Joe Launchbury was dropped to the bench to accommodate Geoff Parling. Straight away England lost a world class performer who offers so much and is a key part of the side. This in turn put added pressure on Courtney Lawes to perform the Launchbury role and act as an extra flanker.
Then there is the Steffon Armitage debate. The three-time European champion and former European Player of the Year was not considered for selection under the RFU policy of not selecting players from overseas.
The performance of Michael Hooper and David Pocock just highlighted what nearly every fan and pundit believed for three years, England cannot compete without a genuine open-side flanker. The ‘Pooper’ combination made a mockery of England’s breakdown play, stealing ball at will and constantly slowing down the England attacks.
Now while Australia are in a unique situation having two of the world’s best number sevens, the coaching team seemingly made no plan to stop them or refused to select players who could disrupt in the same way. Not picking Armitage, European rugby’s most consistent player, will be a decision that will haunt Lancaster for a long time.
Coaching is 90% selection, but England got it 100% wrong.