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2003’s Unfortunate Legacy, Anthony Watson’s rapid rise & Australia’s misery

Victories over the ‘Big Three’ nations of the Southern Hemisphere do not come along too often so they ought to be savoured.

England’s 20-13 victory over Australia certainly deserves to be savoured. There were areas that will need to be improved against Argentina and especially the All Blacks, however the joy and achievement of beating the powerhouses of the Southern Hemisphere should never be forgotten.

It is perhaps the one negative impact of England’s 2003 World Cup victory, and watching the half time parade of those 2003 legends perhaps brought the point home. Sir Clive Woodward’s band of world class operators turned Twickenham into such a fortress, and made victories against the southern hemisphere giants so routine that there is a lasting sense that England should always be beating those sides.

Whilst as an ambition of the squad’s it is an admirable, and indeed necessary one, as an expectation from both public and press alike it is possibly unfair. That period from 2001-2003 was unprecedented; that a part of the legacy is the huge pressure on the fresh incumbents is unfortunate.

Forwards impress

Probably the key to victory was the incredible surge in intensity for a twenty minute period following Mike Brown’s break down the left touchline.

While that break grabbed the headlines the incredible work of the England pack should not be forgotten.

At scrum time they were utterly dominant, with Mako Vunipola showing that, with the aid of the law changes, he has improved immeasurably at the scrum. He dominated against a side that he really struggled with on the Lions tour.

His brother Billy had a fine home debut, carrying well and working well in a back row that looked as well balanced as it has for a long time. Tom Wood was excellent but it was Chris Robshaw who really shone, confounding his critics by turning in a proper 7’s performance.

He snaffled a couple of turnovers, tied up Genia brilliantly, and appeared at every loose ball. Between him and Wood, Michael Hooper was totally nullified.

The lineout did shake a little, something that will frustrate the management a bit. However with Courtney Lawes installed as lineout leader for the first time it was always possible that things might take a little bit of time. Tom Youngs will be a touch disappointed with his throwing though.

If the lineout disappointed then the work of the second row duo of Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury is the loose more than made up for it. Launchbury in particular was just always available, it seemed that if the were a tackle to be made or an offload to be received he was there, ready and waiting.

Backline stutters

One area that will need addressing ahead of the next two games is the fluency in the backline. It was perhaps inevitable that things would be a little off the radar on Saturday, after all most of this backline had never played together before and of the starters only Chris Ashton started in this fixture last year.

Some will say that Billy Twelevetrees should be under pressure after his off colour performance but Stuart Lancaster must resist that. Twelvetrees is England’s only option as a creative centre and is the type of player they desperately need. He needs to be given the time to feel confident in the shirt and this autumn is the perfect opportunity with Barritt and Tuilagi out.

One player who perhaps ought to be vulnerable to Lancaster’s wrath though is Chris Ashton. It feels harsh to come down on him again as he really did not get a lot of opportunity to shine. However once again his defensive frailties were shown up. His decision to fly up on Israel Folau before Matt Toomua’s try was inexplicable.

That he missed the tackle was not actually the problem, Folau can make anyone look a fool in the tackle, it was the decision to fly up that was the issue. Folau had a man outside him and Ashton had the opportunity to drift and use the touchline as his friend. That he did not was defensively naïve and as England’s most experienced back that was inexcusable.

I could be doing him a disservice though, it is possible that Andy Farrell has coached the side to fly up on the outside, certainly he has coached them to stay narrow, however it seems unlikely.

Anthony Watson

A potential beneficiary should the unlikely, and maybe harsh, happen and Ashton lose his place, Bath’s Anthony Watson could be the major winner.

The England U20s star and former St George’s College Weybridge pupil has been called in to train with the squad after some stunning performances for Bath this season.

His call up, just two years after he finished played for his school, should be an inspiration to school players the length and breadth of the country. It is a fine example as to just how close to fulfilling the dream of playing international rugby you are when you pull on your school 1st XV shirt.

As we at Fifteen Rugby have long said, the path from schoolboy to elite player is very clear.

It is also a sign of how determined the England management are to create a ‘club England’ atmosphere, with the Senior side, Saxons, U20s, and U18s all able to mix well and to have clear lines of progression between them.

Provided that late bloomers to not get missed out on because they were not in the system as teenagers it ought to be a system that serves the national side well in the future.

Argentina

Looking a little less far into the future, it would be a surprise to see Stuart Lancaster make too many changes for the Argentina game at the weekend.

There might be some temptation to change things in the centres but for the long term benefit of the team he ought to stick with Twelvetrees and Tomkins. The back three is likely to stay the same, though the wing berths will be hard fought.

Owen Farrell will surely remain as the number one number ten, however Lee Dickson failed to find his club form and could come under threat from Ben Youngs, or even Danny Care who looked good for Quins.

The back row were excellent and must remain unchanged, while despite wobbles at the lineout the second row seems secure. The one question might be to bring in Parling to fix the lineout but it is possibly more likely that Lancaster will select the same second row but switch Hartley, who has a good understanding with Lawes, in for Tom Youngs at hooker.

Unless Alex Corbisiero returns to full fitness then the two props will surely remain unchanged.

Will Genia

It would be wrong to get through this article without at least having a quick look at the game for a Wallaby perspective, and to ask this question – what on earth happened to Will Genia?

The world’s premier scrum half looked woefully out of sorts on Saturday. As well as a couple of high profile errors like kicking the ball out on the full, he also twice got snapped up by the England defence as he dithered with the ball at the back of the ruck, something that he was repeatedly doing, giving the Wallabies very slow ball.

He might rightly point the finger at his tight five for failing to give him anything close to resembling a decent platform but the Genia that we have all grown to love watching in the past few years would normally regard a poor platform as a mere speed bump.

Questions really do have to be raised over the Wallaby scrum though. It seems inconceivable that a nation can have the same weakness for as long as Australia have, but for almost ten years now they have had a weakness there.

On a more positive not Quade Cooper seemed comfortable in his role as vice captain without doing anything spectacular, while Israel Folau continues to move with the air of a man who is about to do something magical.

As ever with the Wallabies it seems that they just have to get their pack to provide some decent ball and good continuity and they have the backs to be able to create carnage, Italy at the weekend might just be the perfect game for them.

Full Fixture List

England aside it was a pretty empty international weekend last weekend but this weekend there is a fully stocked fixture list.

Scotland take on Japan, while Ireland host Samoa but it will be Wales v South Africa at 17.30 that will surely get the heads turning.

How Warren Gatland plugs his Jamie Roberts sized hole will be the main talking point in the build up, though the make up of the back row and the James Hook quandary will probably gather a few column inches too.

If all of that is not enough, there is the small matter of France v New Zealand at 20.00, probably the best of the lot if we are all honest.

The French have had a pretty good record against the All Blacks of late and this could prove to be one of the more spectacular matches of the entire November series.

It is a special time on the rugby calendar, November. Just try not to let expectations of near perfection spoil a perfectly good result.

I’ve you’ve any thoughts on the November Internationals, or Schools Rugby, or indeed anything rugby or Fifteen Rugby related then please feel free to tweet me @AngusSavageXV or leave a comment in the comment box below.

By Angus Savage

@AngusSavageXV

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