England’s backs hold key to rugby future
Two moments at either end of England’s spirited 30-22 loss to world champions New Zealand at Twickenham on Saturday demonstrated the gap Stuart Lancaster’s men must close if they are to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy on home soil in two years.
The first came inside two minutes when New Zealand’s Kieran Read delivered a delightful inside pass, which took out three covering England defenders, to Julian Savea for the first of the All Blacks’ three tries.
The second was in the 64th minute when centre Ma’a Nonu produced a deft pass out of the tackle that sent in dashing wing Savea in for his second try.
Not only did England’s backs fail to equal Nonu’s effort, they didn’t produce a piece of handling skill to rival that of No 8 Read.
By contrast, England’s lone try of the match came when lock Joe Launchbury pounced on a loose ball from a five-metre scrum.
England, 14 points down after just 17 minutes, saw their pack perform heroically.
And they certainly had the means to make sure the penalties their forwards won turned into scoreboard pressure, with fly-half Owen Farrell kicking England into an improbable 22-20 lead heading into the final quarter.
However, Clive Woodward, who coached England to the 2003 World Cup title and was himself a talented Test centre, was just one of several pundits who said they needed more class behind the scrum to truly challenge the world’s best.
“The lesson of the autumn is that England have a magic bunch of forwards tough enough to win a World Cup,” Woodward wrote in Monday’s Daily Mail, having seen Lancaster’s side defeat Australia and Argentina in their other two November Tests at Twickenham.
“But — and it is a big but — there is simply no element of genuine fear of our back division.
“We have learned little other than we have a pragmatic back-line who fail to exploit the brilliant work of the pack and are a long way off the standard required if England really do have aspirations to lift the World Cup again.”