What’s gone wrong with England?
It took them 79 minutes at Exeter to manufacture a try that satisfied the referee’s standards. The previous week it needed two excellent pack-drives to bring an away win in France.
For their remaining points they had to rely on Emily Scarratt’s right boot. Ten points away, twelve points at home. Admittedly if she had left her kicking boots at home, Katy Daley-Mclean would have done the job just as well, but the question is: what’s happened to the Red Roses’ try-scoring machine?
Part of the answer lies up front. In some parts of the field they have talent to spare, for example at half-back and the wing. But the absence of certain forwards means primary possession is not coming as readily as in the past. It’s hard to believe now that a cool 45 tries were scored in the five 6 Nations matches this year.
The six successful kicks at goal that England opted for at Clermont and Exeter are a sure sign of the pressure they felt they were under. In the Six Nations they bothered with one only (against Ireland in Round One).
That 79th-minute Thompson try was an extraordinary combination of sad misjudgement and high skill. England were desperate for a winning score as the seconds ticked by. Then came Peyronnet’s misdirected clearance kick. It gave them a possible opening, but it would need faultless execution.
First Mo Hunt (she’s about to earn a well merited 50th cap) caught the spiralling ball cleanly; despite immediate pressure she managed to spin around and launch a long pass out to Sarah McKenna – Shaunagh Brown had to make sure she didn’t get in the way. McKenna sent the ball on to Emily Scarratt so fast that she had an acre of room in front of her. As she advanced she had to gauge angles and depths. When should she hand on to her winger? Draw the last defender and give? She decided correctly on an early pass; it was long and accurate. Lydia Thompson had hardly had a sniff of the ball till that moment, but she is used to such short rations. She took the ball cleanly and accelerated from fifth to sixth gear (I’m guessing how many her motor has – it’s quite a lot). Her free arm pumped and the last remnants of the cover were beaten.
Breathless stuff. But why so late in the day?
The case for the defence begins with the roll-call. Simon Middleton admitted it’s almost a matter of the ‘Last (Wo)man Standing’ at present. So many players have been unavailable.
He wants to move into the last phase of the World Cup build-up with a large number of players competing for a place in the final 28 (or shouldn’t that be 30, as the regulations now allow?). It was valuable experience to play through such a demanding game and snatch victory.
So the need to introduce uncontracted players should be totally positive in the long run. But the fact remains that the England scrum doesn’t look totally secure once the first-choices have been replaced.