Mor­gan to pay price for Eng­land’s stut­ter­ing start

Vu­nipola set for re­call for crunch Wales match Launch­bury and Far­rell push for start­ing roles

The Daily Telegraph - Rugby World Cup - - Sport Rugby World Cup 2015 - Steve James RUGBY COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Per­haps we ex­pected too much. Af­ter a won­der­fully ap­po­site, suc­cinct and at times mov­ing open­ing cer­e­mony at Twick­en­ham on Fri­day night, we then wit­nessed a pretty poor rugby match, and not just be­cause of the end­less Tele­vi­sion Match Of­fi­cial con­sul­ta­tions, with Eng­land, cer­tainly un­til their heavy­weight bench ar­rived, play­ing at a level well be­low what they and the English public ex­pect and de­mand.

Yet again the scrum­mage was a con­cern, with one put-in crim­i­nally lost against the head on Eng­land’s line, from which Fiji scored a try, and Eng­land were smashed at the break­down. There was a lack of pen­e­tra­tion and di­rect­ness from the ball car­ri­ers, with Ben Mor­gan hav­ing an omi­nously quiet game at No 8, mean­ing that the half-backs had lit­tle plat­form from which to work.

That said, Ben Youngs was hor­ri­bly nervy at scrum-half and fly-half Ge­orge Ford never took the game by the scruff of the neck. Out­side them the in­side cen­tre Brad Bar­ritt had his worst game in an Eng­land jersey.

How­ever, Eng­land still won 35-11 against mus­cu­lar, awk­ward op­po­nents who are never easy to put away and who threw bod­ies into the break­down from all an­gles, with­out the req­ui­site pun­ish­ment from the ref­eree.

There was also the mag­ni­tude of the oc­ca­sion to con­sider, with a greasy ball too, as well as the in­con­ve­nience of the open­ing cer­e­mony, with the play­ers locked in­side the chang­ing rooms wait­ing to warm up.

And Eng­land snatched a bonus point with the last play of the game. I said be­fore the match that it would rep­re­sent a huge state­ment should they take that ex­tra point, and whilst it felt on Fri­day night as if they only crept out­side the front door to whis­per their in­ten­tions rather than scream­ing them from the rooftops, it could be­come ever louder as the pool pro­gresses.

You would ex­pect Aus­tralia to take the full five points on Wed­nes­day against Fiji, if only be­cause Fiji will not have re­cov­ered fully from Fri­day night’s ex­er­tions by then, but can Wales do like­wise with just four days’ rest af­ter play­ing Eng­land?

That can wait. Now all eyes turn to next Satur­day when Wales will visit Twick­en­ham. They are al­ways spe­cial oc­ca­sions, but this could easily be the most spe­cial of all. There is just so much at stake.

As ever there is a con­trast in the se­lec­tion pro­cesses for the re­spec­tive coaches.

Wales have so few dilem­mas. They know their side – asked whether places were up for grabs in the open­ing train­ing ses­sion against Uruguay (that is all it is) the Wales head coach, War­ren Gat­land, said sim­ply: “Not re­ally.”

The side pick them­selves, and, bar­ring in­jury, they will have Sam War­bur­ton and Dan Ly­di­ate as the flankers, with Justin Tipuric to come off the bench, de­spite what the Welsh ro­man­tics might de­sire.

Wales are pair­ing War­bur­ton and Tipuric against Uruguay to­day and might do so against Aus­tralia, to counter Michael Hooper and David Po­cock, but against the more phys­i­cal sides they know that they need War­bur­ton and Ly­di­ate.

When they ham­mered Eng­land in that fa­mous Six Na­tions match at the Mil­len­nium Sta­dium in 2013, War­bur­ton and Tipuric did play to­gether, but that was not the rea­son Wales won. In­stead it was the scrum­mage, Eng­land’s poor se­lec­tion in omit­ting ball-car­ri­ers in the back five of the pack and also their naivety in how they tried to chase the game from their own half.

In gen­eral Gat­land sim­ply has a shal­lower pool of tal­ent from which to choose. He might have more world­class play­ers – War­bur­ton, Alun Wyn Jones and Jamie Roberts – but his op­po­site num­ber Stu­art Lan­caster has many more Test-class play­ers. The prob­lem for Lan­caster is that so many of them are of the same stan­dard.

There­fore when one drops be­low his usual level of per­for­mance, it is very tempt­ing to make changes. And so many of this Eng­land team can do that, as Fri­day demon­strated. It is the great­est con­cern for them in this tour­na­ment, be­cause it begs the ques­tion of whether the col­lec­tive can string to­gether enough high-qual­ity per­for­mances to progress as far as they would re­ally like.

How­ever, some of Eng­land’s work was so sub-stan­dard against Fiji that change is in­evitable. Billy Vu­nipola for Mor­gan would ap­pear to be a no-brainer.

Vu­nipola was mag­nif­i­cent when he ap­peared and gave the team the go­for­ward that had been so ob­vi­ously lack­ing. Some­times it can be dan­ger­ous to take too much from the ef­forts of bench play­ers ap­pear­ing when the

Some of Eng­land’s work against Fiji was so sub-stan­dard that change is in­evitable

op­po­si­tion are tired and the hard work has been done, but prob­a­bly not here.

It is such a close call be­tween them any­way, with Mor­gan of­ten get­ting the nod for his bet­ter rugby smart­ness – and one as­sumes he knew about the im­por­tance of bonus points, even if Vu­nipola, quite re­mark­ably, did not af­ter scor­ing the fourth try on Fri­day – but size mat­ters against Wales.

Eng­land beat Wales in Cardiff this year be­cause their pack bat­tered them. Vu­nipola was play­ing then, but so, too, were Dy­lan Hart­ley, Dave Attwood and James Haskell, who are all heav­ier than those play­ing in their places at present.

For that rea­son Ge­off Par­ling may miss out against Wales, too. Yes, he was re­in­stated re­cently to rec­tify the li­ne­out trou­bles and has done that, but Wales’s line-out is not nec­es­sar­ily one to fear and Eng­land need more weight in the scrum­mage. It is time for Joe Launch­bury to re­turn.

James Haskell will not do so sim­ply be­cause Tom Wood is play­ing bet­ter than at any time in his Eng­land ca­reer. Wood of­fers a bet­ter line-out op­tion, too. Both props, Joe Mar­ler and Dan Cole, need to step up. It would be a sur­prise were they to be omit­ted, with Cole per­haps un­der the great­est pres­sure, but they both must re­alise that their work is sim­ply not good enough at the mo­ment.

Tom Youngs will al­ways be pil­lo­ried in some quar­ters, and of­ten er­rors at the line-out and scrum­mage are not his fault, but his work-rate and com­mit­ment are ex­em­plary. He is far from be­ing Eng­land’s great­est con­cern, as is his brother at scrum-half in fact.

Bar­ritt will surely also re­tain his place, even though Sam Burgess did have an im­pact when he ar­rived, but the most dif­fi­cult se­lec­tion might come at fly-half. Fiji tar­geted Ford mer­ci­lessly, and Wales will surely do the same if he plays next Satur­day. They were miffed that they en­gi­neered only one op­por­tu­nity for Jamie Roberts to run at him in Cardiff this year. They might not make the same mis­take again.

Ford has done some won­drous things in at­tack for Eng­land in the past year, but the ev­i­dence is mount­ing that he can­not work off the back foot. That, of course, is a very dif­fi­cult task, but some make bet­ter jobs of it than oth­ers.

I have long been an ad­vo­cate of Owen Far­rell, sim­ply be­cause his con­fronta­tional and abra­sive style of play is ideally suited to Test rugby. And with a tricky kick to win a match I would al­ways back him over Ford.

It could come down to that next Satur­day. It will cer­tainly be con­fronta­tional and abra­sive. It could be one of the great Rugby World Cup matches.

There again, that might just be ex­pect­ing too much again. This time Eng­land will def­i­nitely set­tle just for vic­tory, as they have in 13 of the past 15 matches be­tween the two teams at Twick­en­ham.

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