Em­brace the fear and Eng­land can revel in game of their lives

There will be no hid­ing place against Aus­tralia tonight in this do-or-die clash, but Lan­caster’s team must re­mem­ber they are ca­pa­ble of play­ing im­pres­sive rugby

The Daily Telegraph - Rugby World Cup - - Sport: Rugby World Cup 2015 - WILL GREENWOOD

There is a buzzing in your head that usu­ally starts a few hours be­fore an in­ter­na­tional. It builds. And builds. The voices of ev­ery­one you owe for get­ting you there are mur­mur­ing, mixed with your own hopes for the day, the pos­i­tive sound­track you keep telling your­self to lis­ten to. Coaches bat­tle for their space, their plans and ploys, ideas and in­sights, rolling over and over.

Then, when you have a mo­ment, you sud­denly re­alise what it all means. The pres­sure hits, and it gets even more in­tense. You rep­re­sent your coun­try, your peo­ple, your na­tion, your home. You pull on a jersey that few have ever worn, whose history will for­ever be linked with your name, de­fined by the 80 min­utes that will come, the re­sult as yet un­writ­ten. Are you a win­ner? Will you make your fam­ily proud? How deep can you dig for your team-mates? The ques­tions are shouted and rat­tle around your brain; the an­swers need to be silently whis­pered to your­self.

As a player, you must try to re­lax and em­brace the fear be­cause of the power that it can give you. Noth­ing that ever mat­tered came for free. Ac­cept the price, the but­ter­flies and sick­ness. Pay your dues. En­joy these sen­sa­tions and revel in a mo­ment that may never come around again.

The truth is that Henry V speeches can only take you so far. No doubt ex­tra­or­di­nary or­a­tory can in­spire Her­culean ef­forts from oth­er­wise or­di­nary men. But when it comes to win­ning rugby matches at a World Cup, the pure emo­tion needs to be put to one side, to be kept in check.

We can as­sume, no ques­tions asked, that the Eng­land play­ers who take the field to­day will do any­thing and ev­ery­thing to walk off that pitch as win­ners. Yet the match against Aus­tralia is not about ex­tremes, of go­ing too far in one di­rec­tion in search of a win. What Eng­land need now more than ever is bal­ance in ac­tion, ex­e­cu­tion and emo­tion.

Last week against Wales, Eng­land made some sharp bursts early on, and made some im­por­tant gain lines. But in the fire and brim­stone of the ac­tion, space was missed. The team were ter­ri­fied of be­ing too lat­eral against a mighty Welsh de­fence.

They had com­mit­ted this crime in the pre­vi­ous game, and places had been lost be­cause they played across the front of Fiji and lost space in the wide chan­nels. Against Wales, the same mis­take was not go­ing to hap­pen. The fo­cus was on go­ing for­ward, and it meant that there were blink­ers on when it came to see­ing what was on of­fer, par­tic­u­larly in the early min­utes of the match.

These are not easy calls to make, I grant you, but Eng­land are not kids any­more, and they have run out of chances. They are try­ing to be per­fect and it is hurt­ing them be­cause in­ter­na­tional rugby is not about per­fec­tion. It is about con­sciously man­ag­ing the out­come of the 80 min­utes. Of prob­ing and re­work­ing, flex­ing and re­group­ing. As a team you need to un­der­stand that you will have maybe a hand­ful of chances in a game, and you have to be ready to take them. No mat­ter when or where they come on the park. If it is on, it is on.

The Aussies know this bet­ter than any team in the world. They are the mas­ters of mak­ing do, of mak­ing sure they are al­ways in the game, of ek­ing out the win. Even in their so-called phase of re­build­ing, they are far too clin­i­cal for Eng­land to let any points slip away be­cause their minds are else­where.

The third minute against Wales last week is a good case in point. Eng­land made yards up the right, and found Wales’s de­fen­sive line was nar­row. Court­ney Lawes and Tom Wood were in Eng­land’s mid­field. Billy Vu­nipola, Mike Brown and Jonny May were in the space to the left. The ball came to Lawes, who gave a short pop to Wood, who got in be­hind Wales and makes a two-yard gain. The crowd went wild. Wales scram­bled, re­or­gan­ised, and re­gained com­po­sure.

It was a chance missed be­cause Lawes and Wood never looked left, never looked to see their op­tions. Had Wood checked be­fore at­tack­ing Lawes’s left shoul­der for a short pop he would have stayed deeper and com­mu­ni­cated the space. Had Lawes scanned left, he would have known that it was the time to let the ball move across Wood and put Eng­land out into the wide open space.

The ques­tion you ask your­self is this: would Brodie Re­tal­lick and Jerome Kaino have done this? Would Dean Mumm and Michael Hooper? Would Eben Etze­beth and Fran­cois Louw? The an­swer is no, I doubt it. This is not a de­mo­li­tion of two very good Eng­land play­ers. Rather it helps us un­der­stand the im­pact that pres­sure and the fear of fail­ure can have on a team. You fo­cus too closely on only one point, and for­get the big­ger pic­ture. Later in the game, at 6-6, Eng­land snatched pos­ses­sion in their own 22. From here they en­joyed 50 me­tres of space and width, had a mul­ti­ple nu­mer­i­cal ad­van­tage, and An­thony Wat­son was lick­ing his lips as he geared him­self up for some very ma­jor yardage.

The mid­field just needed to straighten the line and give. In­stead the dummy was thrown and while yards were made, con­tact was taken, giv­ing Wales a chance to re­or­gan­ise and sur­vive. This was Wales’s sin­gle thought for large pe­ri­ods: stay in the game. They man­aged it, not least be­cause Eng­land were caught in two minds, and it showed up in their de­fence as well as their at­tack.

The Scott Wil­liams break just be­fore half-time from a Welsh line- out caused the English mid­field de­fen­sive sys­tem to go off in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions. Unity of ac­tion is key and there is no right or wrong way to de­fend. There are ar­gu­ments for blitz or drift. What­ever is in vogue, take your pick. Just do it to­gether.

The try from Gareth Davies was the re­sult of con­fu­sion in a de­fen­sive unit want­ing to use line speed to close down the out­side and not un­der­stand­ing the di­rec­tion of the game at the time, Wales’s po­si­tion, nor the strength of Eng­land’s seven-point lead. With a nar­row de­fen­sive line, Eng­land had the touch­line as a friend, pace in the back field and men who do not miss tack­les in the mid­dle of the field. Wales were com­fort­able on the ball, and Eng­land were in great shape to keep them out, 50 yards from their own line. The English deep men stayed deep.

The big er­ror was that the English mid­field – Brad Bar­ritt, for so long the team’s best de­fender – pressed too hard with­out shut­ting off the out­side chan­nel. This let Dan Biggar throw a miss pass to Jamie Roberts and the rest was

sheer class: Roberts’s pass to Lloyd Davies, the kick back in­field and a pick-up and score that broke the English spirit and will be played as many times as the great Philip Saint-An­dré try started by Serge Blanco against Gus­cott and Co. And just as they did then, Eng­land found them­selves caught “in be­tween” styles. It is not a good place to be and the one side against whom you do not want this to hap­pen are the Aus­tralians. The Wal­la­bies have al­ways been the small unit in the south­ern hemi­sphere strug­gle for phys­i­cal supremacy, and have had to learn to sur­vive on wit and pre­ci­sion.

Whether the third minute or the 79th minute, when the chances come Eng­land must iden­tify them and be ruth­less. Be­cause they will face pe­ri­ods when they are un­der the most in­tense pres­sure.

The heads must be cool as ice when the Aussies start run­ning flat an­gles and great lines be­cause, if they are not, mis­takes will hap­pen, par­tic­u­larly at the break­down.

Last week dur­ing the sec­ond half, in chrono­log­i­cal or­der, Wood, Chris Rob­shaw and then Billy Vu­nipola gave away break­down penal­ties and they opened the door to the Welsh with nine points con­ceded.

Michael Hooper and David Po­cock are ex­traor­di­nar­ily tal­ented in this area for Aus­tralia. Eng­land must com­pete for the ball, and they must stop the nat­u­ral rhythm of Aus­tralia’s flu­ency with ball in hand. But they have to be smart and can­not of­fer easy ter­ri­tory or easy points by be­ing ill-dis­ci­plined.

In their favour is the fact that Eng­land were very, very good at times last week. They were bru­tally strong in ar­eas, put in a huge phys­i­cal ef­fort, and de­liv­ered mas­sive hits and line speed.

A bril­liant try with sen­sa­tional de­coys in the mid­field that had great Welsh de­fend­ers clasp­ing at thin air shows they can work the space and ben­e­fit from it. The score­board con­tin­ued to tick over. It was im­pres­sive stuff, de­spite the re­sult.

Eng­land need to re­mem­ber these facts be­cause the big­gest fear I have is that they be­come too sin­gle-minded in their pur­suit of a vic­tory and for­get just what a good side they are when their rugby brains are fully switched on.

Ques­tions rat­tle around your brain, are you a win­ner, and will you make your fam­ily proud

Ready to de­liver: Eng­land No 10 Owen Far­rell pre­pares for the big­gest game of his ca­reer at Twick­en­ham

Mo­ment of truth: Stu­art Lan­caster has to suc­ceed tonight

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