RWC: England v Scotland

One of my housemates is a Scot. I’ve been teasing him all week about Dan Parks’ crucial missed drop-goal against Argentina last week. ITV even kindly ran a brief clip (during one of their highlights programs) of horrible missed RWC drop goals, including that by Parks, which they capped off with a shot of Jonny Wilkinson’s glorious moment against the Aussies eight years ago. I was shamelessly smug so all week he has been promising that Scotland would beat England on Saturday.

After 40 minutes a little knot in my stomach was telling me he might be right. England were 6-3 down (soon to become 9-3 shortly after the break) and Scotland were looking good. Savage at the breakdown,reasonably dangerous in the backs and Parks and Chris Patterson were kicking well from hand and from the floor. However, England weren’t actually playing all that badly. Still too many penalties but they should have been 12-6 up at half-time. Something’s happened to Jonny,his kicking’s been pretty awful this RWC. When Toby Flood came on he looked assured with ball in hand and nailed a conversion from the touchline. Jonny may be our talisman, but Floody looks the better bet to start.

So Scotland were ahead, largely thanks to England’s profligacy under the posts. By the early minutes of the second half, they should have been even further ahead, except they all seem to have taken a monastic vow to never score tries so long as they shall live. The ever-dangerous Simon Danielli repeatedly put Scottish players in try-scoring positions and they constantly screwed them up, the worst being Nick da Luca’s fumble while unopposed about three metres from the English line. It’s almost embarrassing.

So despite that little knot, I was never actually totally worried.
England have got a dangerous backline and after 75 minutes it clicked and over went try-poacher extraordinaire Chris Ashton. The game was won and even Martin Johnson looked happy with the result. England have come under a lot of flak for their performance in the press, but I think this is unfair. Their defending was solid with Ben Foden, Tom Croft and Delon Armitage in particular all making crucial interventions. With ball in hand they looked promising and they never panicked. Their scum and line-out were worryingly shaky but improved with the introduction of substitutes.

And we should not forget that they were up against a very impassioned and very good Scotland side. Facing the possibility of going out before the quarters for the first time ever, and to the Auld Enemy at that, they came out all guns blazing. Once their backs learn how to score tries, they will be a dangerous team indeed. They have the quality, just not the execution. They also have a superb back-row,something England lack a bit. Tom Croft is a world-class 6 and James Haskell is very busy but neither he nor Lewis Moody should really make the starting line-up. England need a genuine 7 (a position enjoying
something of a bloom in world rugby at the moment) and someone a bit calmer at 8. Haskell is the perfect impact substitute but
unfortunately, there is no-one to step ahead of him, so he will remain in the starting line-up.

And for what it’s worth, here’s what I reckon England’s team should be for the knock-outs:

15. Ben Foden
14. Chris Ashton
13. Manu Tuilagi
12. Shontayne Hape
11. Mark Cueto
10. Toby Flood
9. Ben Youngs
1. Matt Stevens
2. Dylan Hartley
3. Dan Cole
4. Courtney Lawes
5. Tom Palmer
6. Tom Croft
7. Lewis Moody
8. James Haskell

16. Steve Thompson
17. Alex Corbisiero
18. Lewis Deacon
19. Tom Wood
20. Joe Simpson
21. Jonny Wilkinson
22. Delon Armitage (although as he is banned for the next game, I’m going to have to go for Matt Banahan, which hurts).

Ben Reiss

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