Rugby: Battered and boring England need to find licence to thrill

By Kevin Garside

It's back to the drawing board for the likes of England players Geoff Parling, Ben Youngs and Tom Wood. Photo / Getty Images
It's back to the drawing board for the likes of England players Geoff Parling, Ben Youngs and Tom Wood. Photo / Getty Images

Somewhere in the bowels of Twickenham is a drawing board. Stuart Lancaster and his generals returned to it this week, scratching their heads while pledging to take England to the next stage.

They will work hard, look at where things went wrong, take the positives - there are always positives, apparently - and come back stronger, because only in defeat do we really learn about ourselves.

Oh dear. Not again. It is the same song sung by the English rugby establishment since Jonny kicked us into a state of nirvana all those years ago in Sydney. Lancaster sounded an awful lot like his predecessor Martin Johnson explaining how test match rugby is the ultimate challenge, how, if you don't hit your percentages, the fine margins will claim you.

All we want, fellas, is to see England play with the same verve and flair as our Southern Hemisphere cousins.

This was supposed to be the easy one of the three, up against a broken Aussie team low on confidence and shorn of key players. England did not lack effort. What was missing was a clue to how to trouble a resolute defence.

More than 80,000 loyal souls turned up for the second week in succession. This is not a cheap afternoon. For the price of one ticket a father can take his family to the cinema to watch James Bond fall out of the sky and still have change for a burger.

In the myopic environment of Pennyhill Park, to where England have returned to prepare for the visit of South Africa, the focus is on technical issues. Someone should blow a whistle, gather the squad and the coaches under the posts and explain that sport is something to be enjoyed, not endured.

This was a crushing blow for Lancaster. England have still to establish an identity under the school-teacher turned coach. There is an honesty and a vigour about their work but not yet the kind of invention and understanding borne of confidence and belief.

The fast ball, the gain-line busting chips and kicks were all Australian. Though England were ahead early, there was never the authority in English play to threaten the debunking Australia suffered in Paris. The French victory was predicated on forward dominance. The exit of Joe Marler inside 50 minutes told the story of England's front-row struggles.

Australia ripped open the pitch to put England under pressure at every opportunity. In response, England reverted to the rugby-by-numbers template that ultimately did for Johnson. The English supporters filled their morning with optimism and anticipation of a thunderous afternoon taking down the Aussie foe.

They did not come to watch England plod resolutely through phase after predictable phase. They yearned to see the ball move down the line at pace, to see someone drop a shoulder and shift through the gears. They did. The players were Australians.

England captain Chris Robshaw joined his coach in rolling out worthy platitudes.

There is, he said, a great desire to succeed. His desire is no greater than ours to be entertained. While at your drawing board, Chris, you might want to think about that. Independent

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