England composure needs real work

Date published: March 15 2015

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England are in with a chance of winning the Six Nations title but won't have any of the world's other top sides shaking in their boots after Saturday's victory over Scotland.

Three tries in a Test match would normally be seen as an achievement, especially in the Six Nations when the try count is never really high.

England supporters though will have left Twickenham maybe satisfied but not exactly swinging from the lamposts, even having won 25-13 against Scotland and retained the Calcutta Cup for the eighth time in succession.

They might be in contention to win the title but it all feels a little hollow after the way they were picked apart in Dublin and then threw away so many opportunities against the Scots, whose comeback in the first-half to lead at the break was admirable after their defence took a nap in the opening quarter.

The attacking statistics for England are fairly damning – 12 line breaks, 26 defenders beaten and 21 offloads, yet only three tries scored with the last one coming three minutes from time. A dismal return.

To be clear it was enlightening to see England persist for so long with their quicker tempo, a 'Plan B' set of tactics that we saw them try and carry out against the All Blacks last year rather than their alternate slow, patient build-up. George Ford is quite adept at both.

Except the execution was just far too low. Doing so might be interpreted as overly critical but if England want to be the best side in the world they have to play like it.

An initial impression was that Tommy Seymour had done well to block the space between Luther Burrell and Anthony Watson when the inside centre broke clear, when actually on a second viewing he had both the time and space to pass before hitting the 22. Knowing how much speed and power Watson packs, in a one-on-one in that position a try would almost be guaranteed.

It all comes down to composure. The best have it and England on Saturday had some, but not enough. When breaking into the open space what England needed Burrell and Jack Nowell and Anthony Watson to do was to take their time and not rush the wrong decision. Tom Youngs too, after his harried, dribbling low pass attempt was almost comical. James Haskell and Burrell's forward passes denied great chances to Mike Brown and Watson respectively.

This is Mike Catt's remit and he will be fuming at the low return from England's finishing after some bold creativity, inspired by Ben Youngs and Ford, even if Scotland's defence scrambled very well.

Catt, Stuart Lancaster and the players all know that they should have scored more, with the England head coach commenting that "we should have scored six tries". New Zealand, for an example, had ten line breaks against Wales last November and scored five tries. 

England cannot dwell on the missed chances too much this week, apart from the obvious refining of their skills, but Twickenham might be a bleak place next Saturday evening if they haven't done enough to win the title on points difference, just like last year.

For Nowell's try in the 76th minute they did at last get it right – Kieran Brookes rolling out of the tackle to offload, quick hands and then Nowell's step to beat his man and finish in the corner. 

Nowell in many ways was the embodiment of England's failure to finish but he is such a promising player with a full skill-set, particularly good under the high ball against Scotland as you would expect for a full-back out on the wing. 

His best position is still debatable though and there will always be doubts about what Christian Wade might have been able to achieve with similar opportunities until he gets a proper Test chance. He might not be good enough, but for now we don't know.

Whoever is picked, England will struggle to be successful next week against France or beyond at the Rugby World Cup if their tries to chances ratio from Saturday doesn't improve.

There is clearly still work to do. The doubts remain about how good England really are, as the end of another mixed tournament approaches, while the gap between themselves and the All Blacks was on clear display.

Winning a first Six Nations title in four years would be an achievement, hinging on how Wales and Ireland get on earlier in the day, but not fully satisfying.

by Ben Coles

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