Expert Witness: November Tests

Date published: December 4 2014

As the November Tests come to an end, we are delighted to welcome back to Expert Witness former England skipper Martin Corry.

As the November Test series finally comes to its conclusion, we are delighted to welcome back to Expert Witness former England skipper Martin Corry.

After flattering to deceive most of the season, booth England and Wales will be delighted to have finally taken one of the big Southern Hemisphere scalps. Corry believes that England’s effort showed glimmers of positivity:

“It was a good performance and George Ford’s introduction at fly-half has made a big difference to the way England have played. He’s prepared to vary his attack point, to stand flat and to attack deep into the faces of the defenders,” he explained.

“Mind you, I suspect Kyle Eastmond, a guy that’s used to working with Ford, would have been at home chucking rocks at his television! Eastmond has waited all season for service like Ford provided and the moment Ford is picked for England, they drop his team-mate!

“In all seriousness, whilst I understand they’re not the best defenders in the 10/12 channel, I’d love to see them orchestrating the back line together,” noted Corry.

“Australia will walk away from that game highly frustrated. They did well but could have done a lot better. A lot of people were commenting how well Wallaby Adam Ashley-Cooper played but, if you are harsh, and we’re talking about a player with a century of caps here, had he passed on any of the three line breaks he made Australia would have scored simple tries. He’ll rue those missed chances for sure.

“However, when you are beasted in the set piece like that you’re not going to win many tests. In terms of style, it wasn’t unlike the World Cup win in Marseilles 2007.

“England are now in a position were selection and blend of skill is everything. Looking at November, our set piece was immense. We don’t have an issue there. But in the sides we’ve seen, who is the go to man when there’s nothing on? Who is the player that gets you into the gain area when the chips are down?

“Selecting for international rugby is a tough one. You need to work out how players will perform in a completely different arena and with crushing levels of pressure in every respect. It’s a huge step up.

“This season, Joe Marler and David Wilson have been outstanding for England and played a huge part in the victory on Saturday. But would you pick both of them if Corbisiero and Cole are both fit? I believe the latter would give us the best front row in the world and, as tough as it is on the incumbents, you’ve got to pick your best, knowing that competition is a healthy thing.

“Equally, Brad Barritt was immense on Saturday but he’s simply not able to ignite a move when options are limited around him. England will be ticking the days off until Manu Tuilagi, their most dangerous back, returns,” mused Corry.

In Cardiff, the clash of the gain-line continued as Wales finally emerged victors against a powerful South African outfit in a tryless but pulsating affair.

“We often talk about winning ugly and that was exactly that,” laughed Corry.

“However, Wales need to be very honest about the win. Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb were outstanding in closing the game out but Wales have, over the last eight or more Tests against the ‘big three’, managed to lose in the latter stages of the game.

“Last weekend, South Africa lost some key players towards the last quarter; Jean de Villiers knee injury looks horrific and his experience was sorely missed during that period. Factor in Cornal Hendricks’ sin-binning and you can argue that Wales were better placed in the last quarter of this game than previously. If they accept that, then they’ll work hard to fix the issues they have closing out these tight matches, but I’d not be getting carried away by that win if I were them.

“What will be pleasing for Gatland is his team’s instinct for survival and the industry and will to win that they demonstrated. On the other hand, South Africa were poorer than we’ve seen for a long time in terms of handling; Willie le Roux was a shadow of his usual brilliant self and had Victor Matfield had secured the ball on his own line, when Wales had virtually all their team in the line out, South Africa would have been able to go the length of the pitch virtually unopposed,” smiled the England flanker.

Looking back at November as a whole, Corry believes that New Zealand have extended their lead at the top of the world rankings, but that there’s encouraging signs of progress for other nations:

“Whilst New Zealand continue their excellence, the truth is that both South Africa and Australia are not playing as well as they did a few months ago, so by default, the gap has widened. Australia have ridiculous firepower in their back-line, but are struggling to win enough ball to feed the talent.

“South Africa need to think about how sides prepare against them. They rarely outthink their opponents, preferring to batter their way through them. Paradoxically, when they played England and realized that they’d be matched in physicality, they were forced to think and destroyed England’s push defence with very clever chips and grubbers. So they can do it but need to be more thoughtful more often,” he explained.

“For a neutral, the progress of Argentina, Ireland and Scotland was the most pleasing aspect. Dealing with the Home Unions first, both have benefitted greatly from a change in coach, with both Joe Schmidt and Vern Cotter adding great organizational skills to experienced packs. Both teams have a method, know what they want to do and players are emerging, such as Jonny Gray and Peter O’Mahony, that are going to be around for a long time to come.

“Argentina showed what exposure to the highest level can bring when they won in Paris. Nicol