State of the Nation: England

Date published: November 5 2015

As we do at the end of a major tournament, we look at the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Next up, England.

What a disaster for the hosts as the unthinkable happened at Twickenham; England lost to both Wales and Australia. They therefore missed out on the knockout stages for a tournament they entered as second favourites with the bookmakers so it’s unsurprising the post-mortem continues.

Not for the first time a decision from Chris Robshaw helped cost England a result and even if one backs the call to go for the corner, throwing the line-out to the front and allowing Wales to easily drive them into touch will surely go down as one of the World Cup’s dumbest plays.

Subsequently Wales won 28-25 to throw Pool A wide open before Australia showed the gulf in class skill wise as they embarrassed England, winning 33-13. All that remained was a morale-boosting second-half against Uruguay when Manchester gave England a rousing send-off on a rare road trip north. That however could not perk up the faces of Robshaw and Stuart Lancaster in the post-match, with both’s fate still unknown.

It had all started in positive fashion in game one of the tournament. A 35-11 bonus-point win over Fiji – which neither Wales nor Australia managed later in the pool – set them off on what looked like being a long and nail-biting campaign. But alas, quality with ball in hand and one would have to say alarmingly a lack of conditioning with some players saw them come off second best to Wales and more so the Wallabies.

Sadly the problems were not limited to the field as Lancaster’s hands were tied over the exclusion of hooker Dylan Hartley because of his insistence on high standards of behaviour. While it was the correct call, his absence was a setback. Furthermore the foreign-based argument is continuing to rumble on through Nick Abendanon and Steffon Armitage, with the latter the most likely to have made an impact had he been utilised via the “exceptional circumstances” rule. It’s worth noting he scored a hat-trick last week in the Top 14 in another impressive display.

Only Italy in the Six Nations are seemingly in a worse predicament heading into 2016 as uncertainty surrounds England’s future. Initially it looked like both Robshaw and Lancaster would carry the can for the World Cup failures but maybe Lancaster is set to remain at the helm after this year-end review. England must surely appoint a new skipper though as decisions in the heat of the battle cannot keep costing this side.

Had we been warned? This statement from Billy Vunipola after the Fiji win summed up a lack of awareness which, either filtered down from top to bottom or on a personal responsibility, had rugby fans shaking their head: “I didn’t know that bonus points counted in the World Cup.”

Ample room for improvement then is required in the future not just at the breakdown, skills and ideas, but also in those top two inches.