Planet Rugby

Loose Pass

03rd December 2012 09:06

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Bismarck to Bryan: 'Apparently Owen Farrell played better than you this year bru'

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with England, Australia and the Lions, and one of the finest caption competition winners yet...

Finally, after a November spent crying into many a pint after two so near and so far results, England came alive. Could even the most steadfast and blissfully ignorant of fans have seen that coming?

The 80 minutes that did for a New Zealand team utterly looking like the one extra Test was one too many from a long year were a lesson to all in steely execution of game-plan, unswerving focus on technique and a perceptible improvement in homework.

England defended so well, you would have sworn the AB calls had been leaked and learned until they could be recited ad verbatim. Lightning line speed, tough tackling - England missed only one tackle in the entire first half - intelligent use of the referee's idiosyncracies, the English put it all together. Imbued with a little more skill and finesse, they might have had 50.

Not one of the All Blacks has considered using illness, fatigue or George Clancy as an excuse (penalising Kieran Read for getting a hand on the ball during a mid-air collision? Uuh...), an attitude befitting the world's best team. They know they were well-beaten.

But perhaps this has been coming more than people think. It's well-documented that the English were a couple of bad decisions away from the beating of both South Africa and Australia - that a couple fewer slippery hands would have done for the latter long before the decision not to go for posts late in the game. This time the decisions were spot on all the way through.

Eerily, the whole way England have worked and worked, snapped and heels and finally come up trumps against one of the SH giants is reminiscent of the onset of the successful part of the Woodward era, with detail adhered to in every aspect of the game and its preparation, and the execution of the grand plan. The plans are different, but the attitude and spirit are a perfect match.

Given the way France have swept most before them this November, this year's Six Nations looks set to be one of those Anglo-French tussles. Then we have a Lions tour and then two more years.

Plenty of time then for a comparatively green team to gain its experience and learn more and more, plenty of time for a team rediscovering its identity to gear up for its own World Cup. We'll know for sure after the Six Nations, but England are right on track for 2015.


Also on track are Australia. Written off in so many quarters and humiliated at times against France, Robbie Deans' side has managed to turn November into a resounding success. Narrow victories over and England side on the up and a full-strength Wales side are never to be sniffed at.

Deans has endured a gruelling year. He's survived an injury crisis, a crisis of confidence, a period of unashamed success and crowing from the old enemy that has left Wallaby fans in despair at times, and a mini-rebellion from within the squad.

But he has emerged from all that with a successful November and a squad now looking deeper and more at ease with itself than for some time.

2013 is set to be a very special year for the Wallabies. The last time the Lions came a-calling, it was Australia's golden generation that had clinched one World Cup and went close to retaining that two years later.

This time it's a team now well down the road of rebuilding, one that has developed a terrific inner strength and siege mentality, one that clearly sticks together in times of hardship. It's also well-stocked with talent - even the scrum is less shaky these days.

Bring that Lions tour on!


Over to those Lions: we'd wager there are a few more names set to leap onto the hypothetical team sheets in all four home nations over the coming few days.

Four weeks ago, the Lions were mostly Welsh, perhaps a quartet of Irish, another of English and maybe even a Scot or two.

Now? Well... English players like Joe Launchbury are worth adding to the consideration, as are the Irish entertainers who broke the mould - and the tryline - against Argentina such as Simon Zebo and Craig Gilroy.

Add the competition for places there onto England's resurgence and France's free-flowing form and you've got a Six Nations to make the mouth water!

Finally, it was touched on earlier in the week by a colleague, so we won't go on about how Owen Farrell ought to be about 20 places further down the list for IRB Player of the Year.

But among such travesties, humour can be made.

Such as the accompanying picture of Bryan Habana's 'reaction' to Farrell's nomination...

Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson

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