Planet Rugby

England fail to convince

08th September 2007 19:00

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England v USA

Going nowhere: Cueto is stopped by Emerick

England won their opening World Cup match against the USA 28-10 in Lens on Saturday, but there were few positives to take from the performance, and disturbingly, not even a try bonus point.

Job done! That is about the only good thing one can say about England's opening match.

England captain Phil Vickery was the first to admit that, judging by this performance, his team will have a tough time defending the World Cup crown they won in Australia four years ago.

And Vickery's suggestion that the England changing room wouldn't be the happiest place in the world was closer to the truth he realised.

Others would use far stronger language to describe England's performance.

Leading 21-3 at half-time, despite a jittery first half, they looked home and dry. But England failed to push home the advantage they enjoyed in the set pieces and the second half ended with the teams each scoring just seven points.

Despite going up 28-3 in the 49th minute, the English ended up producing a second-half performance that can only be described as unadulterated horse manure.

Yes, it was that poor.

The English pack was clearly superior - stealing a number of American throws at line-outs and they also had the American scrum under constant pressure.

However, the Eagles managed to compete with the English at the breakdown and also matched them in the physical exchanges.

What must be most concerning to England coach Brian Ashton is that his team failed to turn their superior forward power into scores on the board - not withstanding stand-in fly-half Olly Barkley's at times sublime moments and slick play.

The Eagles, who looked the more structured of the two teams, showed they can compete at this level.

However, a lack of experience - which saw them often taking the wrong option - resulted in a number of golden opportunities being squandered.

The first scoring opportunity came in the sixth minute, with Olly Barkley slotting a penalty from 25 metres out after the Eagles backline drifted offside.

The Eagles were level two minutes later after England were penalised when an attempted maul went pear-shaped. Mike Hercus' penalty kick wasn't as well struck as that of Barkley, but it counted for the same number of points.

England should have been reduced to 14 men, possibly even permanently, after captain Phil Vickery kicked out at Eagles centre Paul Emerick. However, referee Jonathan Kaplan and his fellow match officials conspired to miss the blatant trip and Vickery was allowed to play on. He may well face a visit from the citing officer.

The English certainly did not have it all their own way, but they managed to open up a gap on the scoreboard, largely through the rub of the green rather than the performance on it.

Barkley slotted penalties in the 21st and 31st minutes - the second coming after Eagles centre Vahafolau Esikia was yellow carded for repeated infringements.

This also highlighted the inconsistencies by the match officials, as Esikia was certainly guilty of a lot less than Vickery and another dangerous tackle by England wing Jason Robinson.

England soon made their numerical advantage count, with Barkley using his boot to pass the ball right across the field to Jason Robinson on the left wing - who went over with no defender near him. Barkley's conversion attempt drifted wide, but at 14-3 England started to look like a team in command.

They scored once more, on the stroke of half-time, this time some great handling putting Barkley over for the second try - as the Eagles struggled to plug all the gaps, being a man down. Barkley slotted the conversion to give his team a 21-3 lead at the break.

But the scoreline belied the fact that England looked more like wilting roses than the marauding machine that won the Webb Ellis trophy four years ago.

Nine minutes into the second half the English stretched their lead even further - with flank Tom Rees driving over from a quick tap-'n-go. The call first went to the TMO, as the English loose forward went over in a heap of bodies, but the call came back that the try was good. The conversion by Barkley made it 28-3 and the match was effectively over as a contest. All that remained was a half hour for England to get that crucial fourth try.

The Americans kept plugging away and England's efforts continued to disappoint.

And when England were reduced to 14 men in the 74th minute, the Eagles scored their first try of the tournament - replacement prop Matekitonga Moeakiola barging his way over from a close-in penalty. Hercus' conversion made it 28-10 to England.

The US Eagles certainly finished the stronger of the two teams, although with time running out they were again reduced to 14 men - after centre Paul Emerick was yellow carded for a spear tackle on Barkley. Emerick, too, may join Vickery in the citing officer's dock.

The game ended with the Eagles taking away a moral victory and England four points on the standings, when five had been mandatory.

England's pack beefed around enough to suggest that South Africa should still face England as their crunch match. On the strength of this performance, England might now be more worried about Samoa.

Man of the match: The pre-match spotlight was firmly on him and our award goes to England fly-half Olly Barkley, who showed there is life after Jonny Wilkinson. Barkley had some really great patches in the game, including a number of sharp breaks.

Moment of the match: This has to go the flank Tom Rees' try in the 49th minute, the score which finally put the game beyond the brave Americans.

Villains of the match: The first half alone produced two England candidates - captain Phil Vickery for his trip on Emerick and Jason Robinson's awful tackle on an opponent. The match officials also deserve an dishonourable mention in this department, since they conspired to miss these blatant acts of foul play. Eagles centre Paul Emerick made a late entry into the ranks with a dangerous tackle on Barkley.

The scorers:

For England:

Tries: Robinson, Barkley, Rees

Cons: Barkley 2

Pens: Barkley 3

For USA:

Try: Moeakiola

Con: Hercus

Pen: Hercus

Yellow cards: Esikia (USA, 29, repeated infringements), Dallaglio (England, 73, professional foul), Emerick (USA, 79, dangerous tackle)

England: 15 Mark Cueto, 14 Josh Lewsey, 13 Jamie Noon, 12 Mike Catt, 11 Jason Robinson, 10 Olly Barkley, 9 Shaun Perry, 8 Lawrence Dallaglio, 7 Tom Rees, 6 Joe Worsley, 5 Ben Kay, 4 Simon Shaw, 3 Phil Vickery (c), 2 Mark Regan, 1 Andrew Sheridan.

Replacements: 16 George Chuter, 17 Matt Stevens, 18 Martin Corry, 19 Lewis Moody, 20 Peter Richards, 21 Andy Farrell , 22 Mathew Tait.

United States: 15 Chris Wyles, 14 Salesi Sika, 13 Paul Emerick, 12 Vahafolau Esikia, 11 Takudzwa Ngwenya, 10 Mike Hercus (c), 9 Chad Erskine, 8 Henry Bloomfield, 7 Todd Clever, 6 Louis Stanfill, 5 Mike Mangan, 4 Alec Parker, 3 Chris Osentowski, 2 Owen Lentz, 1 Mike MacDonald.

Replacements: 16 Blake Burdette, 17 Matekitonga Moeakiola, 18 AN Other, 19 Inaki Basauri, 20 Mike Petri, 21 Valenese Malifa, 22 Albert Tuipulotu.

Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)

Touch judges: Lyndon Bray (New Zealand), Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)

Television match official: Paul Honiss (New Zealand)

Assessor: Michel Lamoulie (France)

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