England once again put on the counter-puncher’s gloves and scored a rake of wide-out tries through their three-quarters against a not-too-powerful Mighty Oaks.
Before I rhapsodize about a clinical, even scalpel-sharp English performance, it’s worth mentioning that this is definitely a weak Romanian team. They’ll be targeting their last match of the World Cup against Georgia. Having been beaten in a tight encounter with Scotland in the first game and shipped a heavy loss in their match against Argentina, there was very little for them in this game. The Mole is pretty certain that they were to a large extent keeping their powder dry for the encounter with their European Nations Cup rivals.
With that proviso out of the way, England were good. They scored eight tries through their outside backs, both Chris Ashton and Mark Cueto bagging a hat-trick of tries each with fullback Foden and centre Manu Tuilagi getting on the scoreboard in the second half. As against Georgia, the English outside backs looked pacy and dangerous. The game probably didn’t do much to help Johno make up his mind about the outhalf position. England scored five tries against hard-working opposition with le Jonny at out-half in the first period, and scored another five against a more disjointed outfit in the second half with Tobes pulling the strings.
Though Shontayne Hape got on the scoresheet twice against Georgia last week and Lord Tins of Tins-upon-Turnpike didn’t trouble the try-line this time around, the latter seems to offer more to the backline. Hape is an ordinary player at this level, and Tins has more football, way more experience and offers a lot more leadership.
Brand Haskell had a good game at No8, working well as a link man in the middle of the park. Firstly, he avoided the temptation to take the ball into contact as a first option; that’s a big improvement. He ran well in midfield to straighten the English attacking line, draw in tacklers and then release the ball to speedy threequarters in the bit of space his running threat had created. There’s no doubt that he’s a better fit there than at openside – that should go without saying, but stating the obvious is hardly a crime around here – and he’s a good replacement for heavy-set Nick Easter. On a side note, his stint with Ricoh Black Rams next year in Japan is ill-timed: it’s essentially an exile from international rugby, and he would otherwise be in a good position to take over from the Dulwich College old boy and cement his place in the white No8 jersey following the World Cup.
Tom Croft had a very good outing at blindside – well, in the No6 jersey. At his best, he’s an atypical blindside, better when he’s operating out in the wider tracts and down the tramlines than in the nitty-gritty of the close-in stuff. With Groovy Moody on the pitch he could well afford to stay out there where he’s most effective, especially against a third-rate team like the Romanian reserves. Tom Wood is a far more traditional blindside, and got twenty minutes at the end when Moody came off. He’s a fine, hard-nosed operator.
Something which has as yet gone unmentioned but was critical to England’s performance was their much improved discipline. It should be taken into account that Romania provided little physical opposition at the breakdown, so there was no need to play at the margins of the laws, but the English players out there showed that they could break the habit of giving away needless penalties. That will be an encouraging element of their performance for Johno.
And on a related note to the lack of meaningful competition at the breakdown … it’s difficult to accurately judge set-pieces against third-tier opposition. There’s no doubt that the English scrum is less dangerous with big Ted Sheridan off home, but just how good the propping corps of Corbisiero, Stevens and Cole are will be much clearer after the game against the Scots. Still, you can only beat who’s in front of you, and England beat this Romanian team with a fine team effort and precision finishing.