SAfter New England's impressive win against Scotland at Murrayfield in
their Six Nations opener Rugby Rugby's Howard Johnson wonders whether
Interim Head Coach Stuart Lancaster has one particularly vital ingredient in his
England's bold new era got off to a wining start in Scotland thanks to
great defending, insipid Scottish attacking and a dollop of good, old-fashioned
luck. Rugby Rugby's Howard Johnson isn't complaining!
There's an old sporting adage that says it's better to be a lucky coach than a
good coach. And while it's perhaps too early to comment on England Interim
Head Coach Stuart Lancaster's technical abilities, it's maybe not so soon to say
that luck appears to be on his side. And given his new-look England side's
performance against Scotland at Murrayfield this weekend we might also
assume that luck comes in threes.
First, Scotland were sloppy and slapdash all over the pitch, unable to execute
any of their moves with precision, which allowed 'New England' a relatively
easy ride in their first match. Second, Charlie Hodgson managed to profit from
a rather hopeful chasedown when the hapless Dan Parks failed to clear his
lines and gifted the England fly half a simple touchdown. And third, Scotland
substitute Greig Laidlaw had a score quite rightly disallowed when he couldn't
apply downward pressure to the ball. But Laidlaw did brush it with his hand
and missed out on a score by mere millimetres. On such moments games can
turn. But let's not forget either that England went some way towards making
their own luck, working like dogs from first minute to last, showing a collective
will that bodes well for the future, while also giving the odd glimpse of a
brighter future ahead.
Lancaster won't be 100% satisfied with what his team gave him, but he will
know that an away win at the outset of a brand new era will be more vital to
him than a scintillating performance that still results in defeat. Pragmatism is a
word that's been pretty much banned around the England rugby team all of a
sudden. It brings back too many memories of the previous regime, apparently.
But Lancaster will know deep down inside that this first, highly pragmatic
victory in the 2012 Six Nations was just what the doctor ordered.
There will be any number of plus points noted in Lancaster's little black book.
Owen Farrell lived up to the hype by showing a cool head and an accurate boot
once he'd found his range, notching two penalties and one conversion. Skipper
Chris Robshaw made his presence felt at the breakdown and wasn't found
wanting when it came to showing the aggressive Scots that he wasn't about to
take a backward step either. Ben Foden ran the ball more than we've seen him
in the last 12 months combined, though to be fair this might have had more to
do with Dan Parks' awful kicking than anything else. Mouritz Botha made the
odd daft error, but overall produced an impressive display that gave England
some real second row beef.
On the negative side, Chris Ashton looked out of sorts and made some poor
decisions at times. And his opposite wing partner David Strettle didn't get
enough ball to do real damage. But it's logical to assume that a more
expansive game will come when the players have worked together for longer,
so nothing to get too upset about, really.
Next week's game away against Italy promises to be another scrappy affair,
despite the Azzurri's new coach Jacques Brunel trying to put a bit more of an
expansive slant on his team's game, if their defeat against the French in Paris
on Saturday is any kind of indication. I won't be expecting anything too
exciting in terms of game patterns, though. England will be forced to duke it
out again and hope that their superior talent will tell in the end. Lancaster
won't be too concerned if that's the way things work out. You're not under
pressure in the Six Nations when you play away from home. Winning is the
sole objective. But when Wales come to Twickenham on February 25 th the
likelihood is that England will need to find some swagger to match their
undoubted commitment. Still, let's not put the cart before the horses just yet.
The win in Scotland will do just fine for now and sets a solid base for the rest
of the tournament.
Lancaster, meanwhile, has stated that he'll be applying for the England job on
a full time basis and while he's been regarded as a real outsider for the
position from the off, no-one should forget that professional sport is a results-
based business. If the affable coach can get his team firing and post, say, four
wins on the board in this Six Nations, then he'd have a very compelling case
for being given the task of leading England permanently. The man in situ
surely has more cards in his deck than anyone else if things are going well. Of
course if things go badly, then the Scotland victory will be quickly forgotten.
But let's not head in that direction for the time being. An England win against
Scotland in Edinburgh has been a rare event in recent times. And alongside
Lancaster and his team, I for one am going to savour the moment for as long