Since November the England rugby team have won five matches in a row an on Saturday they face Wales, in Cardiff in the final and deciding game of the Six Nations. So what does the evidence of the last four months tell us.
First we can more or less discount the freak result against the world's top team, New Zealand as they were clearly exhausted at the end of a marathon season, in which they not been defeated since August 2011. England played well but it was just one if those days when it all went their way and, although famous, the victory cannot be compared the wins achieved by the dominant England team of 2001/2. The four wins against Scotland, Ireland, France and Italy are also inconclusive as the opposition is definitely of the second rank. Stumbling wins against a spirited Italy and a very poor French team are telling signs that the team, although workman like, lack any star quality. Much has been made if the work ethic and camaraderie and this is evident but its not enough.
Actually, the only star to emerge in the last year has been the coach Stuart Lancaster, who has had a pretty faultless year making the best of things with a young and untested squad.
In terms of performance its probably best to break the team down into it constituent parts :
The front five, always the corner stone of a good England team, are a young and hopefully improving unit but they are not destructive or frightening like their forebears. The raw material is there but they will have to improve a lot if we are to be world beaters.
The Loose forwards are a concern, Tom Wood plays out of position and we lack a real openside wing forward. The captain Robshaw has been inspired defensively but does not give us enough "go forward". The lack of a credible number eight is perhaps the greatest weakness of the team. I would play Wood at blind side, Croft at open but that leaves Robshaw without a berth. This area is our big problem.
The half back pairing of Youngs and Farrell are good enough and there is cover as well. Not so in the Centre where we have plenty of grunt but no finesse. Our inability to cross the line against Italy was a national embarrassment as we butchered chance after chance. Tuilagi is obviously a presence but without some brains inside he can be marshaled, as the Italian's showed.
Finally the back three are talented but miss-firing, both Ashton and Brown are suspect defensively as the conceded tries show. Goode is okay defensively but lacks pace and guile in attack. We need more pace at fifteen and better defence on the wings.
So can we win in Cardiff? Yes, mainly because the Welsh aren't a great side either and man for man England probably shade it. Obviously Youngs and Farrell must return and we should stick with the front five who started this week. It's too late to mess with the centre pairing but hopefully Farrell can get more out of Barritt and Tuilagi next week. In the back three I would bring in Foden and replace Brown who doesn't have the pace for wing. That leaves the real problem area of the loose forwards where we need (an on form) Morgan at number eight and Wood and Robshaw starting, with Haskell and Croft on the bench - with resolve to replace the talisman Robshaw if needs be.
|Robshaw - great leader but not indispensably?|
My guess is that England will win but they will need to achieve parity with the Welsh loose forwards at least an this is going to be very tough for our worthy but uninspiring yeomen.