There is nothing like a World Cup to maximise the tension within a squad, especially a squad uneasy with itself. Brian Smith, the England attack coach, did his level best yesterday to paper over any cracks that might be appearing – "We're not the kind of group where fingers are pointed in public," insisted the Australian – but Toby Flood, (right) the team's best player in the deeply flawed performance against Georgia at the weekend, had no hesitation in joining James Haskell and Ben Youngs in expressing his dissatisfaction with some of the things that are going on.
"We're pleased with bits of our game and frustrated with massive parts of it," the outside-half admitted. "We said beforehand that we wouldn't do X and Y, then did it. We're causing ourselves a lot of strife and we have to accept that to get where we want to be, we have to raise our game massively. I see it as a personal ownership thing: the problems are more down to individual decision-making than to anything structural, like the line-out malfunctioning or the scrum going backwards or people not being able to catch. Instead of sticking to our plan for 20, 30, 40 minutes, we're not sticking to it at all."
This theme has been running through England's performances at Test level for many a long month, as Flood openly acknowledged. "Tell me about it," he said. "It's like a self-fulfilling prophecy. In the week leading into the Georgia game we stressed the importance of trusting our defensive system, of saying: 'There's no reason to rush anything because we'll get the ball back at some point.' Yet we didn't follow through on that and as a result, we found ourselves 11-2 down on the penalty count in the first half. It didn't have to happen that way, but we let anxiety and frustration get the better of us. I'd like to think this will do us a favour, that a kick up the arse will be good for us."
Smith pronounced himself pleased with aspects of England's attacking game. However, he conceded that parts of the performance were way below-par. "There was frustration at the way we started the game and frustration with the way we ended it," he said, "but somewhere in the middle there was some decent rugby played. Certainly, we won't brush anything under the carpet: some guys will get sorted during the course of our team meetings, others will get sorted one-on-one. What we won't do is sort them in public."
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