England advance in slow motion

Dallaglio the efficient exception as Rowell's one-dimensional men display their old faults and disappoint a capacity crowd; England 27 Western Samoa 9 Tries: Dallaglio 60 Pens: K ellett 16, 21, 52 R Underwood 63 Cons: Grayson 60 Pens: Grayson 5, 9, 19, 33, 49
Click to follow
The Independent Online
MUCH more ominous for rugby's future than the general incompetence of England's play was the wretchedness of the spectacle before yet another capacity crowd at Twickenham. By no stretch of the imagination could this be described as entertainment and while England duly discharged one part of their responsibility, which was to win, they can take little comfort from the manner of it.

Jack Rowell, the England manager, said: "England were looking for the champagne, which only comes when you are celebrating. It is not the bread and butter game. I would rather we went back to last season's Five Nations' style. But after the interval we played some outstanding rugby. I was delighted with what the half-backs did."

It will not take long for people paying hugely inflated prices to tire of watching stolid fare such as this. It could, however, have been even worse and the referee who blew incessantly for all manner of law infringements and human frailties missed so much offside that he could quite legitimately have called the fitful proceedings to a halt at almost every ruck and maul.

In this it has to be said the Samoans were more sinners than sinned against, but equally it could be interpreted as an inability by England to channel their attacks in the right direction. It was also a sad commentary on the speed and efficiency of the support play which, Lawrence Dallaglio apart, was hopelessly ineffective.

England's lack of pace was demonstrated towards the end of the match when Jeremy Guscott broke free for the first time and ran 30 yards before being hunted down. The support, such as it was, trailed 10 yards behind.

Quite the worst aspect of England's play was their passing. Not one pass that mattered was accurate, the ball invariably being fired straight at or behind the intended taker. It was a lamentable display which, more than anything else, contributed to the lack of fluency and continuity.

One lost count of the times Ben Clarke appeared outside Paul Grayson in attack. It was, it transpired, the only offensive ploy England appeared to have, but it did nothing to inject pace into the moves, particularly as Clarke appears to have added substantially to his weight this season. He did contribute to one of England's two tries, coming off the back of a scrum and feeding inside to the ever-alert Dallaglio who scored.

It was Dallaglio who also set up the second, driving into the Samoan defence and laying the ball back for Matt Dawson. For the first and the only time in the match, England's running and passing appeared properly co-ordinated and Rory Underwood skipped inside to take Mike Catt's pass for the try.

Dawson and his half-back partner, Grayson, played admirably. Grayson's boot was occasionally touched by magic, not only in his goal-kicking but with a number of his line kicks. Without his five penalties, England would certainly have been in a mess. He is on the brink of what should be a long and fruitful international career, but not if England continue to perform as badly as this.

The Western Samoans have in recent times been savaged by the Southern hemisphere rugby powers, yet they looked more impressive as a team and more comfortable with the ball. As expected, they did rattle the ribcages of the English with their tackles and were several times cautioned for the recklessness of their tackling. But they were so much more creative in attack and deserved a return higher than three penalties from Darren Kellett.

In two or three lightning thrusts, they covered more ground than England, with their ponderously constructed manoeuvres, could achieve in 10 minutes.

Neither was there much comfort for England at the set-piece. Their recast front row never once got on to the front foot and on one occasion close to the Samoan line suffered the indignity of being hurled backwards. The line-out was more successful, but the Samoans had clearly worked hard at stalling England's secondary drives from the possession secured by their leviathans at this stage of play.

It was not a pretty sight, but then neither was it a pretty match. When, midway through the second half and before a try had been scored, Grayson was called up to take another penalty kick, he was roundly jeered. "It is incredible," Rowell said. "The crowd need to get behind England." There could certainly have been no more chilling reminder of how the game has changed in recent weeks.

ENGLAND: M Catt (Bath); D Hopley (Wasps), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), J Guscott (Bath), R Underwood (Leicester); P Grayson (Northampton), M Dawson; G Rowntree (Leicester), M Regan (Bristol), J Leonard (Harlequins), M Johnson (Leicester), M Bayfield, T Rodber (Northampton), L Dallaglio (Wasps), B Clarke (Bath).

WESTERN SAMOA: H V Patu (Vaiala); B Lima (Marist), T Vaega, G Leaupepe (Te Atatu), A Telea (Petone); D Kellett (Ponsonby), J Filemu (Wellington); M Mika (Otago Univ), T Leiasamaiva'o (Wellington), P Fatialofa (Manukau), P Leavasa (Apia), F Falaniko (Marist), S Kaleta (Ponsonby), S Vaifale, P Lam (Marist, capt).

Referee: I Rogers (South Africa).

Comments