Rugby Union: Testosterone tearaways give the game away

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The Independent Online
England's commitment to the cause is not in doubt, but their aggression, as David Llewellyn explains, needs to be harnessed for the common good.

England have been doing their Christmas shopping early to judge by the number of gifts they have been showering on their opponents. Another match, another day of indiscipline and consequently another high penalty count.

England had no sooner banned one man - Martin Johnson - for an injudicious punch on the All Black captain Justin Marshall, than they found themselves in danger of losing his replacement, Danny Grewcock, for a similar offence.

The Saracens lock was foolish enough to make an indiscreet attempt to punch out Springbok hooker James Dalton's lights. It could have reduced England to 14 men for the next hour and heaven knows how many points the South Africans would have run in by the end. As it was, he was lucky only to be shown the yellow card.

"The penalty count was unacceptable. It really cost us dear," Clive Woodward, the grim-faced England coach, said. "I was disappointed. We gave away a lot of silly penalties and it is something we really have been working on. I think our penalty count against New Zealand was 10, the previous week against Australia it was 11, I've no idea what it was today, but it was a lot, I do know that."

In fact the penalty count is climbing. England conceded 12 against the Boks. "You cannot win international matches if you do that," said Woodward. "You can do all the things in the world, but if you play against the world champions, and they are an outstanding team, you cannot afford to give away penalties like that. We kept giving them field position. One needless penalty cost us a kick at goal and another gave them a shot at goal."

Woodward's approach to ironing out he problem is not the obvious, however. "There is no point in bollocking the players. It's happened before," he said. "I will just roll the video clip forward for the next four or five minutes from the offence and make the player see and fully understand the consequences of that penalty."

In Johnson's case the clip must be the whole of the match, because his absence left England without the best front jumper in the world, so they had no out-and-out ball-winner at the line-out.

"I think you will see that most of their scores came from us giving away penalties," Woodward said. "And collectively we all have to take that on board."

It is to be hoped that Garath Archer, found guilty of illegal footwork later in the match, and Grewcock, as well as the rest of the youngsters in the England fold, will learn from these mistakes.

It is all very well being fired up for these top-level confrontations, and no one wants, or expects, any player to turn the other cheek, but the testosterone tearaways must learn to channel their aggression.

They had the perfect example on the pitch. Andre Venter, the colossus of the Springbok back row was sent off in a Tri-Nations match against New Zealand in the summer for stamping. At the time, South Africa were within touching distance of their opponents, but they went on to lose by a record score. At Twickenham he focused on the game and directed his energies to the team performance rather than settling personal scores or getting his retaliation in first.

That is what England need to do, focus their aggression on the common cause, especially if they are to meet Woodward's demands: "We've got to target a penalty count of fewer than six, because I think to win a big international you have to have a penalty count below that and still compete. It wasn't good enough today."