Intent good, execution less so

Mark Evans thinks work is now needed to back up all the planning
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The Independent Online

A wonderful win but it was close, too close for those who have the future of the game at heart. On the one side, a team trying to play with the ball in hand, dominating possession, putting together a series of multi-phase attacks. On the other, a well-prepared, defensively-orientated outfit ready to do anything - high tackles, time wasting, fake injuries - to keep their line intact.

A wonderful win but it was close, too close for those who have the future of the game at heart. On the one side, a team trying to play with the ball in hand, dominating possession, putting together a series of multi-phase attacks. On the other, a well-prepared, defensively-orientated outfit ready to do anything - high tackles, time wasting, fake injuries - to keep their line intact.

Granted, Australia took their try well, Joe Roff showing again what a dynamic presence he is when given space, but for most of the game they resembled nothing more than a well-organised football team getting 10 men behind the ball when playing away in Europe.

Winning dirty is the phrase usually used when a team triumph without playing well; but an Australian victory yesterday would have been a travesty. Admittedly their defence is excell-ent but they went well beyond what is acceptable in slowing down England's possession.

André Watson brandished a few yellow cards but they were not enough to stop the constant interruptions to play that the World Champions engineered.

From an English perspective it was not a great performance, albeit a great result. Too many balls were spilt in contact and silly penalties given away in their own half, with Mike Tindall and Phil Greening especially culpable.

But they have clearly estab-lished an identifiable style that all the players seem comfortable with. Coupled to this was a tremendous performance at the scrummage, disrupting what little possession the Australian pack tried to generate.

The game should finally put to rest that hoary old myth that southern hemisphere teams are committed to 15-man rugby whilst England persist with a stodgy, forward-orientated game plan. Only one team tried to play positively yesterday, and they wore white. The execution was not of the highest class but the intent was clear.

It would also be inaccurate to claim that this win was tarnished because it was only achieved against a tired Australian outfit. All their players had a longer break since the Tri Nations series than English international players can dream about. Home advantage is the key, not tiredness. England should always be favourites at Twickenham in November in the same way that a match in Sydney on a July evening would normally result in a win for the green and golds.

If one word sums up the area that needs improvement it is accuracy. Brian Ashton has done wonders in convincing his charges that width and depth in attack are the key, but yesterday the accuracy of passing was simply not up to scratch.

Similarly, Johnny Wilkinson did not have one of his more successful days in terms of offensive kicking. Defences are now so tight that a variety of kicks behind the opposition's line are an integral part of any overall attacking strategy.

Ironically it was one such kick from Iain Balshaw that resulted in the dramatic winning try. Simply "hitting up" is not enough at the highest level; without variety the opposition can absorb all the pressure and look to hit you on the break.

Rod Kafer hardly saw the ball all afternoon - his English counterpart had more than four times the amount of possession that the Australian pivot received - and yet it all came down to the video ref in the last minute of injury time.

One hesitates to say it but it is time to have yet another look at the laws, unless we wish to see more games pirated by well organised teams waiting for the other lot to make a mistake.

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