Brutal England show Johnson right signals
Sunday 28 August 2011
Make no mistake; this was no warm-up game. Well, technically it was, but it was ultimately one hell of a Test match. It had everything; a ferocious battle at the scrummage, car crash collisions all over the park and one or two moments of brilliance providing that creative spark we all wantedto see.
Sadly, it also saw a boatload of players get injured. Some never managed to start the game but others – like Ireland's David Wallace who, after running down a tight alleyway and into a poised Manu Tuilagi – left the field in serious pain. All we can do is pray that they are all fit to board their respective planes to New Zealand.
For England this marked a timely return to form. The loss to Wales in Cardiff two weeks ago was by no means a disaster, but the way that match seemed just to fizzle limply towards its conclusion did leave punters wondering just where a winning England team would come from.
Well, a couple of the changes made by Martin Johnson served to unlock much of his team's potential. Andrew Sheridan made his first start for some time after shoulder, biceps and knee injuries but he made his presence felt. In the scrum England were pushed very hard by an excellent Irish trio and, once or twice, driven off the ball.
But Sheridan, along withhis extra large friends Steve Thompson and Dan Cole, were ever resilient and, overall, dominant. But he carried, too, and tackled with accuracy, and smashed rucks with venom. Yes, Alex Corbisiero has done extremely well these last few months and certainly looks the part but this was, for Sheridan, the performance that showed us why Johnson and Co have such faith in him.
Probably the most important selection was that of Tuilagi in the centre. We knew he had animal power and balance in attack but were worried that, left out there in the wilderness that is outside centre, his inexperience might cost England in defence.
The decision to run him at outside centre in attack and inside centre in defence seems obvious now, since it worked perfectly. With England in possession Ireland had not only Tuilagi's explosiveness to worry about but also Tindall's creativity in a distributing, decision-making role. He was fantastic. We saw him defend as we know he can and we saw him kicking, too, with a subtlety many doubted he possessed. This is the centre partnership for the World Cup, that's for sure.
They say World Cups are all about momentum. Well, neither of these teams has much of that to speak of. Ireland will arrive in the land of the long white cloud hoping to instantly arrest a horrid period of form. England, though, after yesterday, will land with a renewed confidence in what they are trying to achieve.
The game they implemented in Dublin was, in most areas, one that can win tournaments. It was brutal and direct up front, which is exhausting to play against. It was hugely organised and energetic in defence and the leaders came to the fore. Thompson was your old school pack leader, barking at his men before and throughout every set piece and pushing his big, battered face into that of any Irishman he could find. Tindall, after opting for the corner one time too many in Cardiff, used Wilkinson's boot to appropriate effect; his arm bolting up towards the posts like a Chicago windsock every time the referee's whistle blew in the opposition half. It was gritty, but it was masterful.
The penalty count wasn't quite so positive for England, however, and they need to remedy this before they play Argentina in two weeks.These offences were invariably for infringements at thebreakdown.
So just a bit of clear thinking required, then? Good, because we don't want them backing off, we want them piling in and causing mayhem. It turns out they're quite good at it.
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