Defeats leave Lions share of problems

Humblings of the home nations will force coach Warren Gatland into major rethink ahead of next year's series in Australia

Twickenham

Warren Gatland was a thoughtful man when he arrived at Twickenham yesterday. He was even more thoughtful when he left, after watching a half-strength Australia – the country against whom he will coach the 2013 British & Irish Lions next summer – overcome England. At the start of this season, many pundits anticipated a Lions starting XV for the first of the three-match series with the Wallabies based firmly on last season's Grand Slam-winning Wales. But Wales lost all three of their games in Australia in the summer and this month have lurched from defeat in Cardiff against Argentina to an even more damaging loss on Friday to Samoa.

So Gatland needed a solid display from England to offer some solace and, to a degree, he received it. England played to the parameters of their experience but Australia's experience, even without Will Genia, David Pocock and James Horwill, was greater and, in essence, it won them the match.

Along the way they reminded Gatland (who probably did not need it) they are always capable of adapting to circumstances. This was a different Australia forward unit to that beaten so comprehensively by France a week earlier because it contained Ben Alexander at tighthead prop: their tight five was, in fact, the most settled area of Australia's XV and England, for all the speculation that they could once again undermine the opposing scrum, failed to do so.

Gatland has now watched all four home unions live (he was in Edinburgh and Dublin the previous weekend) and seen them all lose. What he needs to see is consistency, and he may have to wait a while for that. As one leading coach remarked recently: "The big thing with Wales is the confidence issue. That comes with momentum whereas England, for example, are different – even when they're crap, they always think they can win."

The point being made is that different teams have a different dynamic, and marrying those differences makes the task of the Lions coaching panel that much harder. Gatland believes he has great strength in depth in particular positions, one of which is the second row: he was not alone in being impressed by Richie Gray for Scotland against New Zealand.

Then along comes England's Joe Launchbury, just 21 and making only his second appearance yesterday off the bench. But almost immediately he became one of England's go-to players and, well as Tom Palmer and Geoff Parling played, Launchbury offers an athleticism which becomes even more appealing when you think of Australia's hard grounds.

Gatland has not asked for a panel of Lions selectors because, video analysis being so acute these days, he can lay hold of all the information he requires. But he will be talking to all the national coaches, and to club coaches, so that he can gain the necessary insight into the personalities of the individuals who eventually travel with him to Australia.

"I've got a really open mind, these autumn internationals are just about who impresses and puts down a marker," Gatland said. "It's an opportunity for some youngsters to step up on the big stage against some of the top teams in the world. If someone plays well, you have to take notice. You follow them closely and, if they play well the following week and so on, then they will really put themselves into contention."

So who, at this halfway stage of the November programme, are England's contenders? Alex Goode, at full-back, provided most of the creative sparks against Fiji and Australia though yesterday, because Australia had greater continuity of possession, he was out-generalled by Berrick Barnes, who has been playing international rugby more than five years and 40 caps longer.

Charlie Sharples, who scored two tries against Fiji, found life considerably harder on the wing, as did Tom Youngs at hooker. There were far fewer carries by Youngs, though he can take considerable heart from the fact that England's set-piece operated effectively; the inability of Tatafu Polota-Nau to do as much for Australia cost him his place in the line-up for the second half.

Neither of England's half-backs advanced their Lions claims significantly though the consistency of Toby Flood's goal-kicking and his willingness to take on the opposition back-row could be important. Nor did Chris Robshaw make too much of a stride as a potential Lions captain: midway through the second half, when points were on offer from penalties, Robshaw opted to go to the corner for a line-out and England came away with nothing.

That decision is entirely in character with Robshaw's leadership of his club but England, in the international environment, are not so far advanced as Harlequins on the club stage. Australia, so organised in defence, refused resolutely to give anything away.

The Wallabies have been here before, in 2005, when a savage run of injuries cost Eddie Jones his job as head coach. At one time or another this year, Robbie Deans has had 34 players unavailable, a fact disregarded by his many critics; now, though, Deans can envisage the prospect of adding the scalps of Italy and Wales to that of England, thereby ending 2012 in credit and retaining his job for the Lions series.

Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
news
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
people
Arts and Entertainment
Tulisa as a judge on the X Factor in 2012
tvLouis Walsh confirms star's return
Life and Style
fashionClothes shop opens on Bill Clinton Boulevard in Pristina
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone