England ready to carry fight to autumn rivals

Stuart Lancaster’s side will need to show a ruthless side against their southern hemisphere opponents next month, writes Hugh Godwin

There is no reason to doubt that Martin Johnson, Jonny Wilkinson and the other members of England’s 2003 World Cup winning team will be greeted with anything other than the warmest rapture when they parade around Twickenham at half-time of next Saturday’s match with Australia. But what state will the present-day England be in at that point?

Striding towards a winning start in an autumn series that concludes, as it did last year, with a tilt at New Zealand? Or anxiously fretting that, as with last year, they might be on the wrong end of an ambush by the unfancied Aussies?

The Rugby Football Union are pushing the boat out for the 10-year celebrations with a black-tie gig to be attended by the 2003 team in Battersea Park on Friday evening, even though the precise anniversary is 22 November, six days after the New Zealand match.

Perhaps it was less palatable than the dinner menu being prepared by Angela Hartnett to envisage the mighty Johnno and saintly Wilko taking a lap of honour at HQ when the All Blacks, with a rampant 10 victories in 10 matches this year, might be laying waste to it. Right now, it is obligatory when contemplating the QBE Internationals, which have Argentina on 9 November as the beef in the Australia-New Zealand sandwich, to believe anything is possible.

England’s management, to be fair to them, have been scrupulously pronouncing the crushing loss to Wales in Cardiff last March as their primary frame of reference, rather than the win over New Zealand last November – the world champions’ solitary defeat in 31 matches since August 2011.

While Wales’s galloping flankers Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric went on the Lions tour, their England counterpart Chris Robshaw went on holiday. Last Wednesday, when Robshaw was reappointed as England captain, his head coach, Stuart Lancaster, stated the well-liked Harlequin had “done nothing wrong”, making it an “easy decision” to pick him, although it was certainly a by-product of the back-row selection being compromised by Tom Croft’s injury and no pressing case being made by Gloucester’s Matt Kvesic or anyone else for Robshaw’s No 7 jersey.

England will rely on big ball-carriers such as Billy Vunipola at No 8 and the likely debutant Joel Tomkins at outside centre to offset on the gainline what Robshaw’s need to improve his foot speed might concede to Australia’s Michael Hooper and New Zealand’s Richie McCaw and Sam Cane in support play and reaching the breakdown.

And Robshaw has a recent history of debatable calls. When England lost at home to Australia and South Africa last autumn, as well as with Harlequins, when there has been a choice of line-out or scrum after a penalty award, Robshaw has sometimes gone for the unconventional and found it to be unsuccessful.

The lessons of Cardiff, and of Lancaster’s assistants Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree with the winning Lions in Australia have coloured England’s thinking. Watching Northampton’s Courtney Lawes and Tom Wood ruthlessly clearing out rucks against Ospreys last Sunday felt like a rehearsal for the next three weeks. “Sometimes you’ve got to get your best athletes on the field,” says Rowntree, in debating the second-row choice between the in-form marauder Lawes, the cerebral line-out caller Geoff Parling, Wasps’ all-court Joe Launchbury and Bath’s bulky enforcer Dave Attwood.

“I’m just excited at the minute,” says Lawes, who has been held back by injuries and suspension since his Test debut against Australia in 2009.

“I think I’ve settled into my role at Saints, I’m not looking for the big hit, I’m thinking more about where I need to be to get my hands on the ball. I’ve got my confidence back in carrying – and defensively, in terms of reading the game, I am doing much better.”

He made 20 tackles a week ago, although the “intelligent” Wallabies, as Parling describes them, surely won’t make the Ospreys’ mistake of lining up a small wing opposite Lawes on his starting blocks.

Lawes has been learning to run a line-out, as a back-up or alternative to Parling, who did travel with the Lions and played in every Test, starting in the second and third after Paul O’Connell broke an arm. “There’s a good energy among England’s players to push each other in training and bring the best out of each other,” says Parling, who was name-checked by Lancaster in a “core group of leaders” with Wood, Dylan Hartley, Toby Flood and Lee Dickson.

Parling, who appears uncertain that Ireland’s George Clancy will referee the Australian scrum with the rigour the Lions enjoyed from France’s Romain Poite in Sydney, says of the captaincy: “Everybody has an off day when you need help from players around you. But I do think it’s important that the guy that’s making decisions, the guy that has that last word, says it with authority and he backs himself.”

Parling also articulates a hunger  his great Leicester and Lions predecessor Johnson would recognise. “Last year they had a 10-year anniversary dinner at Leicester for when we won the Heineken Cup and that pisses me off. I want it to be a one-year dinner, because I want us to have won the Heineken Cup. The past means nothing to me, really. With England, we haven’t won anything yet. An autumn series or a Six Nations – that’s got to be the target now, to actually win something.”

Autumn internationals:

England -

Sat 2 Nov: v Australia (2.30pm)

Sat 9 Nov: v Argentina (2.30pm)

Sat 16 Nov: v New Zealand (2.30pm)

Wales -

Sat 9 Nov: v South Africa (5.30pm)

Sat 16 Nov: v Argentina (2.30pm)

Sat 23 Nov: v Tonga (7.30pm)

Sat 30 Nov: v Australia (5pm)

Scotland -

Sat 9 Nov: v Japan (2.30pm)

Sun 17 Nov: v South Africa (3pm)

Sat 23 Nov: v Australia (6pm)

Ireland -

Sat 9 Nov: v Samoa (5.45pm)

Sun 24 Nov: v New Zealand (2pm)

France -

Sat 9 Nov: v New Zealand (9pm)

Sat 16 Nov: v Tonga (6pm)

Sat 23 Nov: v South Africa (9pm)

Italy -

Sat 9 Nov: v Australia (3pm)

Sat 16 Nov: v Fiji (3pm)

Sat 23 Nov: v Argentina (3pm)

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
News
i100
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
people
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
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

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little