As expected, England were able to restore order and beyond yesterday. Following their visits to water parks, they extended their rest and recuperation period by easing to a 17-try victory over Uruguay.
The Uruguayans, effectively an amateur team, peaked by beating Georgia four days ago. Despite some resistance from their forwards, ultimately they could not contain a rampant England, whose back row of Joe Worsley, Lawrence Dallaglio and Lewis Moody was dominant throughout. As well as he played, Worsley did himself and the team no favours by applauding himself off the field after his yellow card, giving ammunition to England's detractors.
As the forwards got on top, it released England's waves of attack and the exciting individual running talents of Jason Robinson, Josh Lewsey and co. In this context Iain Balshaw will be very disappointed to have been forced off the field with an ankle injury. At scrum-half Andy Gomarsall pressed his claims after demonstrating his all-round game.
The focus is now on Wales in the quarter-finals. The Welsh fought an enthralling and dramatic contest against New Zealand. The All Blacks had wanted a good work-out and they certainly got one. They even stared defeat in the face as Wales brought their own brand of attacking rugby to the game, took the lead and sought to build on it. It was a great performance from Wales, who played with the spirit and skill of yore.
Can Wales reproduce against England the form and passion they displayed yesterday? Such was the intensity of the battle that they will have spent energies they may have wanted to preserve until next weekend.
For their part England have scored points in abundance against Georgia and Uruguay. The Samoans would also have fallen into that category, given their narrow playing base and lack of funds, until their memorable display of running rugby and resolute defence against England, underpinned by a great desire to succeed. Underestimating Samoa was ultimately good for England, who foundered for a while under the pressure and learned some timely lessons. Following on from South Africa's strong challenge, the unexpectedly ferocious Samoan effort will have put England on full alert.
From now on it is knock-out rugby, where the bounce of the ball and the referee's decisions can be fatal, no matter who the opposition are. This was therefore a much-needed wake-up call to shake England out of any complacency on the verge of the quarter-finals and should result in a revision of tactics and how to implement them.
England need experienced playmakers such as Matt Dawson and Jonny Wilkinson at half-back, to be the first receivers of the ball from the scrum, line-out and ruck. If anyone doubts that, look at how the best rugby league is played. The 15-man version of the game has gravitated that way. In this way England will re-establish their successful playing structure.
The make-up of the team and individual form of players also need to be reviewed. It is largely an exercise in confirmation, but the coach has singled out Dallaglio in particular as one key player to have underperformed. Dallaglio is reported as saying that it is not only him, but all of the players who have to go through the gears.
Overall it is time to break away from the idea of England as favourites, with an armchair ride to the final. England need to take each match as it comes and to think as a team, supported by individual contributions. Wilkinson's goalkicking, for example, should be just one element of the points-scoring, not the critical part, as it has been on some recent occasions.
England's efficiency - that is to say, the technical ability of proven international players to win and control ball - is at the core of their game. This allows them to build their trademark waves of attacks and bring into play the game-breaking skills of Ben Cohen, Robinson, Balshaw and Lewsey among others in the backs, not forgetting in this respect the potency of the hooker, Steve Thompson.
But who else is there in the pack? Powerful ball-carrying forwards who take it up and break tackles are critical to the armoury of the successful teams. Jerry Collins, of New Zealand, Juan Smith and Joe van Niekerk, of South Africa, and Olivier Magne, of France, are all fine ball-runners, which is why the absence of Toutai Kefu has been felt so keenly by Australia.
Hence the focus on Dallaglio, about whom Woodward is openly concerned. At his best, Dallaglio is an athlete, quick and powerful, capable of explosive ball-running. As well as he grafted against South Africa, England need this athletic dimension to his game.
Yesterday's match indicated that Dallaglio had indeed got the message as he kick-started his personal contribution, but that was against opponents with only four full-time professionals. At least he appears to have taken heed of the criticism.
Perhaps more relevant is the fact that Richard Hill has been badly missed in the England back row, where his all-round ability knits the forward effort together. His return for the quarter-final would be welcome. That apart, the only issue is where Robinson would be most effective, wing or full-back. Understandably he has been played at full-back to maximise the space in which to utilise his unique running skills.
With opponents now wise to this, he could well revert to his natural position on the wing and thus allow the out and out fullback skills of Lewsey or Balshaw (if fit) to be employed in the No 15 shirt. Both are incisive runners, as we were reminded against Uruguay.
This, though, is fine tuning. Fundamentally England remain formidable: a glance at the results confirms that. The introspection from the games against South Africa and Samoa, compounded by the furore over the 16th man against the South Sea islanders, has been overdone. These challenges should make them stronger and more ready for battle, and battle it most certainly will be if Wales repeat yesterday's efforts.
Jack Rowell, Bath's director of rugby, coached England from 1995-97Reuse content