Jonathan Davies: England made to look vulnerable by their belief in total rugby

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The Independent Online

Samoa produced the finest rugby of the tournament and their ears deserve to be ringing with the acclaim of the world. But they lost. If England did nothing else right, and they didn't, they came away with victory and that is why they are No 1 in the ratings and why they are still the team to beat.

As near as they were brought to defeat by Samoan brilliance, it was England's belief in total rugby that was nearly their undoing.

It's a great theory that every player should be good enough to play in any position he finds himself - but not all at the same time, please. That's totally confusing.

There were so many would-be No 9s and No 10s on the pitch in Adelaide yesterday that the real No 9 and No 10 couldn't get a look-in.

That's partly their fault. If Matt Dawson and Jonny Wilkinson want to fulfil their roles properly they should make sure that they are in charge of their own space.

Wilkinson was not helped by the speed with which the Samoans closed him down. South Africa did the same and you may depend on the fact that the other big teams will have noted that taking a man out of the line to crowd him out can pay dividends.

Wilkinson is everything to the England team and he must put himself back in charge. Apart from the fact that there was a rare glitch in his goal-kicking, he did little that was creative. The cross-kick that led to Iain Balshaw's try was the only glimpse of vision and control we saw.

He must clear everyone out of his channel and restore himself as the hub of the team's decision-making.

But not even Wilkinson can do anything without the ball and the success Samoa enjoyed was down to the way they denied England possession. The stats show that in the first 10 minutes they had seen only six per cent of it.

We all knew that Samoa were capable of fast and scintillating attacking but I doubt if anyone expected them to be as well organised. Their coach, John Boe, has done a wonderful job and you could see the influence of that great flanker Michael Jones in the way they played in the loose and won turnover ball.

I've never seen England surrender so many turnovers and get so rattled. When they get flustered, which was often in this game, they tend to play a narrow game which is easy to defend against.

Now that the aura of invincibility that England brought into the tournament has had such a rude shaking in two successive games, their future opponents will be taking heart. Even Wales might be encouraged by the sight of the juggernaut spluttering.

But England could emerge the stronger for their experience. To get turned inside out as they were and still get a victory will not destroy their self-belief when they have had a few days to mull over the lessons.

I hope they don't go back to a 10-man game. It may have been brute strength and discipline among the forwards that brought two crucial tries yesterday but they are so close to the top that going back into their shell would be a mistake.

The return of Will Greenwood will make a big difference. They certainly missed him yesterday. People don't realise the advantage of having someone who so regularly gets over the gain line and has the knack of scoring.

With him and Josh Lewsey back in the side and with Wilkinson reasserting himself I reckon they will be really firing to put their World Cup back on track when they play Uruguay on Sunday.

As we approach the quarter-finals, interest in the tournament is beginning to pick up. I was very impressed with France on Saturday. They looked very classy in beating Scotland who, alone of the home nations, have yet to qualify.

I'm not over-confident of their chances against Fiji next Saturday because they find it difficult to score tries. Fiji don't, and will no doubt be inspired by Samoa's performance.

Wales and Ireland scraped through after similarly tight battles against teams who pounded them up front. Wales overcame Italy because they could score tries and the Italians couldn't.

Argentina, though a better side than Italy, also suffer from a lack of penetration and it was Ireland's ability to get over the goalline that made the difference in a tense, tight game.

Ireland played like a side under pressure. They knew they would struggle if they let Argentina drag them into an attritional game up front and that's what happened.

Credit the Irish for digging deep and keeping their shape. It was murderously hard but they kept going and had enough of a creative edge to shade it. Although we hardly saw the penetrative power of Brian O'Driscoll we saw plenty of Keith Wood, who was his inspirational self. Now, like Wales, Ireland can relax and concentrate on playing their game. They could even give France something to think about.

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