Jonathan Davies: Memo to Robbo: you must do more than play to strength

Test rugby is all about balance and being able to vary the play
Click to follow
The Independent Online

There were two words England will have been repeating to themselves last night and they were not "easy victory". They were "quick ball, quick ball, quick ball".

Without it, they could struggle to beat France. Indeed, without it I believe they might struggle to overcome any top side.

Not that it was all negative for Andy Robinson, in fact nothing like it. They commanded so much possession and dominated so peerlessly in the last quarter yesterday that the result was never really in any doubt. And one should not just dismiss Italy's role in England's inability to score tries in that first half. The home defence was simply outstanding and with this level of commitment and this amount of heart they have been, and will be, a danger to all. Watch out Wales, watch out Scotland, watch out France, even. The Italians are no longer pushovers.

Saying that, if you can exert forward power like England did in Rome it is almost impossible for even the most dedicated opponents to compete for the full 80 minutes. The Italians were ultimately undone by the number of tackles they were forced to make (some three times more than England) and as John Kirwan, their former coach, pointed out some of their players cramped up in that closing spell due to the fact that they don't play first-class rugby every week. Nevertheless, that last try was cruel on them and the final scoreline did not reflect the game.

Their scrum more than held their own during that first half and they could easily have gone in leading. Their coaches should look long and hard at the poor tackling that Mike Tindall capitalised on with his first-half try. It was just too straightforward and a rare blip in their resistance.

For England this was one of the few times in that opening 40 when Hodgson received the quick ball a back line thrives on. Despite the fly-half being a deserved man-of-the-match - although, in truth, nobody really stood out - I think Charlie should have tried to boss the proceedings a bit more. There were times in that opening period when it was obvious that the ball needed to be dispatched to the three-quarters and Hodgson should have badgered Harry Ellis to do so. They proved in the latter stages that they have the wherewithal to cut through from deep and the Mark Cueto try, in particular, was an absolute joy. There should be, and palpably could be, much more of this.

I'm not saying that England need to be all gung-ho and fling it about willy-nilly, because their strength undoubtedly lies up front and they should play to it. But Test rugby is all about balance and being able to vary the play. Quick ball off the top of the line-out is one aspect they can brush up on.

On the whole, however, Robinson will be content, with his forwards going so well and the manner in which England are finishing their games.

Events in Paris will also have enhanced his good mood. France's schizophrenic performance highlighted their current fallibility while the way Ireland gifted them all those tries in the first half was truly calamitous.

It was a fine, rousing comeback, no doubt about it, but the Ireland coach, Eddie O'Sullivan, will be analysing all the mistakes and worrying. You cannot hope to win top-level games with that amount of errors.

England realise this and are keeping their mistakes to a minimum. There is another level they step up to now and if they can manage it then the Grand Slam is a tantalising possibility. For Italy, this was yet another brave defeat to console themselves with. They don't come much braver, though.

Comments