Chris Hewett: England were wrong not to kick for the sticks – but at least it was daring
As a general rule, in Test rugby you kick your goals as and when they arise
England will kick their goals – or at least, attempt to kick their goals – when they run up against the Springboks at Twickenham on Saturday, partly because the wave of criticism over their decision-making last weekend has forced them into a collective rethink over scoring strategy, but mostly because it is a damned sight harder to manhandle a South African pack from an attacking line-out than it is to make mincemeat of a bunch of Australians.
Chris Robshaw, the red-rose captain, has been roundly accused over the last couple of days for ignoring penalty chances while his side were 20-14 down to the Wallabies with a quarter of the game left to play. Stuart Lancaster, the coach, has joined him in the dock, largely on the say-so of his predecessor Sir Clive Woodward, who expressed the view that a little foresight might have saved an awful lot of hindsight. Such penalty calls should be pre-determined, argued the man who once saw his England side reject kickable goals for fun in a game against Wales and squander a Grand Slam as a consequence.
A couple of hours after the final whistle at the weekend, Robshaw could be heard going some way towards acknowledging that he should have asked his outside-half, Toby Flood, to kick for the sticks on at least one occasion and possibly two. Lancaster hinted at something similar yesterday after reviewing the game with his players, although he steered well clear of dishing out criticism of the personal variety.
Yet the coach's insistence that this was not a "black-and-white" issue probably resonated with a good proportion of the regulars in the Twickenham stands, who have watched deeply conservative England teams err on the side of caution for much of the last decade and now respond with enthusiasm to something just a little more daring.
Heaven knows, a driving maul from a five-metre line-out is not the height of rugby artistry, but only a dyed-in-the-wool curmudgeon would vilify a captain for attempting to overturn a six-point deficit with a converted try rather than chip away at it with the boot.
This is an inexperienced England side – nine of last weekend's starting line-up, including Robshaw, were still in single figures on the international cap count – and its members are brimming with good intentions. Some of their ideas will inevitably fall victim to the law of unintended consequences while others will be abandoned as naive or unworkable, but at least there is a spirit of can-do optimism about the current set-up. Compare that to the joyless negativity running through the team during last year's World Cup campaign in New Zealand.
As a general rule of thumb in Test rugby, you kick your goals as and when they arise. But is Robshaw really to be damned for thinking he and his fellow forwards had their Wallaby opponents by the balls, and that their hearts and minds would surely follow? He thought wrong, as it turned out, but at least he was being bold.
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