David Flatman: Passion can bear fruit but it doesn't win games
From the Front Row: Scotland started with a roar in Auckland but though they knocked England off course for much of the match they were not good enough to strike when it really mattered
Sunday 02 October 2011
If you're up for it, passion will get you through the first 20 minutes of a rugby match. If you're even more up for it than usual, it might see you to the half-hour. Scotland were so up for it that their eyes were practically popping out during the anthems. Ultimately, though, it wasn't enough. Passion didn't cut it.
"Gallant losers" is a label that the Scots must despise by now, but never has it been more apt. For 40 minutes they obeyed the orders of their boss, Andy Robinson, and created mayhem. The ball was wet and slippery and purchase was hard to come by. I don't think a single, co-ordinated backs move was seen through in this, one of the ugliest halves of rugby so far in this World Cup. Inevitably there were a huge number of handling errors and the ball seemed to spend more time bobbling around on the floor than it did flicking through the hands, being whipped accurately from player to player. Picture Rocky Balboa – in training for his big fight – trying unsuccessfully to corner and catch that evasive little chicken, and you get a fair idea of how the England players spent the first period.
With so many dropped and knocked balls came a lot of scrums. As the players ran in for half-time I feared that, against the odds, the scrum would be England's downfall. Euan Murray and his band of brothers came to hurt England in this area – to highlight the void left by the now departed Andrew Sheridan – and in the first half everything went according to plan, with England being repeatedly penalised. However, the half-time advice offered by Graham Rowntree, England's scrum coach, must have been bang on the money as from the 41st minute on the lumps in white showed immense power and resilience to turn the tables and pile the pressure on the Scottish pack.
This renewed impetus and the seizing of the initiative was what won England the game. That, as well as two moments I regarded as turning points. On the hour the Scots pilfered some English ball and quickly spun it wide to the wing Simon Danielli who, with room running out, put in a lovely, deep kick that came to a halt five metres from the English line. The chase was on, and it was led by the flying Chris Paterson. The England full-back, Ben Foden, had it all to do and he managed to reach the ball milliseconds before his pursuer. Had Paterson, a man with more Test caps than hairs on his head, got hold of Foden's shirt and completed a tacklethat, frankly, looked unmissable, England would have found themselves under more pressure than ever. And on their own line, to boot. Instead he slipped off Foden, allowed him to scamper away and, ultimately, activate the release valve.
But Scotland rose again and put together phase upon phase, giving England no sniff at the breakdown by hammering into it so hard that any potential poachers were blown away. Then Chris Cusiter shipped the ball to Ross Ford and he carried strongly before being tackled to the floor. But he felt he wasn't held by said tackler so didn't release the ball, got back up and kept running. An English penaltyfollowed. This would be excusable and even understandable had an identical penalty not been given against his team just minutes earlier. At this level the tiny details must be considered, and that means paying attention to the referee and observing what he, the man in charge, regards as an offence. These two incidents – though seemingly insignificant at the time – provided two huge let-offs for an England team under massive pressure.
The result meant that as Scotland looked towards home, the England team could forget the match and move forward in preparation for a quarter-final against an appropriately erraticFrench team. Not knowing which version of France will turn up makes this a mouthwatering prospect; one thing's for sure, England will need to start with far more intensity and flat-out aggression than they did against the Scots, if they want to progress. Basically, when that first whistle goes, they need to be more like Scotland.
Man for man marking
Ben Foden 7/10
In the tight matches, the full-back's tidy defence is getting more notices than any wow factor in attack. Witness his chase back to snuff out a Scotland counter from a charged-down Wilkinson drop.
Chris Ashton 7/10
The wheels are back on for the Wiganer, who looked a little off the pace in the first two pool matches. Took his try well and leads the tournament with six overall.
Manu Tuilagi 8/10
Had the measure of his opposite number, Lamont, which is to say that he twice almost cut the hefty Scot in two. Made a couple of offloads too, and was always going forward.
Mike Tindall 6/10
Ended up with a dead leg and a trodden-on ankle, and that was just thanks to his team-mates. Immensely strong in defensive tight spots but he is still no more a playmaker than Martin Johnson is a champion flower-arranger.
Delon Armitage 6/10
The full-back-cum-wing still seems unable to resist the occasional bad-mouthing or late hit on opponents, which is a shame. Otherwise, he justified his inclusion ahead of Mark Cueto with some dangerous runs.
Jonny Wilkinson 6/10
Succumbed to just a hint of panic while missing yet more kicks at goal and was then injured while performing some kind of knee-high tap tackle on a Scot. Yet his right-foot drop-goal on 56 minutes was pure class.
Ben Youngs 5/10
Another, like Ashton, whose summer was spent rehabilitating from injury rather than preparing for a World Cup. Snatched at his passes and got distracted giving needless backchat.
Matt Stevens 6/10
Returning from an ankle injury, he started slowly but improved. Has still suffered just the one defeat for club or country since his comeback from a drugs ban in January.
Steve Thompson 6/10
The lost line-outs will worry him and Dylan Hartley, his replacement late-ish in the piece; otherwise Thompson did his bit to rally his team-mates for the big push in the second half.
Dan Cole 7/10
Two early penalties were conceded but Cole kept at it, just as a phlegmatic Leicester prop should, and gradually asserted himself. That followed the pattern of recent matches.
Louis Deacon 6/10
The Tigers lock is never the most demonstrative of players on or off the field, so perhaps he let out a frustrated "well, really" when a good line-out drive was wasted by hesitation from Youngs and Dan Parks intercepted.
Courtney Lawes 5/10
Provided a genuine heart-in-mouth moment when he marked his return from two matches suspended, for kneeing a Puma, by colliding with Parks marginally late. The ball rarely came his way in the rest of the match.
Tom Croft 6/10
Made a mad dash back to deny Richie Gray a try from one of a number of kicks, which was one way of using his great pace, we suppose.
James Haskell 5/10
Will doubtless be blaming the wind for his misjudgment of a catch of a Scottish kick by about five feet. Never built up a head of steam and eventually went off.
Lewis Moody 5/10
The captain must be cleaning pharmacies up and down New Zealand out of plaster to tape his knee before matches. Still not at full pelt – here, a stray stud in the eye drew blood to add to his impressive number of wounds.
Dylan Hartley Ran on with a will and participated in an England scrum that was growing in influence.
Alex Corbisiero Had 10 minutes or so to help England secure the win.
Tom Palmer Put in a tidy 20 minutes performance in place of Lawes.
Nick Easter Stung by being left out in favour of Haskell after injury, he played solidly.
Richard Wigglesworth Double-tidy, if that's a phrase, after coming on for the errant Youngs.
Toby Flood Able to put his shouted instructions into action for the final 10 minutes, he kicked a purler of a penalty and passed long to Ashton for the try.
Matt Banahan Made a false start, thinking he would be going on when Flood got the call, then had six minutes after Wilkinson went off.
Chris Paterson 7/10
Was absolutely walloped by Armitage, and thus had to answer the usual questions about what's two plus two and what his name was and where he lived. Answered them and carried on, but might not remember the England try. Which would be a blessing.
Max Evans 6/10
Bright, if without going close – or, more to the point, being put close – to a try. That would be the real cause of Scotland's downfall: no tries in three games despite having pace out wide.
Joe Ansbro 7/10
Sharp in the centre and when he moved to the wing to replace Evans in the second half – though, like Evans, he didn't really threaten the England line. Good tournament, all told.
Sean Lamont 6/10
Had a busy, muscular, bullocking-but-side-stepping start but there was a frustrating imprecision to him – a drop here, a penalty there. Hammered by Tuilagi, he started the second half on a (put on his) bum note. Scotland were a little off-key from there.
Simon Danielli 7/10
Went close in the move with which Scotland went closest, his kick being half-tidied by Foden before De Luca fumbled the follow-up. Kept Ashton quiet well enough... until the end.
Ruaridh Jackson N/A
Lasted four minutes before limping off with, evidently, a hamstring injury.
Mike Blair 8/10
Proper Scottish scrum-half stuff, sniping and nipping and tapping and going at the back of a pack that, for the first half at least, was thoroughly enjoying itself in messing up England's ball. Later a victim (or so it seemed) of one of those pre-planned substitutions that rather infest the modern game.
Allan Jacobsen 7/10
Excellent scrummaging in the first half, standing up to Cole, who lowered and glowered and towered over him but conceded penalties even when going forward. Off later, as the tide turned.
Ross Ford 7/10
Good game in the tight and in finding his locks in the line-out. Prominent in the loose which, as an ex-flanker (like Thompson), wasn't much of a surprise.
Euan Murray 8/10
Beat Stevens: a couple of penalties were marginal, but they were the result of the referee watching after earlier collapses and lost binds and even when the Englishman wasn't penalised, the line of his spine looked like a reading from a seismogram. Strong. And "large" too, for any Mick Skinner fans reading.
Richie Gray 7/10
Caused predictable problems for the England line-out, though when they concentrated on throwing to Croft he had less success. Croft also beat him to a Parks kick in goal, but few other locks would have even got close to it.
Alastair Kellock 7/10
Very similar effort to that put in by his second-row pal, if in a slightly more muscular, unseen way that corresponds with their (relatively) contrasting physiques. Not a stranger to giving away penalties at the breakdown, though these days, who is?
Alasdair Strokosch 7/10
Maybe suffered slightly in comparison with Croft in the second half, when the game had changed. In the first he was at the heart of a super effort by the Scotland pack, a proper, old-fashioned 40 minutes of hard work by an eight playing together for the greater good.
John Barclay 7/10
Tuilagi had to wait until the 22nd minute for his first run, and when he had it he had the Scotland openside round his ankles. A trickle of turnovers and penalties never quite turned into a feast, though, which suggests that the England back row did well. They had to.
Richie Vernon 8/10
Won his contest with Haskell and, later, Easter. Plays with his socks down, which with the odd creative flourish gives him a kind of rangey, sevens-ish appeal, but he puts his weight about as well as any 15s-bound troglodyte.
Dan Parks Practically a full game in place of Jackson, and a good one. Kicked very well from hand and at goal.
Nick De Luca Half the match, for Evans. Will remember his knock-on with the line open for a while.
Rob Rennie On for Barclay, like for like.
Nathan Hines On for Strokosch, strongly.
Alasdair Dickinson On for Jacobsen.
Chris Cusiter On for Blair.
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