James Lawton: Realist Moody needs to find switch to jolt his troops out of indiscipline

There are moments in this World Cup when an operating dumbness seems pretty much institutionalised

Click to follow
The Independent Online

In the end England were throwing around some decidedly un-dwarfish Georgians to quite decisive effect. So can we now say that all is well with England?

No, we can't. All we can really believe is that it is to the credit of returning captain Lewis Moody that he has stepped beyond the wall of denial surrounding the camp.

It is the one that had been growing taller ever since his deputy, Mike Tindall, and various team-mates put in their oafish performance at the Altitude bar last weekend, one that was even less uplifting than the desperate opening skirmish with Argentina.

Moody dismissed the second-half try surge which gave England a winning margin of 31 points. He preferred to dwell, as any responsible, fully paid-up professional might have done, on the fact that the Georgians, magnificently combative but still ranked 16th in the world, and more or less guaranteed to run out of gas after the break, got to half-time a mere seven points down.

Moody was also prepared to feed into the post-game computer another stream of bone-headed failures of discipline by England's pack that went almost entirely unexploited, some of them from eminently kickable positions.

It is true that England were similarly unprepossessing in the opening stages of the last two World Cups – despite beating the Georgians by a cricket score in Perth eight years ago – but still managed to finish, respectively, first and second. This time around, however, there are moments when an operating dumbness seems pretty much institutionalised.

Dylan Hartley, one of the dwarf groupies who, unlike the rested Tindall, had to prove that really his mind has never drifted too far from the challenge out on the field, saved his visit to the sin bin for precisely the time Georgia were making their last serious push to make some impact on a game reality said they were bound to lose by some distance.

It made the declaration of former skipper Will Carling that England's coaching showed every sign of being delivered by numbers doubly depressing in the wake of Ireland's brilliantly successful tactics against Australia, the team some hard judges had previously considered the tournament's true favourites.

What we saw again in England was the marked sense of a team uncomfortable in its own skin, powerfully equipped no doubt in many respects, but still without that authority which builds when key players know that they have done enough to become integral to any serious hopes of success.

Despite the Six Nations triumph, it took an impressive pre-embarkation victory in Dublin – one that began to resemble a touch of the miraculous even before the end of Saturday's remarkable triumph by the Irish – to suggest that England might indeed be in the process of moving forward.

Nothing that has happened Down Under – in or out of the Altitude bar – has done much to augment such an optimistic idea.

Perhaps the maiden World Cup tries of Manu Tuilagi, Shontayne Hape and Chris Ashton will help dispel some of the doubts. Maybe Toby Flood and Ben Youngs, who after his brilliant intervention against Argentina looked worryingly near a relapse at times of maximum Georgian pressure, can re-develop some of the fluency that was showing a few green shoots before the return of Jonny Wilkinson. Yet plainly the centre of the crisis resides up front, or, more precisely, above the shoulders.

Whatever the apologists say, including the argument that falling around a seedy bar in the middle of the most important challenge of their professional careers is somehow an admirable, even keynote strategy, there is certainly plenty of evidence thus far it is not a campaign which appears to be teeming with single-mindedness.

Moody said that England were sloppy at the point of breakdown, undisciplined to an alarming degree while conceding 14 penalties. Manager Johnson, brow furrowed deeply even by his own daunting standards, warned of an early trip home if some of the basics were not quickly mastered.

Of course, some teams take longer than others to come to cooking temperature. They have a flash of light, a burst of conviction. It happened to England in Australia in 2003 and in France four years ago. On the first occasion Sir Clive Woodward got the credit for his obsessive belief that he was in charge of potential world champions. In 2007, some senior players claimed they put themselves in charge of destiny.

What is certain now is that someone better flick a switch without too much delay. As it is, England look more than anything half-boiled.

Comments