Lewis Moody: Great start for new England... but we're two years off a Slam
Moody Views: Tom Wood is the long-term favourite but I hope Chris Robshaw is captain for the rest of the Six Nations at least
Thursday 09 February 2012
Be patient with England – that's my plea. True, Stuart Lancaster and the boys have just achieved our first win in Scotland for eight years – a feat that, in the circumstances, I believe was rather remarkable – but we must be realistic in our hopes. And no, however much we all want it, those hopes shouldn't include a Grand Slam this season.
If we can beat Italy in Rome on Saturday then one more win in the three remaining games against the most potent opposition would constitute a success in my eyes. Next season, or even the season after, is when we should go into the Championship with our eyes on the silverware.
As it was, there was plenty to be positive about last Saturday. It was not pretty, but that was irrelevant for such an inexperienced side. It was all about the win, and the confidence will obviously do them good. It will do the coaching team a lot of good as well, as it showed they've been working on the right things.
What most impressed me, apart from, of course, the spirit, was the manner in which the team gelled. There were new combinations all over the pitch and, going in, that was a concern for me. But they shrugged off all the problems of unfamiliarity and linked up well. That was a real achievement seeing how little time they've spent together.
They will have had an interesting day on Tuesday analysing the tapes. The worrying issue was the holes Scotland located. They didn't score a try, but that was testimony to England's cover defence. Look at the way Ben Foden snuffed out Ross Rennie, after the flanker split England in two. That should have been a try and, looking back, England will probably deduce that they were fortunate their first line of defence wasn't punished. But I'm not too concerned about that. The Premiership is based on good defence and they will rectify it.
Individually, I thought the back row performed admirably. Tom Croft had a very physical game. He's known for handling the ball and his running skills, but it was great to see his other strengths highlighted – he put in an awful lot of graft. As did Phil Dowson, who at the grand old age of 30, showed up well, in my opinion, on his debut. Stuart may bring in Ben Morgan against Italy and it would be interesting to see what the young Scarlet would bring.
The spotlight was inevitably on Chris Robshaw, my successor, both as captain and open-side, and he rose to the challenge just as I expected him to. Chris is a very steady player who is tireless in his work. The stats said he was England's top tackler and top carrier and that sums him up. He will never let England down and for that reason I hope he remains captain for the rest of this Six Nations at least.
Tom Wood is clearly Lancaster's long-term favourite, but in Robshaw he has a rock-solid candidate. Captaincy is not just about what you say, but also about what your team-mates see as well. Chris is a good lad and the other players respect him.
I wouldn't be surprised if Stuart picks the same team for Italy. I fully expect Toby Flood to be the first-choice fly-half in the fullness of time. But Charlie Hodgson did nothing wrong, took his charged-down try well, and the coaches may just tell the same XV to go out there and to up the ante. There are quality young players such as Owen Farrell who are only going to improve. We must keep faith and think long term.
We should all acknowledge that Rome will be anything but a sight-seeing trip. It's only England and Ireland in the Six Nations who have yet to lose to Italy and that does stress me slightly. Some day the nightmare will unfold and the Italians will believe now, with England in the first stages of transition, is as good a time as any.
Jacques Brunel's team are similar to the Scots in that they don't have a great deal of attacking prowess, but, as everyone knows, they will really front up in the scrums, rucks, mauls and line-outs. England should try to get them on the run early. We don't want their crowd getting even a sniff of an upset.
I'm happy they saw sense over Ferris tackle
I'm glad commonsense ruled at the disciplinary hearing in Dublin yesterday and Stephen Ferris escaped further punishment for his supposed "tip-tackle" against Wales. I was pleased not only for him but also because a ban would have had implications for the rest of the Championship.
Most observers seem in agreement that Bradley Davies deserved red rather than yellow for spearing Donnacha Ryan off the ball and Wales appeared resigned to losing him for the tournament anyway. But I thought the yellow card, or even the match-losing penalty itself, was harsh on Ferris. Yet he was then cited. I thought at the time "hasn't he suffered enough?"
It always happens when there's a new rule. The referees and citing officers are told to be hot on it and so they are. They probably go over the top. But what the area of tip-tackling needs is understanding. I realise the safety implications, but we can't overlook this is a contact sport. If you get a good shot in on someone and they're at a certain angle, they're going up in the air. And players do try to writhe out of the tackle. The difference is whether the tackler forces the player into the floor. It's about intent. That might be difficult for the referees to interpret in real time. It's an easier distinction to make on video. I'm glad they made it with Stephen.
Glad to be just a fan, even if I still annoy the wife!
It was the moment I realised that I was not an international player but an "ex-" international player. I was sat on the sofa at home, watching England play Scotland and it suddenly hit me.
It was the right time for me to retire, but still, it was a strange feeling. I'd been in or around the national squad for more than a decade, but there I was watching the game – not stressing about being picked or being fit for the next game.
I thought that I would be relaxed but I was soon annoying my wife by shouting at the television screen. I managed not to swear, which was good, because the kids were watching the game with me. I guess that is just part and parcel of being a fan.
I hope to make my return for Bath against Newcastle on Saturday, so I'll have to watch the match from Rome on Sky-plus. I've been out for almost three months after a shoulder operation but, if I get through contact training, I am ready to go. I've really missed it and that proves to me I want to carry on for a good while yet. I'm a club player now. Who supports England.
My weekend picks
Italy 10-25 England
France 25-15 Ireland
Wales 30-18 Scotland
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