Lewis Moody: I can't see England beating South Africa - at least not this Saturday
Moody Views: What England are building towards is not this series but the next World Cup
Thursday 22 November 2012
It took Sir Clive Woodward seven years to win the World Cup with England. Stuart Lancaster does not have that time, but this is still a long-term project and there is a need for some perspective. Over the next couple of weeks it may be necessary for England supporters to remind themselves of that.
Right now I cannot see England beating South Africa or New Zealand. That is the immediate reality, but it does not mean the long-term plan is going to fail. These games provide a big test for Lancaster's England, a new test after the success of the Six Nations when they were one game short of a Grand Slam. The question is: how will they come through a period that may well include three straight defeats against southern hemisphere sides?
The making of this squad will be how they deal with these possible defeats. For any team, whether it is New Zealand or Woodward's England of 2003, on the journey to success there are always blips and it is how you navigate those blips that makes you the side you will become. There are plenty of areas that we need to improve upon but I am sure Lancaster will largely stick with the squad he has – a young one that will learn together and improve together.
There has been a lack of reality around the Australia game. The Wallabies were never going to be as poor as some were suggesting. There's no doubt at times England were naïve in terms of some of their decisions and they would have been disappointed with how the game unfolded upfront – it's an area England normally dominate but Australia won that battle. Yet they played some good rugby and a fine match was England's to win as much as Australia's.
There was an issue over decision-making and England should have taken the points on offer. Chris Robshaw will learn from that – as with a good coach, a captain can be taught plenty by a defeat. This a learning curve for Robshaw, a steep one. That was his 10th cap and nine of those have come as captain. In a way he is learning two jobs at the same time, being an international player and international captain. It is learning at the deep end.
I can relate to what happened with Robshaw against Australia last Saturday. There was one moment when he appeared to point for the posts only for Toby Flood to kick for the corner. Having been in those situations with Toby before I know he's always keen to look for the corner. As captain you have to enforce your own will sometimes against strong players with strong opinions. Robshaw is a good leader – he has shown that week after week with Harlequins – and he has to show that strength of character.
Overall I like the job he is doing, and as long as he has got the team strength around him, on and off the pitch, then I can see him and England coming through this. Keep in the back of your minds that what we are building towards is not the autumn series, or the defeat of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand – as welcome as that would be – but the next Six Nations and, most importantly, the next World Cup. That is what Lancaster has talked about, that is what Woodward's mantra was when he took over. He wanted to build a successful World Cup winning team, and it took him time.
There will be a natural change of personnel along the way as players come in and out of form. What Lancaster would like to do is keep faith with a majority of this squad so that when they get to the World Cup they have had lots of experience through good times and bad.
There is no mystery about what England are going to face on Saturday. In many ways it will be the complete opposite of last weekend's challenge. Australia and South Africa are different breeds of rugby teams. Australia are fast and will attack from everywhere. They are very intelligent in the way they play the game.
South Africa are different – it's bish, bash, bosh. They are going to hurt you and they are going to keep hurting you until they score a try. They will try and batter you over the line. Physical and direct, that is the style they love, a style structured around rigid patterns of play which are relentlessly and metronomically drummed into Heyneke Meyer's teams . The Spingboks head coach will be getting his ball-carriers into the game as often as he can with the aim of creating the displacement that will allow his back three to show what they have.
Whenever I played South Africa you knew what to expect: a bloody hard match and, if you won, it was because you put everything, physically and emotionally, into the game – you were left with nothing after 80 minutes. That's what is going to challenge England on Saturday. It won't be too intellectually testing in terms of rugby playing, instead it will be an immense physical and emotional challenge. Can England defend against wave after wave of giant South Africans coming at them as they build up a head of steam? That is why I can see Lancaster making changes for Saturday, adding bulk with Ben Morgan and Tom Wood.
What England will have to do is front up to the physical challenge and stop the big ball-carriers on the gain-line. If you match the Springboks' physicality you take away much of what they have. Then you can play your game, push them back into their 22 and make them look to play out from there, which is something they don't always do well. Manage that – which is a big ask – and the opportunities will come.
Alarming fall of Wales offset by rise of the minnows
I can't believe how badly Wales are playing at the minute – something has gone drastically wrong. This is a side that little over a year ago we were talking about potentially being in a World Cup final. They were the Grand Slam champions, the players were lauded, in particular the captain, Sam Warburton. Now the captain has gone from seemingly being a certainty to lead the Lions to struggling to start for Wales. They have lost to Argentina and Samoa, two good solid teams but not teams Wales should be losing to. There is a positive to this – if you're not Welsh that is – which is that world rugby is improving and in a much better place because of the rise of teams like Argentina and Samoa.
If you don't play well against these sides then you will get beaten.
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