Lewis Moody: Joseph's call-up shows Lancaster is not afraid to gamble on talent
Saturday 16 June 2012
Stuart Lancaster has shown that he is prepared to be bold with the introduction of Jonathan Joseph at centre. As he showed in the midweek match at Kimberley he is an exciting talent and, although it is considered a risk in this environment, it will be interesting to see how he handles the step up.
The coach obviously recognised a need for change. I have no problem with that. The back line did not function as it should in the first Test and the kicking out of hand definitely needs improving, but I do not agree with the demotion of Owen Farrell.
He had a bad day at the office last week but he is still a fantastic prospect for England and I'm sure he will deal with the disappointment of being the only player dropped to the bench in the same manner that he has dealt with everything else in his short international career – with a level head and a determination to get back in the side.
Joseph offers a very different attacking threat to Manu Tuilagi and Brad Barritt, and it is good to see the return of Toby Flood at 10 and David Strettle on the wing. Hopefully Flood's selection will add a bit of experience and as a result steady the ship in that area of the pitch as well as improving the quality of our kicking game.
In rugby there are numerous ways of using the kick, particularly the box kick. If you are under sustained pressure you are going to box kick it straight out as far as you can so you get to a set-piece and regroup. Or, as more teams do, you are going to box kick to compete with the intention of getting it back.
That is what South Africa did well and we did poorly. Whether it was from fly-half or scrum-half we didn't get the ball close enough to our players to be able to compete in the air or on the ground. That gave Bryan Habana and Zane Kirchner a lot of opportunities to run. Give Habana an opportunity to run and he is going to take it, which he did.
The scrum-halves and fly-halves spend a lot of time on their kicking. Whether the rest of the team spend as much time on the chase, working on the box kick, making sure which individuals are involved in the chase, is another matter. If you lose your key chasers and you are not sure who is doing the chase you end up giving the ball straight back.
On a positive note, England dealt with the high balls that were raining down on them all game incredibly well. I loved the spirit in this side, the way they defended, the manner in which we stayed within a score of South Africa throughout the majority of the game, even though it looked like they might run away with it.
There were opportunities to kick at goal that South Africa turned down in favour of a lineout or a scrum because they thought they could finish the English off. It was to the great credit of the English defence that they kept South Africa out. They could have been a further 12 points ahead had they chosen to take the penalties.
A lot of those came from the scrum, which was a bit of a surprise. We have a great coach in Graham Rowntree and always have a fantastic scrum. By no means were the pack dominated but we did give away silly penalties that on another day might prove more costly.
In the lineout I felt England were superior to South Africa. England won all their own ball and it was unfortunate that we couldn't keep the pressure on as we wanted to. That said, if you look at the number of sorties into their half, we took good points every time we got into their 22. We just didn't do it often enough and that is one of the areas England will be looking at – how to break down the South African defence better and create some real opportunities.
But we have to maintain some perspective. The expectations were high on the basis of what England achieved in the Six Nations. But the reality is this team is in the early stages of its development. If we allow the players to learn without heaping too much pressure on them, without being too negative when they lose, then we have a chance of making progress.
The next two games will be tough but they will be massive learning experiences mentally and physically. To come away from a three-Test series against the toughest opposition the game has to offer on its own turf will help mould this unit into a better team.
The lessons learned will be huge. The reality is that at international level you have to accept that you can't win every game.
We must keep the ball better and longer
When we are in possession we need to keep hold of the ball for longer periods. We need to create sustained pressure and you can only do that by having the ball. Whether we do that like South Africa do by bashing away, putting up high kicks etc, is something I'm sure the coaches will have worked on.
The kicking game needs to improve significantly in the rest of the series. We need to come up with some options. That doesn't mean re-inventing the wheel, just making kicks contestable.
They will also have made some adjustments to the scrum. South Africa are a very physical, well-drilled set-piece side. Though England have always been strong in the scrum that is an area we need to address. The defence has been impressive – really stoic at times – so that does not worry me in the slightest. What I would like to see, however, is for the defence to get off the line that bit quicker and not allow their runners as many opportunities to carry the ball. Let's knock them back a bit quicker, stop them at source.
At Kimberley the boys absorbed so many tackles that they almost blew themselves out and in the last 20 minutes South Africa had more opportunities as a result.
It's attitude not altitude
The altitude of Johannesburg makes it harder for the opposition. I'm not saying it makes a huge difference in terms of points, but it is a factor.
International rugby is hard wherever you play it. You are going to be on the edge in any location, but South Africa are used to playing at altitude and benefit from an improved base fitness level.
Theoretically the ball moves further and quicker through the air, something South Africa will not have to adapt to as it is familiar to them. But this England team will display huge heart and spirit, as they have throughout.
Lewis Moody is a TAG Heuer ambassador; TAG Heuer is the official watch of England Rugby.
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