Lewis Moody Six Nations 2014 comment: Murrayfield will be just as intimidating as Paris but if England play the quick-ball game again they'll win back Calcutta Cup
The way England came back into the game in Paris after a poor start augurs well for Stuart Lancaster's team
Thursday 06 February 2014
If the new boys thought Paris was tough, they might have to revise that opinion after a first visit to the Scottish capital. I never won once at Murrayfield in four attempts. That is how difficult a place it is to go for English teams.
It is always a special game, arguably the one the Scots look forward to most. They throw the weight of history at it, invoking the great battles – Bannockburn etc – calling on deep resources and passion. It starts before the game, just wandering around town. You get a lot of scowls and comments from members of the public, having a dig at the England team. It is a very intimidating place in that sense.
Don't read too much into recent results. We know that Scottish rugby is not without its problems. Given the structural difficulties it has relating to the professional game, with only two regional sides, Glasgow and Edinburgh, from which to create the entire Scottish national side, it is a wonder they manage to put out the quality of teams they do.
The Scots certainly need to take a long, hard look at the professional set-up and how they get more people playing a game that a generation ago was so strong north of the border. But that is for another day. They still have some tough, hard characters, like my old Leicester colleague Jim Hamilton. David Denton is a big, abrasive ball carrier in the back row. Sean Maitland is a loss and there is no Tim Visser, two world-class wide men. But they still have individuals, like Stuart Hogg, who are capable of making things uncomfortable for England.
This is the Calcutta Cup, a trophy Scotland will not surrender without a heck of a fight, but I see this as a win for England. The way they came back into the game in Paris after the poor start augurs well for Stuart Lancaster's team. It was a real eye-opener for the three young lads that came into the team, and I'm pleased England have stuck with the same side. Jack Nowell had a few wobbly moments in the first half, but showed real promise towards the end of the game, particularly with ball in hand.
Luther Burrell was finding his feet a little early on but made some good line breaks and took his try really well. Jonny May was off after five minutes, so it is good to see him get another chance. And this will be another steep learning curve.
There was much to commend England's display in Paris, bar that first 20-minute nightmare. Everything that could go wrong did, a bit like Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl when the ball snapped over his head. France's first kick-off was missed by Joe Launchbury and hit Nowell, then bounced forward. It got worse from there.
But ultimately England were able to regroup and refocus, which is a very difficult thing to do in Paris. They controlled territory and possession after that and looked impressive doing so. The manner in which they came out in the second half was hugely encouraging when you look at the bigger picture and forward to next year's World Cup.
A few, like Danny Care, Dylan Hartley and Owen Farrell, had points to prove. The ambition they showed, Care and Hartley in particular, just pounding into that French line, taking the ball at full tilt time after time, made it a brilliant spectacle. The fans love it when the boys put themselves on the line like that, showing intent and desire. The result was snatched away from them but they will learn from that.
If any side is to be successful then you have to do the basics well, which is winning your line-outs, scrums, all the elements that allow you to retain the ball and use it. For the majority of the game England did that, creating opportunities for the backs to get into the game. Lancaster and the coaching staff talk a lot about speeding into the collision. You saw a lot of that in the second half when some of the running was just outstanding, getting England beyond the gain line.
That creates quick ball and that is what you want if you are trying to develop an expansive game. Quick ball does not allow defences to settle, and you can exploit space with dangerous runners like Care, Nowell and Burrell. It was great to see England take speed into the contact like that, keeping the defences honest and getting the ball into the wide areas that Lancaster's team are so desperate to exploit.
Farrell excelled, taking the ball hard to the line, holding it up late, taking the hit before offloading to Billy Vunipola and others to run into space. Care was equally impressive, creating confusion and anxiety in the opposition defence. They dovetailed really well together, which is so important.
Lancaster came in for a bit of stick over the substitutions, but I don't blame him for the changes he made. The ball was in play for around 46 minutes, which is about 10 minutes longer than normal. The boys were falling with cramp all over the place. England's bench is one of the team's strengths. I can't imagine any opposition will be thrilled to see the likes of Ben Morgan, Tom Youngs and Maku Vunipola trotting on to the pitch.
Defeat is not the end of England's championship hopes by any means. Wales will look at their performance against Italy and say they had a poor day at the office. But they are strengthened by the return of Sam Warburton and I would take them to edge the game in Dublin, but I don't say that with great confidence. France are obvious contenders to take the Six Nations after the win against England, but they have to maintain their consistency, which is one thing they don't always manage to do.
It is so difficult to predict who will prevail at this stage. France, England, Wales and Ireland all had indifferent periods in the opening round of matches. Things will be clearer after this weekend. The competition is still there for England to win.
They have to take the disappointment of that result in Paris and put it into each performance. After Scotland they have Ireland and Wales at Twickenham, and will want to make the most of home advantage.
I know England are hungry for silverware after finishing second in each of the last two years, and they showed in Paris what can be achieved when they put everything together.
Lewis Moody is a Land Rover HITZ ambassador. Land Rover are a partner of HITZ, a Premiership Rugby programme which tackles some of the greatest challenges facing young people today. jaguarlandrover.com/hitz/
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