Peter Bills: England victory is an enormous step forward

In certain British, Irish and European circles during the course of the weekend, there was some criticism of England’s performance in Cardiff at the start of the new Six Nations season.

Two tries, to be sure, by the increasingly dangerous finisher Chris Ashton. But where was the pizzazz, the dynamic England need to prove themselves serious challengers at the Rugby World Cup later this year?



Well, you can be hyper critical. But for me, this was a mentality of getting a job done and England did it, solidly and professionally. A win, any win was absolutely vital for England in Cardiff. To have lost there again, when they hadn’t won in the Welsh capital since 2003, would have been a disastrous opening to this highly important year.



Cardiff long since became a banana skin for England rugby teams, so any win was of critical importance, especially in these circumstances. If England are to start the long climb back to international rugby respectability, they have to start bossing their own manor.



Nor should we overlook the fact that this has been one of the poorest eras for English rugby, certainly at international level. All that money invested, all those vast salaries paid to Twickenham officials and players alike. And yet, all those defeats, all those failed seasons.



The drought, which began immediately the World Cup was won in 2003, has continued ever since. Not a single Championship title, still less the sniff of a Grand Slam.



So with all this in mind, last Friday at Cardiff represented a match of enormous significance. Had they lost it, England would, in all probability, have been staring at another failed season. But the future already seems so much more alluring with that single victory in the bag.



Of course, there are many areas to improve, aspects of the play on which to work. England still look alarmingly short of true world class at centre, and there is no history of a team with such technically limited centres winning a World Cup.



Mike Tindall’s passing remains often an embarrassment at this level while Shontayne Hape is yet to convince neutral judges that he has the ability to flourish on the Test stage.



Yet there were other compensations. Toby Flood’s clear step forward in the cauldron of the international game was a badly needed fillip, whilst the back three remain one of the most dangerous units in world rugby.



You can debate individual positions and specific players all day long and everyone will have their own views. But what counts ultimately are two things; the team and the result.



By winning, England did what they simply had to do. And their team will be immensely better off psychologically for that.



Sport, any sport played at the highest level, requires the psychological element to be in rude health. England haven’t felt positive about themselves for years, partly because they haven’t been given the necessary structure and pattern behind the scenes, to develop that confidence.



Sacking coaches, chopping and changing captains and personnel are decisions that damage the continuity of any would be successful side or individual. Yet at last, you sense, there is a feeling of stability within the England structure. Martin Johnson’s considerable presence looms increasingly large upon it, and that is no bad thing. England have needed a talisman for an awful long time.



Johnson is the last person who will fool himself as to where England stand at the present time. It’s easy to say, they now have three games at Twickenham by the end of which they should have a hand on the Championship trophy.



Teams of genuine, proven world class might be able to afford that luxury of expectation but England are not yet one of them. They need to focus on every single match because if they don’t, they’re quite likely to end up losing some of them.



There is reason for guarded optimism, there are clear signs of progress. But much, much more remains to be done before tangible results can be seen.



Yet every team has to start somewhere, especially after such a long barren period of failure. Victory in Cardiff was essential in that respect and England achieved it. In the context of the rest of this Championship, the rest of this year and the seasons to come, winning was all that mattered.



Credit Johnson’s men, therefore, that they achieved that first step.

News
Pro-Russia rebels guard a train containing the bodies of victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 crash in Torez, Ukraine
i100
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
News
people
News
The Commonwealth flag flies outside Westminster Abbey in central London
news
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
theatre
News
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
Arts and Entertainment
tvWebsite will allow you to watch all 522 shows on-demand
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Rock to play DC character in superhero film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Damon Albarn is starting work on a new West End musical
artsStar's 'leftfield experimental opera' is turning mainstream
Life and Style
Paul and his father
artsPaul Carter wants to play his own father in the film of his memoirs
Sport
Ben Stokes trudges off after his latest batting failure for England as Ishant Sharma celebrates one of his seven wickets
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
Members of the public are invited to submit their 'sexcapades' to Russell T Davies' new series Tofu
tv
News
Sky's Colin Brazier rummages through an MH17 victim's belongings live on air
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game
arts + ents'The Imitation Game' stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor