England World Cup Review
England’s campaign in France has now finished, and Steve Borthwick’s side return home with some metal around their necks after winning the bronze medal; but was their World Cup a success?
It’s important to consider where the side was prior to the World Cup first, before looking at the French adventure. England had a torrid build-up to the tournament as they won just one of their four World Cup warm-up matches. Furthermore, the team received widespread criticism for the style of play they had adopted during those tests; which made many fans worried coming into the main dance in France.
However, looking at the campaign by itself, the tournament can be considered a success.
Borthwick’s men waltzed through the group stage with solid wins over Argentina, Japan and Chile, and whilst Samoa proved a tough test they ultimately went undefeated and topped the group. They had to dig deep to edge Fiji in the quarter-finals, before narrowly losing out to South Africa in the semi-final.
Five wins in six games at a World Cup is quite a remarkable turnaround considering they were one-in-four coming into it.
Away from the team displays, some individuals also stood out for England this tournament. Ben Earl was the standout in the team in the eight shirt. The back row dilemma was a big issue coming into the tournament; however Earl really made that shirt his own over club mate Billy Vunipola, and it’ll probably be Earl’s for the foreseeable future.
We also saw the brilliant return of Sam Underhill in the final game, Dan Cole turned back the clock in the semi-final, and Marcus Smith has added another threat to his game as he shifted across to fullback with ease.
Whilst on paper, seeing players cement themselves into the famous white jersey for years to come, coupled with an undefeated run to the semi-finals, before winning the 3rd/4th place play-off might read like a success for England; but the reality of the campaign could tarnish this feeling.
England’s style of play in attack was pretty dire at times. A turgid kicking game failed to excite the fans at times (cue the infamous Brian Moore commentary ‘THEY’VE KICKED IT AWAY AGAIN!’); but this time even ITV commentators were picking it up. It felt, at some points, that they were kicking just for the sake of it rather than for any tactical reasoning. It lacked that finesse that the Springboks have in their similar style, or even Borthwick’s own style at Leicester.
The frustrating thing for many England fans is they’ve also seen glimpses of champagne rugby from the side. The catalyst of this was deploying poster boy Marcus Smith at fullback. The Quins superstar was genuinely brilliant in that 15 shirt at times, however he only started three games and was given a brief cameo there against Japan.
Smith at fullback galvanised the England attack and gave the fans that little glimpse of what might have been, all before watching yet another poorly executed box kick.
Turning away from the style of play (if you can), England were dealt a very favourable hand. Being on ‘the easier’ side of the lopsided draw played perfectly into England’s hands. They only faced one of the big guns of World Rugby in the semi-finals, and before that faced opposition you would expect them to beat.
Now, you can only beat the side in front of you, and England did that especially well given the prep for the tournament; but if they had faced teams like Ireland, France or even Scotland earlier in the tournament they probably would have been knocked out a lot sooner than they were.
Realistically, the semi-finals were probably a minimum considering the draw England were given.
So where does this leave England going forward?
The World Cup has seen the end of a lot of players play their final game for England. Courtney Lawes, Ben Youngs and Jonny May have all confirmed their retirement, and a few more could yet join the list; but underneath that are a group of promising, exciting talent that have already cut their teeth at the highest level.
The likes of Theo Dan, Bevan Rodd, Alex Mitchell and Marcus Smith all played in their first World Cup, and the bronze medal around their necks will only make them want to improve on it in four years’ time.
This World Cup was a mixed bag despite returning home with a bronze medal, but it has laid the foundations for success going forward.