Time For The Quarter Finals, Time For England To Step It Up
Saturday’s game against Samoa was supposed to be the final opportunity for Borthwick to get it right. The final opportunity to sort out attacking combinations and to consolidate defensive partnerships. Yet, England were bullied and torn apart by a ferocious Samoan side who very nearly recorded their first ever victory over England. England’s record against Tier Two nations had been exemplary before the lead up to this World Cup but nearly recording a second defeat in this aspect is worrying. England urgently need to find their style before an embarrassing defeat in the quarter finals ensues.
England looked lost out in Lille against Samoa as their attack failed to function and their defence was disjointed. Particularly with Samoa’s disallowed second try after Alex Mitchell sliced a box kick, England did not react quick enough to the scrum half’s error and this was only a series of mistakes that cost England. Farrell’s amateur mishap at the hands of the shot clock compounded how poor England were. In an unprecedented event, Farrell did not complete his kick in time and it was not counted to England’s score. For a man so experienced and on the day he became England’s top points scorer, an extremely poor error nearly cost his side.
If there’s one thing to take away from this game, it is that Borthwick cannot surely know his best team. Mitchell and Ford were ineffectual at 9 and 10 and the Farrell-Tuilagi centre partnership is past its prime. The back row combination of Lawes, Curry and Earl was underwhelming despite their prowess being evident on paper. Looking back at the success of two weeks ago albeit against Chile, the 10-15 dual playmaker axis worked better with the added excitement of Marcus Smith.
When Smith came on, supplemented by Danny Care at scrum half later, England looked faster and more threatening, ultimately resulting in the match winning try. Borthwick must get his selection right to have any hope of progressing past the quarter finals. Arundell offers limitless tries but is often dropped from the matchday squad to the confusion of onlookers.
The everchanging England team offers no insight as to what is actually the most productive team to put out, which clearly is creating confusion between players. The altering of combinations does not provide any consistency and with the call up of Sam Underhill, in the place of the injured Jack Willis, further mistakes could be made due to the player being out of the England set up for a long amount of time.
Further players such as Cadan Murley and Zach Mercer could be left disappointed after being dropped from the World Cup squad prior to their first game but these types of players are exactly what England need. Jonny May was inconspicuous during the game and Earl’s only presence was his familiar celebratory scream whenever England had a decision that went for them.
Despite all of England’s inaccuracies, credit must go to Samoa for their battle worthy performance. Lima Sopoaga was brilliant in orchestrating the Pacific Island nation to multiple try opportunities and successfully exploiting England’s sloppiness. Samoa were hard hitting and disrupted England’s set pieces whenever possible, particularly the lineout. Losing by only one point is a huge improvement for Samoa in a game where they dominated the gain line and defended superbly. Samoa’s game plan worked exquisitely as England were unable to break their opponents down. It took 79 minutes and a yellow card for England to score the match winning try which is credit to the Samoan’s performance.
Ultimately, England were lacklustre and must improve in all areas of the game to find a way through in their quarter final against Fiji. It must be seen however that it is a travesty that two teams that have performed poorly in recent weeks, like England and Fiji, can be in a quarter final. Perhaps it is a reflection of the poor state of rugby being played or World Rugby’s insistence on drawing the pools two years prior to the tournament’s start.
As England would face France or South Africa in a possible semi final, a drastic change is needed to provide any sort of hope to reach the final. Borthwick's unwavering loyalty to a select number of players may hold him back indefinitely.