Snook: England still lack pace, verve with ball

DOWN TO EARTH: England centre Luther Burrell is brought down during the second test against the All Blacks in Dunedin.
DOWN TO EARTH: England centre Luther Burrell is brought down during the second test against the All Blacks in Dunedin.

There appears to be a few teething problems in the 'new age' English approach to playing rugby but I guess after a few decades of trying to be the class bully, the step into the unknown world of passing and running has still to be connected by several factors.

Selection is no doubt the first of these.

Two big lumbering centres in Luther Burrell and Billy Twelvetrees were only a shadow of what Manu Tuilagi and the smaller Kyle Eastwood had thrown at the All Blacks the week before, with Eastwood providing a different set of problems for Ma'a Nonu with his speed and agility. Maybe the English need to start using a different set of criteria for selection in the centres rather than weight and height.

Ben Youngs from test one must surely come back in for test three to wear the nine jersey as his reading of the game and skill execution was well ahead of anything Danny Care had to offer. Care and his partner, Owen Farrell, were in fact disappointing in a team that seldom created sufficient intensity through attacking the line with ball in hand and although Farrell has a wide range of skills it will be his lack of vision on how to seize opportunities that may hold him back from being a player with X-factor.

Tom Wood was selected at flanker to replace James Haskell and to deal to Richie McCaw but all this did was add another big forward to a pack that was never going to be quick enough around the park if the ball got too far away. Tuilagi's breakout run highlighted this lack of pace and anticipation through the whole team.

There must be a couple of Neil Backs in England somewhere, players who can scamper around the field and retrieve the ball before the opposition, and can act as a link between backs and forwards. Maybe they haven't made a small enough mould in all those academies that are growing the new rugby player into a big, strong, athletic human, or maybe they are not measuring and evaluating the ‘right' attributes.

Tactically things weren't too hot either. With no real pace around the paddock players were not always on hand when required, and on at least a couple of phase-play opportunities that suggested try possibilities, the option taken was kick for territory.

Putting possession at risk by exposing tight forwards to carry and defend in crucial spots, having a halfback who wanted to kick it out on the full even when kicking wasn't the best option and using miss passes which relieved defensive concerns, are a few more aspects to be sorted.

With a tight five that wasn't able to dominate until the All Blacks gave the obligatory game time to their bench players in the front row, it is surprising that the English should manage to get so close on the scoreline.

So what about the All Blacks?

Aiming for the perfect game is an honourable goal but they will realise it is some way off at this time.

There is a lack of cohesion and an inconsistency in their game. The tie-up between the backs and forwards doesn't demonstrate the age of ‘foracks' (forwards and backs with many of the same skill-set being able to combine as one) and the lack of using this greater athleticism and power over the whole park is a mystery. As the English still ponder when to run and pass and when to kick or barge and the coaches keep contemplating how to change the mindset of their key players, the All Blacks have the opportunity to put something special on show now that they have been together for an extended period.

Ian Snook has coached professionally for the past 25 years in New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, England, Ireland, Japan and Italy.

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