England must beat South Africa on Saturday (Nov 25) or they will drop from the top seedings for the 2015 World Cup.
Poor decisions by England probably turned victory into a 14-20 defeat against Australia last weekend. England captain Chris Robshaw ignored four chances to kick for goal.
Taking such an adventurous approach is in complete contrast to England’s usual forward-dominated, penalty taking style.
That is the positive from the costly mistakes: England intends running the ball.
Coach Stuart Lancaster has been criticised for the ignored goal kicks. World Cup winning, former England coach Clive Woodward said the goals should have been taken—and the decision to take goal kicks should have been made in advance of the game, as part of the match plan.
“The biggest thing is trying to be smart ahead of the game,” Woodward said. “That is the secret to coaching.
“The key thing is not making decisions in the heat of battle—it is getting these things in players’ heads before you go on the pitch, so you know what is going to happen in every single situation.”
Like England, South Africa is trying to find its feet under coach Heyneke Meyer. The Springboks beat Scotland 21-10 last Saturday, largely due to outstanding defence.
Despite both sides saying they are committed to a running game, the forward battle will be the key—and the highlight.
But it’s not that simple. The big England scrum was outsmarted by Australia. Yet, a week earlier, the inconsistent Australia scrum had been humiliated by France.
England tighthead prop Dan Cole questioned Australia’s “streetwise” tactics, such as collapsing the scrum. “… we failed to combat it, which is very frustrating, especially for me personally,” Cole said.
Against South Africa the scrum battle will be more man-on-man than tactical – both sides pride themselves on that approach.
The improving England backs will be countered by the disciplined South African defence, so it will be up to the forwards.
The humiliated England scrum up against the mighty Springboks scrum.
Earlier this year, England failed to win any of the three Tests in South Africa.
Finally, back to the world-cup rankings, if England lose to the Boks, things immediately get worse. They play New Zealand on Saturday-week.
Samoa, Wales, NZ
Meanwhile, the tiny south sea island team Samoa downed Six Nations champion Wales 26-19 in Cardiff.
Former Wales captain Ryan Jones was recalled for a record 29th game in charge.
“What could have been the greatest day of my career has turned into one of the worst,” he said.
Samoa were combative and physical, and slowly took a strangle-hold on the game.
“They got some big boys,” Wales flyhalf Rhys Priestland said. “Physical boys.”
To make matters worse, Wales face New Zealand on Saturday (Nov 25).
“It’s the toughest match in world rugby,” Priestland said of the NZ Test. “We’ve got some injuries. We’ve got to look in the mirror.”
New Zealand defeated Italy 42-10 in Rome on Saturday, extending their unbeaten run to 19 games.
Ireland, Argentina, France
Ireland play Argentina in Dublin on Saturday. The teams have played 11 times, with Ireland winning six and Argentina five.
Argentina lost to France 39-22 on Saturday and were beaten in most aspects of play. Despite that, Argentina has improved throughout the year, helped by their inclusion in the Rugby Championship.
Two weeks ago, Ireland lost to South Africa 12-16.
In Paris, France face Samoa, who have wins over Canada and Wales.
Coach Philippe Saint-Andre said both he and his players feared Samoa.
“When you watch that match against Wales … above all the number of injured Welshmen after 80 minutes, you say to yourself that it’s going to be a complicated game.
“The players saw it as well, they’re conscious of it.”
Finally, Scotland plays Tonga in Aberdeen.
Peter Lalanabaravi has over 30 years experience as a rugby writer.
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