Albert Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Well if that’s the case, Stuart Lancaster must be being driven mad by his England team coming up just a little short against New Zealand over and over again.
It is now five wins in a row for the All Blacks against England but only once has the deficit been more than eight points. Lancaster’s side can compete, but when push comes to shove they haven’t got that extra edge to quite get over the line.
Killer instinct is still lacking
When England kick off the 2015 World Cup against Fiji at Twickenham on September 18th next year, that extra edge will need to have been found if they want to emulate the achievement of Johnson, Wilkinson and co. and lift the Webb Ellis trophy.
For now however there is plenty to be optimistic about. Coming so close to getting a result against the best team in the world on a consistent basis is something to build on. To do so with a squad depleted by injuries as they did yesterday, where the likes of Manu Tuilagi, Dan Cole and Joe Launchbury were all absent, is further proof that this is an England side who are moving in the right direction.
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Lancaster will be judged on next 12 months
They kicked off the Autumn internationals against the best and fell three points short. Arguably they missed their chances to win but effectively they matched the All Blacks. The next three Tests are where Lancaster’s England and their march to the World Cup must be judged.
The reality is that Australia and South Africa, despite their shock defeat to Ireland, are the next best teams and will be the biggest competition to New Zealand’s defence of their trophy next year.
Both teams will arrive to take on England at Twickenham over the next three weeks and will offer a true test of just how far Lancaster’s team have come and how far they can dream of going.
Lack of attacking variety must be a concern
England must turn those two teams over and do so displaying a flair, creativity and attacking edge that was lacking against New Zealand. We know England are capable of trading blows with their opponents at the breakdown and they have a defensive and territorial game capable of keeping them in matches right until the death. What we must now see is the ability to dominate a game, to cut through the opposition and to think outside the box.
England are very formulaic. They play for territory and keep the game tight. That starts with Owen Farrell at 10 who doesn’t have the attacking flair of someone like Danny Cipriani or Freddie Burns.
England are 10% short of being genuine World Cup contenders next year. There is every chance however that 10% can be found over the next ten months. Lancaster needs to settle on his top 20 or so players when he has a fully fit squad and then work out how to inject more energy, more tempo and more creativity into his backs.
That process starts over the next three weeks against South Africa and Australia. Those are games England must win. They are a benchmark for progress and the chance to show the world that, on home soil next year, they are the biggest challengers to New Zealand for the Webb Ellis trophy.