Ahead of Saturday’s seismic showdown with Australia, Stuart Lancaster must focus on the positives from the 28-25 defeat to Wales.
1. The Scrum
Traditionally the source of English strength, the front row of Joe Marler, Tom Youngs and Dan Cole had been creaking recently; particularly in the opening game against Fiji.
However, last Saturday Cole, in particular, reaffirmed his prowess as a scrummager, with England gaining three penalties from the first three scrums.
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Former Argentinean prop Mario Ledesma has instigated an improvement in the Australian scrummaging recently but, this must still be an area for England to target.
2. The Line-Out
After losing the first line-out last weekend, it looked certain that Wales were going to fully expose Young’s weakness at throwing.
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Much to the Leicester man’s credit though he, in tandem with Geoff Parling and Tom Wood, then proceeded to nail all his throws thereafter. When his technical game is sound, Youngs as an all-action, dynamic player in the loose becomes more valuable than former rival Dylan Hartley.
After the 35-11 victory over Fiji, I personally questioned Ben Youngs’ form ahead of the Wales clash.
As expected he was given the nod last Saturday and was unrecognisable from the static and dithering figure seen against the islanders. Up until his substitution, through injury, on 50 minutes Youngs was a constant threat around the fringes and looked England’s most likely source of inspiration.
Lancaster has said Youngs has around a ‘60-40’ chance of playing against the Wallabies and if he replicates this form he may be pivotal. Owen Farrell meanwhile fully justified his selection: kicking seven from seven and leading the defensive line.
If Jonathan Joseph is fit I would be tempted to revert back to George Ford, due to the threat they pose as a partnership, but Farrell could have done no more.
4. Mike Brown
Again one of England’s better performers on Saturday, the Harlequins full-back will again be crucial on Saturday. So far he has been one of the players of the tournament and the Australians will be very wary of kicking loosely to him: he was superb in running the ball back two years ago in the autumn internationals.
In tandem with Anthony Watson and Jonny May, England have a very dangerous back three that they must look to involve more, ideally with a playmaker like Joseph, or failing that Henry Slade, at 13.
5. Pool A is Still Very Much Alive
There was always the likelihood that this ‘pool of death’ would come down to either bonus points or points difference. Wales’s victory came at a cost with further injuries to Scott Williams, Hallam Amos and Liam Williams.
All these losses, coupled with a very quick turnaround could see Warren Gatland’s side struggle on Thursday against Fiji. Whilst they are favourites to win at the Millennium Stadium, a bonus point is unlikely. The bottom line is: if, and it is a big if, England beat Australia they are still in the driving seat for this pool.