Rugby Union

Where do England go after crashing out of their home World Cup?

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With the worst night in the history of English rugby fresh on the minds of a nation, it is already time to look toward the future.

It is also a time for honesty. Honesty is an anxiety-inducing word for those who have recently set new standards of poverty, but in this case, that wouldn't be accurate. Honesty in this assessment requires emotion to be set aside, and to look at what England have done well for so long as well as where they have fallen short.

Blame will always be laid upon those in leadership positions. Lancaster and Robshaw will be in that firing line quite rightly, but it needs to be for the right reasons. Lancaster took over a team full of ill-discipline, poor culture, no leadership, and no direction whatsoever.


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To prepare a side from that state to host a World Cup is a mammoth task, and clearly it has proven to be too much; but he did an admirable job in between. Here are some of the reasons that things didn't go according to plan:


The timing of the World Cup may well have stalled the progression of the youthful squad. By the time a general selection policy had sunk in and the culture and style were established, it was already into the World Cup countdown. There wasn't time to try find the ideal combinations due to injury and the fact that the World Cup loomed and rookies needed game time.

With another year questions such as: what is the best centre combination? Is Cipriani good enough? Is Robshaw the right man? might have been answered. As it was, there was no time to left to look at players like Jamie George, or Henry Slade, or Tuilagi at inside centre etc, etc.

Lancaster took a squad to the World Cup with a certain style in mind, and seemingly no "Plan B". And this may have been the fatal flaw: that when our strongest aspects crumbled, we had nowhere else to go.

No "Plan B"

We were beating teams based off a world class set piece, pace out wide, and rock solid defence. We should not forget that that had seen us beat teams like New Zealand, and Australia, and all of the Northern Hemisphere; just not all in one season. It was always a lot to ask for the team to get it all right on consistent basis, but the foundations were clearly there.

Whether it was the pressure, only the collective can tell us, but for whatever reason the set piece went to pieces, and the defensive rock crumbled. And there was nowhere else to go. A full inquest will determine whether coaching or personnel was at fault, but I am leaning towards the latter.

Omitting a scrummager like Corbisiero will limit your options if the starting prop loses form. There were no breakdown specialists in the squad. Calum Clark, Will Fraser, Matt Kvesic or, dare I say, Steffon Armitage would have ticked the box of a "Plan B".

In the backs, it is a slightly different story. Ford was the gain line playmaker, Farrell the more measured option. Barritt was defensive stalwart, Joseph the pace and game breaker, Burgess the muscle.

Though Lancaster's selection was questioned to a high degree, much of it worked. England were able to keep Jamie Roberts uncharacteristically quiet, and with the right possession, the backline as a unit looked highly effective, scoring excellent tries and giving Watson and May enough ball to stand out. And Mike Brown was his usual sublime self for most of the tournament.

But there was still an issue. Scrum Half. Ben Youngs has been poor more often than not for the last couple of years. And Wigglesworth did little to hush his critics by bringing very little to the table. With the speed of ball from Lee Dickson, the sheer pace of Joe Simpson and the tempo of Care's overall game it is a mystery to many why they all missed out. There might have been a "Plan B", but it was a cop out.

If you want to play a high-tempo style like England do, then a like-for-like replacement is a good option at a position like Scrum Half. If one can't ignite the game then the other just might.


When I gave this issue some thought, there is an argument to say the England are the least physical team out of the top nations. When an Englishman, and Irishman, and a Scotsman hit a breakdown; you don't get a bad joke, you get a bad ruck for the English. This is primarily the job of the back row, and that is where personnel seems to be the biggest problem.

Opensides the world over have had field days against England because they protect the ball more poorly than just about any other. England need to find an Openside as a matter of urgency, and they also need to work on physicality as a team.

Just look at Japan. They hit their rucks like their lives depend upon it. There is no chance for opposition fetchers because the space is cleared out. This just doesn't happen with England. There always seems to be a chance to go digging and at least slow down the recycle.

Changes to make

Options will be considered, and time will be taken. Does Lancaster need to go? Perhaps not. On the condition that he recognises the need for change within the squad. Rob Baxter of Exeter will likely get a phone call, and other coaching staff will have cases to make. But if some of these changes are implemented, then perhaps the issues with England are more superficial than some will think.

Set piece needs to be a priority for front row selection. If Marler cannot regain form, Corbisiero should be given the shirt, or a youthful prospect like Nick Auterac. Jamie George might be the best throwing Hooker, and more than deserves his chance. Young Henry Thomas also needs more top level game time to push Brookes for his squad place.

More physical ball carriers need to be included. Dave Ewers comes to mind, as does Nathan Hughes who becomes eligible for selection next year. I have mentioned the issues at seven. Realistically, Robshaw can only retain a place at six where he can truly be considered one of the best.

High tempo scrum halves need to be brought to the forefront. Simpson's game-changing pace should be put up against international competition. Youngsters like Chris Cook could also have a lot to offer.

Danny Cipriani needs recognition for the fact that he has matured a great deal and hasn't had a bad minute in an England shirt under Stuart Lancaster. Farrell and Ford are fantastic options, but Cipriani may be the best all-round choice. It would make sense to find out, at least.

Tuilagi needs to be tested at 12, and Slade needs to get more game time. The Exeter Chief oozes class like few other English players in recent memory and has rare time on the ball. JJ has been one of few bright sparks for England and should be whom the midfield is built around.
The back three needs consistent selection. The threat of each individual has been apparent this World Cup and despite many other strong candidates, chopping and changing won't help in this area.

These are all relatively easy fixes. After the last two World Cups, it has been clear that something is intrinsically wrong with the England camp. This time we may need to stay aware of the fact that we were in the toughest group possible, and maybe face up to the fact that our squad simply wasn't ready to beat the best in the world. Both Australia and Wales have been number two in the IRB world rankings in recent weeks.

Before 2019 there will be the Six Nations, Lions Tours and a plethora of experience to be gained. Rather than an overhaul, perhaps just a reset is required.

This huge disappointment is not a reason to forget the progress England have undoubtedly made these last four years. Given four more of a similar ilk, and maybe the men in white will be in a more realistic position to compete for the big prizes.

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