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Borthwick's verbal blast and three other England talking points

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Ramos/World Rugby via Getty Images)

RugbyPass steered clear of all the very busy temporary beer outlets in and around Stade Mauroy on Saturday evening, yet waking up on Sunday morning was like having a painful hangover due to the insipid level of England play witnessed the day before.


The fixture versus Samoa was supposed to be about turning the clock back to the epic time when the 10/12 combination of George Ford and Owen Farrell rocked along the way to the 2019 Rugby World Cup final, a rockstar duo whose entire band was reunited as Steve Borthwick was unleashing the 10/12/13 combo of them with Manu Tulagi for the first time since March 2020.

Instead, the only clock revision that transpired in Lille was England reprising their recent ugly Summer Nations Series sluggishness – and there was also an embarrassing gaffe of Farrell being timed out on the kicking tee shot clock at a moment in the game where his struggling team trailed 11-17 and were in dire need of a lifeline from their new all-time record points scorer.

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Here, RugbyPass sifts through the aftermath of their extremely fortunate one-point win and what it means for their momentum heading into next weekend’s Sunday quarter-final in Marseille, most likely versus Fiji:

Wrong moment to settle scores
It was odd how head coach Borthwick used his post-game media briefing to harangue critics of his team. “There have been many times these players have been written off quite badly, there were many,” he chippily said, later adding: “Ultimately there were many people that wrote that this team would not get out of the group stages and the team has progressed.”


Ball Carries
Post Contact Metres
Line Breaks

There can be no arguing that the team has progressed in the factual sense that they have moved into the quarter-finals having won all four pool matches. But was an undeserved one-point win against an opposition they were expected to comfortably beat really the forum for the head coach to come out swinging?

It wasn’t. Instead, it was a case of the coach failing to ready the room properly. Next Sunday evening, if semi-final progress is secured in Marseille, would have been the better, more credible time to settle some scores.


Barnes puts Farrell on the spot
Skipper Farrell reacted evasively when put on the spot by ex-England out-half Stuart Barnes, who wanted an assessment of how the reprised midfield combination of Farrell and Tuilagi, operating outside of Ford at No10, went.

This trio was a throwback to the 2019 World Cup campaign and it was clear to anyone watching that despite a couple of early gallops from Tuilagi, including his assist for the ninth-minute Ollie Chessum try from an intervention in the line by Freddie Steward, the combination didn’t click.

It was rightly dismantled not long into the second half with England struggling for go-forward. Ford exited, Farrell went to 10 and then Tuilagi also departed a few minutes later with an alleged unspecified knock.

Barnes began: “Owen, can I ask you how you rate the England midfield, the one that played against New Zealand in 2019 in the semi-final; how did you think that functioned today?”


“I don’t think it is about the midfield, it is about the performances as a whole,” replied Farrell. “We will look at what parts that bit can do better and of course there will be plenty that we can do better.

“But the main thing is the performance on a whole. As has been said, we will look back at it properly and we will make sure we will find the bits that we feel we can do better and pull that into next week.”

That reply didn’t cut the mustard for Barnes, who responded: “I’m sorry but the midfield is also part of the jigsaw. It’s not just the jigsaw outside the midfield, so you have a role there. Given what happened on the field, can I again ask that question – how do you feel it went as a unit?”

“I’d say same as the performance, we’ll look at that, we’ll see what we can do better. That is part of the performance, you’re right, and we will look back at it and see the bits that we want to improve and we will make sure that we do.”

Make of that what you will.

The not-so-slick kick
Courtney Lawes perfectly explained last week the England DNA. “We’re a really strong defensive team. That’s probably our backbone; we have conceded one try in the last three games, so that is great, and obviously an aerial kicking team. We are very good at getting the ball back and we’re looking to build attack off that.”

We checked out the stats and learned that England, on the back of regathering 28 of their 110 kicks from the hands in their opening three games, had a regather percentage of 30.8, top of the charts when compared to next-best France (24.2 per cent of kicks regathered) and New Zealand (21.28 of kicks regathered) while the likes of Wales, South Africa and Ireland were are in single digit figures for reclaimed kicks.

England’s DNA was severely tested by the Samoans, who scored two tries and could easily have had four or five – and they wouldn’t have been begrudged that high a tally given the way they dominated the exchanges.

But what of the kicking? Of their 25 booted from the hand, England put 15 into touch and of the 10 remaining, just one kick was regathered so their win-back ratio was well below what had been seen previously versus Argentina, Japan and Chile.

Contrast that to Samoa, who had the nifty momentum generator in Lima Sopoaga. The took kicked 25 times from the hand, putting 16 into touch. Of the nine that stayed in play, three were regathered – included in that 29th-minute peach of a catch by Nigel Ah-Wong to shunt Samoa into the lead they held to 44 minutes.

That was a replica of the score England grabbed late on in Nice when Ford, left-footed, found Steward in space out wide. There was no sniff of a repeat in Lille as Ford and co were rattled by the Samoans and looked well short of rescue ideas until the late yellow card tipped the balance their way when it came to the result-deciding five-metre scrum ball that Danny Care transformed into a converted try.

Given how England were similarly dominated by Fiji in late August, they have a whole heap of improvement to do if they are to be smiling at full-time next weekend in the south of France.


Total Kicks
Kick To Pass Ratio

Is the World Cup plate already in existence?
It emerged in midweek that the so-called tier two nations were not in favour of the Rugby World Cup running some sort of post-pool stage plate event to keep them involved for a longer duration of the next tournament at Australia 2027.

The thing is, you can’t ignore the feeling that France 2023 has very much already staged a plate-type event in that the standards experienced in Pools C and D haven’t mirrored the calibre of the rugby played by France and New Zealand in Pool A and Ireland and South Africa in Pool B.

Next weekend’s quarter-finals in Paris are essentially semi-finals in all but name compared to the rival schedule in Marseille and while you can’t rustle up a ticket for love nor money for either of those in-demand games at Stade de France, the official Rugby World Cup website had plenty of tickets available for the Velodrome games featuring Wales and England on successive days.

It’s an expensive business following England around France, no more than it is supporting the other nations, but it seems as it there is a limit at the minute to the amount of bluntness English fans are prepared to shell out for when it comes to the Borthwick blueprint.


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